Nestled on Sunset Boulevard near Vine Street in the heart of Hollywood, the Cinerama Dome has played host to countless film premieres since it opened its doors in 1963, earning a place in pop culture with appearances in films and TV shows like Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," "Entourage" and "Melrose Place."
This week's startling news that the Cinerama Dome — in addition to ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters' 15 locations — would stay closed for good, caused an outpouring from Hollywood filmmakers, actors, and cinephiles, from horror film director John Carpenter and Lulu Wang, director of "The Farewell," to actors Patricia Arquette and Treat Williams.
And it inspired desperate pleas for help.
"Brad Pitt, buy the ArcLight challenge," tweeted actor Timothy Simons, who appeared in the HBO series "Veep."
Meanwhile, a new Change.org petition aimed at Netflix, Disney, Amazon and Apple, among others, has so far garnered over 11,800 signatures.
Brad Pitt buy the arclight challenge— Timothy Simons (@Timothy Simons)1618274558.0
Given the theater's historical significance, there has been much speculation over who, if any, its potential savior might be. One obvious possibility: a streaming service like Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus or Amazon Prime Video, which is certainly not without precedent. In May 2020, Netflix reportedly shelled out $14.4 million to buy Hollywood's historic Egyptian Theater. While the popular streaming service hasn't yet officially disclosed its plans, owning such a venue gives Netflix a prime location to premiere its award-winning films or films it intends to market for awards consideration.
As Dana Polan, a professor in the Department of Cinema Studies at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, points out, for films to qualify for Academy Award nominations, they must have a theatrical run of at least one week in Los Angeles and New York. It's a policy Netflix observed with its Spanish-language feature "Roma," which had a limited theatrical in a handful of theaters in 2018. (The rule was temporarily loosened because of the pandemic.)
While Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Disney haven't publicly expressed their desire to purchase the closed theatrical landmark, members of the Hollywood community suggest it would be a smart move. Not only would theatrical runs qualify their original films for Oscars consideration, but it could keep streaming subscribers engaged. (Netflix and Amazon declined to comment. Hulu and Disney Plus did not return requests for comment in time for publication.)
"Adding things to membership [like buying a theater] may seemingly cost money, but in reality, they are a retention device that could be worth it," contends Evan Shapiro, an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning producer who ran IFCTV and Sundance TV for AMC Networks. "If my Netflix membership gets me some discount, choice seat selection and a glass of wine, or if my Amazon Prime membership — which now gets me a discount at Whole Foods — could also get me X number of tickets per month where I can not only go see a new premiere or even a small movie, that's a great benefit. That's an anti-churn move."
It's an open question as to whether the pandemic that forced people to stay at home — and temporarily shut most theaters — made viewers permanent streamers. But it bolstered their numbers and shifted Americans' view of the big screen.
Disney Plus, which launched in November 2019, topped 100 million subscribers last March; HBO Max, which rolled out last May, reached 40 million users this January. And Warner Bros. shocked Hollywood when it announced late last year that its entire 2021 film slate — 17 movies in all, including "Dune" and "The Matrix 4" – would simultaneously debut on HBO Max as well as in theaters.
As the lines continue to blur between the theatrical releases and streaming premieres, ownership of physical theaters could serve as a powerful negotiating chip with content providers.
Related: Explaining the Theatrical Release Window
"It's another way of negotiating with the content providers, because a lot of them — especially the artists who are behind the product — don't want to necessarily miss that theatrical window," said Alice Neuhauser, chief financial officer of Seismic Capital. "So for Netflix to be able to both offer them [content providers] a theatrical window and be able to lock in their streaming [rights], I think makes a great deal of sense. … I think there's still going to be a lot of appreciation for the need to accommodate the desires of those people."
Mitchell Block, a filmmaker who served as executive producer of the Academy Award-winning 2001 documentary "Big Mama" and remains one of the longest-running members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, saw the first cut of director Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" at the Cinerama Dome in 1979.
"It's very much a unique kind of place that really deserves continued use and preservation," adds Block.
Built in 1963 by Pacific Theaters' parent company the Decurion Corp. and designed by Welton Becket, who also designed the Capitol Records building nearby and Beverly Hilton hotels, the Cinerama Dome remains a unique structure. It was constructed to house what was then a new widescreen Cinerama system with a 70-millimeter projector capable of displaying images onto a curved screen. During its earlier years, The Dome, as it was nicknamed, hosted events including the premiere of the "Battle of the Bulge" and the West Coast premiere of "The Greatest Story Ever Told." It was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission in 1998.
