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August 2, 2011 3:26 a.m.

KPBS film critic speaks with Carlos Wellman of Cinepolis.

Related Story: Rants and Raves: Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

KPBS-FM Radio Feature: Cinepolis
By Beth Accomando
Air date: August 2, 2011

Last month, Cinepolis [sin-epp-o-lis] Luxury Cinemas opened its doors in Del Mar Highlands. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando asks if a luxury theater with $22 ticket prices can survive in our current economy?

CINE (ba).wav 3:58

Tag: Cinepolis [sin-epp-o-lis] is located in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center on El Camino Real. For more information check out Beth's blog Cinema Junkie at K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G.


A Mexican theater chain has just opened a new luxury cinema in Del Mar Highlands.

CARLOS WELLMAN: Now this is the first venture or adventure in the US. And we are very excited about this new brand we have created called Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas. This is the first of its kind we do have 34 VIP locations in Mexico, and this is kind of evolved after that and we try to do it a little different more into the California style.

Carlos Wellman is the managing director of Cinepolis [sin-epp-o-lis] Luxury Cinemas and he speaks with KPBS film critic Beth Accomando about the challenges of selling a high end filmgoing experience to consumers. That's coming up later on Morning Edition.

If you want to watch a movie these days you have a lot of choices. You can go to a multiplex, pick up a Bluray to watch at home, stream a movie to your TV, or download films to your iPhone. You can watch in 2-D, 3-D,4DX or Dbox. But with all the new fangled technology, Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas are returning to something old.

CARLOS WELLMAN: We're trying to recreate that luxurious experience that our grandparents grew up with where going out to the theater was a whole event.

Carlos Wellman is the managing director of Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas. The Mexico-based company runs the largest movie chain in Latin America. Last month it opened its first theater in the U.S. Cinepolis took over the old UltraStar Del Mar and renovated the multiplex with a mix of old movie palace grandeur and new state of the art digital projection. It's all part of a business plan that involves careful evaluation of demographics.

CARLOS WELLMAN: The people that live around the area, the affluence of the people that live around the area,the average household incomes are to support our business model to say people might want to choose us to go to the theater versus others.

That's because Cinepolis boasts 38-foot screens, a full bar and restaurant, at least 7 feet of aisle space, and 2 of the 8 auditoriums allow liquor sales inside. There's also stadium style seating with each successive row a full 2 feet higher than the previous one. Plus every seat is a leather recliner, which impressed first time patron Kathy Hansen.

KATHY HANSEN The seats are phenomenal really comfortable they are cushy and you have a place to push a button and server comes and serves you. I mean what else could you ask for?

Such amenities attracted Gina Triblett's kids who wanted to see the new Smurfs movie.

GINA TRIBLLET They are really excited about getting on the chairs and moving them around and ordering food and it's so nice and clean and for a treat this is a nice place to come but the price is quite a bit more expensive than what we are accustomed to paying so it probably won't be our regular movie theater.

Phillip Lorenzo came to the theater its opening weekend.

PHILLIP LORENZO: Sitting in the theater when I went to see Captain America I have never sat in a more comfortable seat in my life. And I think that's the most important thing about it. It's nice that there's restaurants, it's nice that there's a lounge, But the most important thing is your experience watching the film.

That's important to Lorenzo who is the managing director of the San Diego Asian Film Festival. He thinks the theater could provide a perfect venue for fundraisers or intimate screenings with filmmakers.

PHILLIP LORENZO: I think the big thing that's attractive to me is this exclusivity, it's almost like you're driving a BMW or Mercedes instead of a Yugo or something.

And people appreciate that says Cinepolis' Wellman.

CARLOS WELLMAN: We opened the doors and before we were even said we were open we were full. So we have about 72 people on our staff right now and we're hiring more because we noticed the rush times we need to have more waiters, we need to have more runners, we need to have more bartenders, we need to have more managers.

Wellman admits that the overhead for his theater is higher than for the typical multiplex because he has a full bar and restaurant as well. But he's factored that into the equation.

CARLOS WELLMAN: In reality our business model works at a pretty low percentage rent. Most theaters are running at 8 to 18 percent. We hope to exceed 50 percent but we will be okay if it's lower than that now obviously given that it's a couple of weeks we've been running at over 75 percent so that's telling you that we think we might be have a good product.

Having a 40-year-old multi-million dollar corporation behind you provides a nice cushion, which may be why Cinepolis is already pushing ahead with construction of a theater in La Costa and just signed a lease for another in Laguna Nigel. Wellman says that in less than 6 months he hopes to have 7 locations in California offering consumers a high end movie going experience.

For KPBS, I'm Beth Accomando.