Imax’s headquarters in Los Angeles is not officially a shrine to Christopher Nolan, but the casual observer could easily assume the entire building exists in tribute to the director.
The office has several rooms dedicated to cameras and post-production equipment that’s used predominately by Nolan, who deployed Imax technology for the likes of “The Dark Knight,” “Inception” and “Tenet.”
Nolan isn’t the only auteur who gets rock star treatment at Imax. In another area, Jordan Peele’s next nightmarish vision, “Nope,” is closely safeguarded in stacks of cumbersome film reels. Imax’s use of space is emblematic of the company’s dedication to artists at each step of the moviemaking process.
“It’s not for every filmmaker. It’s not for every film,” says Imax Entertainment president Megan Colligan. “But there’s massive intention when [movies] are crafted for Imax. Audiences know that intention, so they gravitate towards seeing them in Imax.”
As with the rest of the film industry, the company was rocked by COVID-19 and the prolonged cinema closures and seemingly never-ending wave of release date delays that followed. But Imax has been in an enviable position since the great movie theater revival. On the other side emerged an even greater reliance on big-budget blockbusters and premium moviegoing experiences — it’s what Imax does best.
During that time, Imax CEO Richard Gelfond says, executives committed to “making the company and the industry a lot better… and a lot different.”
As the film industry heads to Las Vegas for CinemaCon, the annual gathering of theater owners, Gelfond and Megan Colligan talked to Variety about recalibrating after COVID-19 and potentially working with Netflix.
What’s your current outlook on the movie theater business?
Gelfond: We’re extremely optimistic. I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, and I’ve never been more excited about a slate. Now, it would be naive to ignore the macro trends. But we’ve been trying to anticipate the way the world looks after [the pandemic] and preparing for that.
Colligan: A great result from [the pandemic] is we’re less rigid as an industry. Blockbusters sustain the kind of rhythm we’re used to, and other movies need more creative applications applied to them. We have to get more open-minded with windows.
Would you work with Netflix on their upcoming blockbusters?
Gelfond: Well, I mean, I don’t want to characterize it as blockbuster or not because they don’t bother —
Big-budget action films?
Gelfond: I’ll rephrase it and say visually stunning [films from] top-level directors with great special effects and sound. If they come out with movies like that, we would be interested in working with them. We’d love to work with them. The obstacle historically has been exclusive theatrical windows. But the world is changing rapidly. I suspect our exhibition partners are going to be more flexible. I think Netflix will be more flexible. With time, you will see some of their more special movies coming out in Imax.
Has the pandemic changed the relationship between exhibitors and streamers?
Gelfond: The movie industry went through a bigger stress test than anyone could have imagined. Big-budget movies were released exclusively in the home. When you look at the financial results, it didn’t work. You’ve seen evolution on the theatrical side to shorter exclusive windows. You’ll start to see evolution on the streaming side because it was also proven that you can’t create blockbusters franchises solely from streaming.
“Top Gun: Maverick” and Marvel movies seem tailor-made for Imax. But the company is also working with Peele on “Nope” and Michael B. Jordan on “Creed 3.” How do less-obvious collaborations come together?
Colligan: With “Nope,” Jordan had expressed interest in wanting to shoot on film. When you have a talented auteur who can elevate great storytelling into a massive blockbuster, you lean into that and take big bets. We don’t say yes to everybody. But when we start a conversation, there’s a process to spend time here because you have to think through how you use utilize sound, how you utilize the space, how you edit for that screen. Michael B. Jordan took that very seriously.
Imax isn’t only relying on studio movies. The company is also putting together live events and concert experiences, like Kanye West’s “Donda” tour. Where did that idea come from?
Gelfond: [At] a concert, you’re far away even if you have good seats. In the theater, Kanye is six stories high. You get the social experience of a concert with the visual experience of Imax.
Colligan: Musicians have an exceptional relationship with fans, and there’s only so many places they can tour. We’re basically bigger than Madison Square Garden, but in an intimate setting.
The pandemic isn’t over yet. Is Imax bracing for any other challenges?
Gelfond: It’s not business if there aren’t challenges, right? A lot of technology changes and different ways people consume content provide opportunities if you’re creative and innovative.
Colligan: We’d love to see the business be as normalized as possible. It feels like everything’s getting back to a steady state.