Salvaging The Cinerama Dome, and possibly several of ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters locations remains an entirely plausible endeavor, contends Block.
"Whether or not it's Amazon or YouTube that comes in, it's really irrelevant," explains Block, suggesting a hybrid public and private ownership situation whereby a third-party group like Laemmle Theaters, a group of family-run arthouse movie theaters, owned and operated The Cinerama Dome, while other organizations like The Producers and Directors Guilds utilized other locations for their screenings.
The third possible option: an individual benefactor who sees the Dome as a separate purchase from the rest of the ArcLight and Pacific theater locations.
"I think there might be someone who would say, 'I'll save the Dome but not the entire company' and might negotiate that separately'," speculates Polan. "Could that be an individual benefactor? I don't know, but I could imagine Tarantino saying, 'I'm going to save the theater' or creating a consortium to achieve this."
As vaccinations around the U.S. increase and theaters slowly reopen, it's unclear whether audiences will flock back to theaters in droves and whether that will translate into investor appetite for theater chains. Still, there are signs of hope. Warner Bros.' "Godzilla vs. Kong," which also premiered on HBO Max, generated $32.3 million during its opening weekend in late March, making it the largest U.S. box office opening since the lockdown began.
So while the Cinerama Dome has gone dark, it's likely not going away entirely: its status as a cultural monument protects it from being demolished or even significantly altered for at least one year. That's certainly enough time for someone — or some streaming platform — to swoop in and revive the landmark for generations of moviegoers to come.
Sam Blake contributed to this report.
Los Angeles students are returning to classrooms this month that will look different and not only because desks will be six feet apart.
Laptops and tablets, which have been students' only connection to their teachers and classmates for the past year, will become prominent in classrooms that for generations have relied on paper and pen.
"I do think it's going to be a new game," said Michael Finn, who teaches at Marshall High School in Los Feliz. While technology has been available to Los Angeles Unified School District teachers long before the pandemic, teachers used it to varying degrees. Now, every teacher has adopted it and many are discovering more of its features and functions.
The nation's second largest school district began a phased reopening last week, with middle and high schools doors to open the week of April 26.
"Laptops, cameras, tablets are now just part of our learning environment," said Sophia Mendoza, who heads LAUSD's instructional technology division.
And so too are an array of educational software and other programs from Google Classroom and Schoology to quiz app Kahoot!, Newsela, a platform that hosts thousands of different texts geared toward different reading levels, and Nearpod, an app that allows teachers to take students on virtual field trips.
It will be a transformational shift in some classrooms where technology has been lacking.
When the pandemic hit last year and schools shuttered, districts across the country scrambled to ensure that students had devices to access online classes as well as a reliable connection to high-speed internet.
Some school districts also had to sign contracts for online learning management systems or other tools.
Google Classroom said more than 150 million students and teachers now use its services, up from 40 million last year.
And venture investment in education tech startups more than doubled last year to $13.49 billion compared to $5.1 billion in 2019, according to Pitchbook.
Analysts expect the pandemic to accelerate the growth of a digital learning infrastructure.
At the L.A.U.S.D. tech companies raked in $70 million during the first two months of the pandemic, documents first obtained by LAist show.
The largest share of the money, $37.8 million, went to Apple for iPads as the district scrambled to arm a half million students with internet access and devices.
The district spent another $22 million to purchase Chromebooks and Windows devices through a company called Arey Jones. Verizon also received school district money, although the exact amount wasn't clear based on the documents.
In May, Superintendent Austin Beutner said its push to distribute devices to all of the district's 550,000 students was nearly complete.
"If the transition to online learning is our moonshot, the rocket's been built and lift off has occurred. We're in the early days of an extraordinary voyage," Beutner said in May.
While teachers will still rely on fundamental techniques they've learned throughout their careers, new tech programs like Pear Deck — which integrates with Google Slides and allows students to interact with the teacher's presentation — could make teaching more effective.
"What we're seeing now is that teachers are starting to see the value in some of these things when they may not have really been interested in trying it out before," said Corinne Hyde, an associate teaching professor at USC's Rossier School of Education.
"A lot of teachers who were a little bit unsure before have gotten over that initial hump of being nervous of the technology or skeptical of the technology and seeing that there's some opportunity there even when students and teachers are going back into the classroom."
Flipgrid, a tool that was popular before the pandemic, is one that Hyde sees as remaining in use once students are back in classrooms. Teachers can create a prompt within a grid where students can collaborate to post video responses.
