Movies are an escape from reality – a two-hour virtual journey to new worlds, where we’re invited to fly with super heroes, cry with tragic heroes and laugh with each other.
And as entertainment technology continues to advance, movies are becoming even more immersive and real. We don’t just watch them anymore… we experience them. And one Canadian company (yes… Canadian) is leading the way in revolutionizing that experience – IMAX.
Based out of Toronto, the entertainment giant’s corporate history began when a small group of experimental filmmakers set up a multi-screen film installation at EXPO ’67 in Montreal. They were part of a competition to create the first truly large-screen film experience. They achieved this by synching nine projectors together, but the process was complex, and difficult to manage from a technology standpoint. So the challenge, which still drives the company today, was to improve that technology, as well as the overall experience of big screen theatre.
Today, IMAX theatres are completely customized, from the movies themselves to the theatres. Everything is done to maximize the experience – the sound, the resolution of the pictures, the size of the screen, even the tilt of the seats. Everything is configured to make viewers feel completely immersed.
IMAX’s Evolution and EDC’s involvement
The story of IMAX’s growth, however, has not been quite so seamless an experience. In the early days, the company faced a chicken-before-the-egg dilemma. They had a revolutionary technology for showcasing films, but the cost to print that film was so expensive that few motion pictures were actually produced. So growth was slow.
In their first 25 years they opened 100 theatres. In the last five years, they’ve opened more than 600.
Export Development Canada (EDC) was able to help IMAX through some of these pain points. The relationship began in 1998, and in 15-plus years EDC has provided IMAX with solutions that helped the company through down periods, and assisted their expansion into new markets.
“We have gone through some difficult phases in our history, and EDC has been there to help out in a number of ways,” said Mark Welton, President of IMAX Theatres.
“They helped support us through the credit crunch a few years back, when capital and credit was difficult to find. They helped us grow internationally by offering equipment financing to our foreign buyers. And today, they continue to support our expansion abroad in a number of different ways.”
IMAX grows with Cinépolis
Most recently, in August 2014, EDC provided USD 11 M in financing to Mexico’s Cinépolis Group (Cinépolis) to encourage more business with IMAX. IMAX already had a number of cinemas located in Cinépolis’ complexes so the goal of this financing was to strengthen that relationship. It will also help IMAX capitalize on the expanding Latin American theatre market, where box office revenues increased almost 80 per cent in the past five years.
“Once Canadians get over the surprise of IMAX being Canadian, they should feel pride knowing that a homegrown company is responsible for bringing quality entertainment to so many parts of the world,” said Todd Winterhalt, EDC’s Vice-President of International Business Development.
“We feel the same way. It really is a great company with a revolutionary product, and we’re happy to tailor solutions that will help bring their unique experience to even more audiences worldwide.”
IMAX now has 880 theatres in 60 countries, and they are poised for more growth, as there are a number of markets outside of Latin America where big screen movies are skyrocketing in demand. China and India, for example, are seeing tremendous increases in box office sales, and IMAX plans to maximize their operations in those emerging markets.
So while there have been some bumps along the road, IMAX continues to gain traction worldwide. There was already something special about movies on a regular size screen, but IMAX’s ingenuity – along with a little help from partners like EDC – has brought that experience to the next level.
“Going to see a film in an IMAX theatre is truly an experience,” said IMAX’s Welton. “You’re sitting in the theatre but believe you’re somewhere else – some place that is frightening, intense, heart-rending, magical – an unfamiliar place that feels real. That’s what The IMAX Experience is all about.”