CULTURE

Multiplex cinema firm looks at Athens

A night at the movies has become an altogether different experience in this country over the last few years, as Greece follows in the footsteps of the United States and other European countries with introducing multiplex cinemas. In the new premises these days, a film screening may be accompanied by shopping or dining, and both Greek and foreign companies have jumped into the fresh local market. «Opportunity» is the term employed by Charles Wesoky, general manager of Europlex, a European multiplex company, whose eight-screen complex in Patras began operating on November 22. Though an American, Wesoky maintains that the company (which is financed by the George Soros group) has a European orientation – both in terms of management and in selecting the films to be screened. Why did you choose Greece? I’ve been living in Europe for the last 17 years and I’ve been considering Greece for a long time. I realized that there was great potential back at the end of the ’80s, but at the time I was working for a company which considered the Greek market too small. Today Europlex is focusing on three European countries, Greece, Italy and Switzerland. Is there space for new multiplexes in Greece? We wouldn’t invest here if we didn’t believe that there was room for us. Looking at the population and its distribution, we realized that there is a lot of potential. Companies such as Village Roadshow, Ster, and Odeon are constantly developing. We believe, however, that we have one difference: Given the company’s European outlook, we don’t take over and we are not taken over, while our executives live in the countries we operate in. We examine the local public’s attitude, our design is close to European elegance – not too shiny – and we are really interested in the variety of screened films. I have encountered a different culture in every country I have worked in during the 32 years of my career. European cinema has a different orientation and we want to safeguard this variety. This is a business, of course, but we try to combine it with variety. There are also more and more Greek and international productions represented by local distributors. Given my studies in communications and cinema I thought I was going to get involved in the artistic or the production side of the field. I ended up on the business side, but I’m still interested in the artistic variety. What other cities are you looking at? We are looking for opportunities all over the country, but there is nothing to announce yet. Cassandra Campbell, who is in charge of the Greek bureau, is constantly looking for areas and conducting market research. Athens is an obvious target for us. It is a vast city in which people find it hard to go from one place to another for entertainment purposes. There are opportunities, but we want to make sure that the spot we choose will not be served by others. What have been the greatest changes as far as the complexes are concerned and what do you foresee for the future? The changes concern the way the complexes were designed, such as their size or the greater number of cinemas; they have also changed business practices, such as companies not adopting an aggressive stance toward competitors, by trying to put them out of business, or more fundamentally through cooperation in countries in which these complexes have been developed and, of course, through technological changes when screening a film, such as sound or amphitheatrical design, something which ancient Greeks and Romans already knew in the old days. The most important thing for us is that we have realized that our business’s management must suit the needs of our clients. As for the future, it’s all about digital and satellite screenings, though setting up the necessary equipment is still very expensive. You should not expect to set up such equipment and be profitable. In order for this to happen, you need to count on the cooperation of various phases of production, such as distribution and promotion. I believe that we will move on to such technological changes in three to seven years, but we have to take them into account from now.