Hyde also imagines apps that allow students to take virtual field trips to places like the Louvre will remain in widespread use by teachers.
"There are certain things that we can do with technology on the ground that actually do transform the learning experience that are simply not possible without the technology," Hyde said.
Marshall High School's Finn said he'll continue to use a digital audio workstation program called Soundtrap for his songwriting class. He thinks other teachers will also be adopting apps and other tools they became accustomed to during the pandemic.
Mendoza envisions teachers using the technology for introductory videos from the teacher and students, digital forms for parents that can be accessed in real time, collaborative tools like digital documents that can be shared among students, and digital polls, quizzes, assessments and instant feedback.
"It's going to be strategic," Mendoza said. "Educators will have to decide when and how much and be purposeful."
What started out as crisis management has turned into a sustained change, Mendoza said.
"Our educators have really taken this crisis and turned it into opportunity," Mendoza said. "There are so many silver linings here in L.A. Unified...I do see our future as being very bright in the sense that a lot of learnings that we have all learned over the last 12 months will continue on."
Not Business as Usual
Devices will also take more of an outsized role as students gradually return. Teachers will still have to conduct their classes online, as some parents opt to keep their children home and many classes remain remote.
A recent survey by the district shows that less than a third of parents are ready to send their children back to the school yard. Those children will be offered instruction online.
At high schools, for example, students will only be on campus two to three days a week. The hustle and bustle of students rotating from classroom to classroom will be gone, instead, teenagers will have to remain seated at one desk and log on to classes. As a result, the teacher in the classroom may be teaching a completely different class than the ones students are logged into..
To accommodate this, the district is making noise-canceling headphones available.
Officials say while the arrangement isn't ideal, students will still have the social interaction with their classmates and teachers.
Instruction will also look different in elementary schools where students will attend class five days a week for a half day in small, staggered groups and log in for the remaining school day from home.
Mendoza envisions students coming to class with their device with them and when they sit down at their desks, they will pull it open to access the day's lesson plans and materials.
"The school walls have been broken down, virtually," Mendoza said.
Finn is looking forward to when he can stand up in the front of his classroom and ask his students to open their computers, without being worried that he's on mute.
"That's going to be magic," he said.
He's looking forward to being able to see students as they're completing their assignments online as some students turn off their cameras during virtual classes for various reasons.
"I'm excited and I feel it from my colleagues as well," he said. "We're excited to take the things that we've learned and be able to implement them with a student in front of us."
Lead image by Ian Hurley
Social video app Triller's parent company TrillerNet announced two acquisitions Wednesday, along with a new CEO.
The startup acquired Palo Alto-based Amplify.ai, which offers brands an AI chatbot tool to interact with consumers. It was previously integrated into Triller and will now become a wholly-owned subsidiary of TrillerNet, which says it will use the tool to "offer brands and advertisers a unique, fully comprehensive branded content experience, starting with influencer-created short-form content from [Triller] which is pushed through the wider internet while using Amplify's AI tools to properly match the content to consumer," according to a statement.
As part of the deal, Amplify AI's CEO Mahi de SIlva, who was already a TrillerNet board member, will become TrillerNet's CEO. Mike Lu will shift from TrillerNet's CEO to president, and will focus on investor relations.
In a separate deal, TrillerNet also has acquired FITE, a live-events and pay-per-view streaming platform focused on sports. The two companies had previously collaborated to distribute Triller-sponsored boxing matches, and FITE will now become the exclusive global distributor for Triller Fight Club, another of TrillerNet's relatively new subsidiaries.
"The deal represents our ambitions to not only expand Triller Fight Club and grow FITE's distribution relationships, but also to reimagine what, how and when premium music, sports and entertainment is delivered to today's audiences," said Bobby Sarnevesht and Ryan Kavanaugh, who together own the majority of the company's shares, in a joint statement.
Terms of the deals were not disclosed.
The moves represent a continuation of Kavanaugh and Sarnevesht's expansion of Triller, over which they took a controlling stake in late 2019. Late last year the company sponsored a fight between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr., which reportedly generated $80 million in pay-per-view revenue. The company has also recently created its own star-studded content network TrillerTV, launched an NFT marketplace and acquired online rap-battle platform Verzuz.
Sources familiar with the company previously told dot.LA that Triller has explored going public via a SPAC. Those sources said the valuation of the potential move would be dependent on the completion of a series of potential acquisitions. It is not immediately clear whether Verzuz, Amplify.AI or FITE were the targets, nor whether the SPAC plan will still go through.
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