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Immerse and conquer

Arclight @ 10

When Pacific Theatres opened its 14-screen ArcLight Hollywood multiplex next to the historic Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard a decade ago, most observers took a wait-and-see attitude about whether moviegoers would be willing to spend a little extra for a premium theater experience.

Ten years in and with ArcLight Cinemas now in Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and El Segundo, with further expansion planned soon for La Jolla and Maryland, that question would seem to have been thoroughly settled. And though you could point to a variety of reasons to the ArcLight’s success, Pacific Theatres CEO Chris Forman believes it’s the sum of the parts — the overall experience, not the mere services — that has won over moviegoers.

“We create the conditions where our guests can become immersed in the film,” Forman says. “There are no distractions, nothing they need to worry about. It’s a place that respects movies, creating a community for people who love watching them.”

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Forman says he began envisioning such a place in the late-’90s, when on a day off, he found himself in his car, opening the newspaper and looking for a movie to see.

“Every theater was problematic in one way or another, and I’m including several Pacific theaters in the conversation, too,” says Forman, who lives in Studio City. “I remember eventually giving up, folding up the newspaper and driving home.”

That day’s frustration eventually led to ArcLight Hollywood. It opened in March 2002 within a week of the debut of another Pacific chain multiplex at the Grove at Farmers Market. Those two launches, followed five years later by the reconfigured Landmark flagship at the Westside Pavilion in West Los Angeles, changed the dynamic of Los Angeles moviegoing, shifting patrons away from Westwood and the now-shuttered cineplexes at the Beverly Center and Beverly Connection.

When it opened, ArcLight Hollywood offered several conveniences that other chains have since adopted — online ticket purchasing and reserved seating, premium concessions along with an adjacent cafe and bar. Stadium theaters sported digital projection, premium sound and extra-wide seating. Programming mixed blockbusters with West Coast premieres of independent films. And for those wanting to bring a beer or a glass of wine (or a white Russian, if you abide), there was a specially designated, 21-and-older auditorium.

But, just as importantly, there were other elements completely absent from the ArcLight experience. The spacious lobby, with its iconic departure board listing movies and their showtimes, features cinema-focused exhibits instead of arcade games. There are no advertisements before movies. There’s no florescent lights fixtures on the ceiling, since even when they’re turned off, the light from the screen bounces off them, encroaching upon the theater’s level of darkness.

And while Forman won’t go so far as to say there’s no talking or texting, he does emphasize that the overall atmosphere and resulting expectations helps keep distractions to a minimum.

“I think when you have advertising in front of a movie, it accustoms people to think that it’s OK to talk, and my fear is that it just carries on once the movie starts,” Forman says. “We’ve always had someone from the staff come in and introduce the movies and then remind people to turn off their phones. It sets up a personal connection, one that we hope carries through on a number of levels and keeps people returning.”

Adds Gretchen McCourt, ArcLight’s exsec VP of programming: “It’s all about taking people on the journey of the film.”

That journey sports a higher ticket price. Adult admission at ArcLight ranges from $13.75 weekdays to $16 on weekends with a $3.50 surcharge added to 3D movies. With the additional locations opening, ArcLight is projected to produce $70 million in revenue this year, up from $50 million in 2009, Forman reports.

The numbers speak well to the belief that the ArcLight experience can travel.

“We suspected that there are a number of great markets for this kind of moviegoing atmosphere, and that’s certainly held to be true,” McCourt says. “Each location has its own unique personality, but they share a common feeling of letting people take a deep breath, relax and enjoy a movie in a way that shows respect to the craft and art of filmmaking.”

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