Renowned for its larger-than-life projection technology, Toronto, Canada’s Imax is making quite an impression in Hollywood these days and has narrowed its crosshairs on animated family films as the ideal genre for showing off its chops.
Warner Bros.’ decision to roll The Polar Express out on 85 Imax screens throughout North America this past November proved to be a turning point for the company. The chain generated 25% of PE’s total ticket sales, despite representing less than 1% of the total screens showing the film. Fox also felt the power of Imax in March, when Robots picked up 4% of its opening-weekend take from the 58 extra-large screens Imax set aside for the flick. (It opened on 3,776 screens in total.)
Looking at these tallies, it appears that president of filmed entertainment Greg Foster’s plan is working. When Imax recruited Foster in 2001, the company charged him with a mandate to expand its business in big-event mainstream studio films. And Foster says one of his most successful undertakings has been a local outreach campaign targeting schools and teachers. Because many Imax theaters are located in museums, science centers and aquariums, school fieldtrips that include a film experience seemed like a natural sell to him.
‘The success of The Polar Express [on Imax screens] owes more to what happened on Wednesday mornings at 10 a.m. than what happened on Friday nights at 10 p.m.,’ says Foster. At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, for example, weekday morning shows were booked solid by school groups from the film’s November 10 opening until the end of January.
Foster says Imax theaters start promoting films to teachers and school boards roughly three months in advance of the theatrical debut. Theaters will often hold a special screening of the film’s sneak-peek footage for local teachers and then discuss existing fieldtrip programs. Once a class or group of kids has signed up, they each receive a learning kit based on the film. For The Polar Express, this free pack included activity/coloring books and reading guides for the Caldecott Medal-winning book that inspired the movie. Educational materials centered around science and engineering accompanied Robots.
As for upcoming plans, Foster says he’s actively looking for more kids films and is already hard at work planning a program for the July 15 Imax debut of Warner Bros. revamp Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Kids won’t be in school, so his team will be targeting summer camps to book group outings.