Cinema Stories 3 – Up

Sometimes, as a theatre manager, you get to do something extraordinary. This cinema story will give an example. Pixar’s UP was soon to be released at my cinema in Wyomissing, PA and I received a call.

A rep from the Children’s Hospital told me a story about a little girl who was dying and was a big Disney fan. Her family was from Wyomissing and wanted to do something special for her as her health was getting worse. The hospital thought since a new Disney film was about to come out if they could book a special screening for it.

They wanted to be able to bring all of their family together for the film, around 30 people. The girl would be in a special travel bed and would have some medical equipment also. There would be two or three medical staff to keep hhher ok.

I said I would talk to my company and see what would be involved. Normally, the company would allow people to book a special showing either outside of normal viewing schedule or during if they purchased every seat. Disney/Pixar films were difficult to book as Disney blocked special booking for the first to weeks.

I spoke to our booker and our marketing head, proposing what I thought we could do. The booker didn’t think anything was possible but would call Pixar. Marketing thought they could give us some leverage if the family could find a non-intrusive way to get this story in the newspaper and include the theatre’s name.

A week went by. The family asked if adding a small paragraph to the newspaper obituary would count. They could say her last film was at our theatre. It was a difficult and uncomfortable conversation. I had a hard time understanding how certain they were that she was dying.

Marketing said that counted. They were going to take anything so they could try to force Disney into permitting it. He really wanted to get this film shown for the girl and her family. Booking had good news soon after. He had found a person at Disney that normally worked with Make A Wish that had a way to work around all of the parameters.

Disney was the technical distributor of Pixar at that stage. they were able to set up a special screening a week before the film would premiere. We would receive a special hard drive with the film. I would need to call and give a code on the hard drive to get the key to unlock the content for three hours only. The hard drive would be picked up by courier that night.

Marketing worked with this and set up a day and time. We moved a poorly performing film into our best auditorium so the family would get the best we could offer. No lost revenue. The auditorium also had a handicapped space large enough that would accommodate the girl’s bed. A rep from the hospital visited and figured out the logistics of it all.

Booking made a deal with Disney that we would extend the Disney percentage a week if they waived the family paying. Disney agreed. I called the family and told the the news. They could bring up to 300 people, they would all see the film on our biggest screen with the best sound, all received free popcorn and drinks. The hospital had told them they had visited and had everything ready to go on their end. Disney was going to provide some Up swag for their family. Disney was also going to send the girl a whole set of Up clothing, plushies, and balloons.

The father broke down crying on the phone. He expected that, at the best, he would be paying several hundred dollars and would be with an audience. He was terrified of someone hurting his child. He said, when he had spoke to someone at our home office, they told him the normal extra charges and limitations, not caring about the situation at all. I explained I knew that would happen so I went around them to people in the company who care.

On a Wednesday night a week before it’s premiere, Up bowed on my number one screen for the girl and around 40 family and friends. We gave them the auditorium for the whole evening. The girl was so excited. I have rarely seen anyone so happy. it was incredible to be in that auditorium with that family. So much love poured from them all.

The family left, giving hugs to me and my staff. They emailed the CEO and told them how wonderful we were. Of course, no one knew what the father was talking about, called me and learned what we did. They were not happy. We lost money and advertising.

The father called four days later and said his daughter died. He said she was resonating every moment after the film. We made her life better. I hold on to that.

© 2023, mikegallagherart. All rights reserved.

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