Imax Experiments: Kanye West Live Concert; Gwen Stefani Screens Elf From Her House; ‘Macbeth,’ ‘West Side Story’ Events All In One Week

Imax grossed $95,000 live simulcasting the Kanye West (with special guest Drake) benefit concert at the L.A. Coliseum to 35 Imax theaters — a one-night event Thursday that included seven sellouts despite being available to stream live on Amazon Prime. The show, Imax’ first live concert event, comes as the large format exhibitor experiments with content to attract new audiences.

Kanye did — with non-Imax goers accounting for 46% of ticket buyers. Non-whites were 52%. (The 18-34-year-old demo made up 33%, with 26-35 year-olds 38%.)

Social media lit up with videos reposted by Kanye’s Donda production company, his producer Mike Dean, and NYC’s Hot 97 radio, among others. If the question was whether the experience translated well to the theatrical environment, it did, said Megan Colligan, Imax exec VP and president of entertainment. “We are not a big television set. Fans were dancing and singing along with Kanye,” she told Deadline.

The concert followed two other Imax events; partnering with A24 and Apple to host a one-day only screening of The Tragedy of Macbeth followed by a Q&A with Joel Coen and Frances McDormand at the Imax theater in AMC Lincoln Square, streamed live to 17 locations last Sunday. On Monday, Imax partnered with Disney to host a West Side Story screening followed by a Q&A with Steven Spielberg and cast at the AMC Century City simulcast live to ten theaters. (Imax subsequently earned 9.5% of the film’s opening box office this past weekend — unusually high indexing for a musical/non-genre film, the company said.)

Tonight, ticket holders at ten Imax theaters can watch Gwen Stefani host a special Imax Fan Event live from her house. She’ll screen her favorite holiday film Elf and promote her Christmas album and Christmas merchandise from her online store.

“Last week was a big week. We have been wanting to expand the kinds of things we do, to bring new audiences into the theaters, and thinking about all sorts of immersive entertainment and what that can mean,” said Colligan. A key element defining immersive is the presence of other people. Also, “If you blink you’ll miss it. It’s special and it’s fleeting.”

The recent flurry “was not an accident. We wanted to take the opportunity, when we felt ready, to learn a bunch of things. We were given an opportunity to work with Apple and Joel Coen, to work with Disney and Spielberg and Kanye, and then the Gwen Stefani piece came together. And if you have the opportunity, you take it.”

We “can process what we learned and be prepared [heading] into 2022 and lay out a bigger strategy and a bigger slate,” Colligan said.

Joker cinematographer Larry Sher was the director of photography for the Kanye show and 20 cameras were used to shoot it, mostly Imax certified digital cameras. The Imax team worked closely with Kanye’s team for two weeks prior to the shoot to design the production for Imax with Amazon joining and assuming oversight of the production the week of show.

Imax had previously worked with Kanye (and director James Turre) on the accompanying film for his 2019 Jesus Is King album.

In August, the exhibitor released a 50-minute visual album experience If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power from Halsey directed by music video filmmaker Colin Tilley. It grossed $735K worldwide from select locations – including a $5K screen average from 100 Imax auditoriums in the U.S. and Canada. “Halsey was a filmed piece and very cinematic.” said Colligan. “A concert is a different feel.”

In general, “music is incredible in our space,” she said.

Colligan spent years at Paramount running worldwide marketing and said she’s found outreach for Imax music events unusual. “There’s some amount of social digital targeting that you do, but I think another one of the differences that I noticed, having done film marketing my whole life and a handful of music products, is that the fan base for music is so rabid, so socially connected themselves, that pieces of information move very quickly and stories about musicians get picked up very quickly among dedicated fans.”

In a “one night, one show super-targeted event, you are selling out an arena, but in small ways, market by market. It is very compressed. It works very effectively.”

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