How Big Picture was Created and is Giving Back
The following speech was given in April 2007 for an American Red Cross event held at Big Picture Redmond by Mark Stern, founder and successful entrepreneur of Big Picture. This is the story of Big Picture and giving back to the community.
"This is truly a highlight moment in my personal life and it almost didn't happen. We are here today because of a magical moment of clarity and the power of the word Yes. I wish I could tell you that I was the original reason that we are here today but there are 2 wonderful people who brought us here tonight. Before I give you that story I thought that I would tell you a little bit about my background.
I am a third generation movie theatre owner from Chicago which explains my bubbly personality. I have managed and owned theatres for the past 31 years starting in 1976. In 1979 I was managing 3 Chicago theatres. In between I produced a local rock band and did night club promotions for some of the largest nightclubs in Chicago including The Limelight. I am a licensed film buyer and I negotiate with every major film company in licensing their motion pictures that play at our theatres; which means, I was not smart enough to go into banking. The film business is like the movie "China Town". Once you realize that there are no rules you can do business.
My family has continually owned and operated theaters starting around 1927 up-until today. In those days my family had a very important decision to make and that was whether or not to
invest in what was then called "talkies". My grandfather, Henry Stern, and my great Uncle Charley, like many theatre owners of that era, thought that talkies could be a fad and they had a
very big and risky decision to make in that the new sound technology cost between $10 and $15 thousand dollars. That was a tremendous amount of money to spend during the height of
the depression. They took a gamble and bought the sound equipment. Technology had changed an industry and they were pioneers. My family members were also innovators in that they
opened up the very first art house theatre in Chicago located at the corner of Chicago and Michigan Avenue called the Cinema Theatre in 1931 which specialized in showcasing British
films. Later in 1966 they played a French film called "A Man and A Women" That film played for 66 weeks at the Cinema which is a record! In those days, the ushers wore white shark
skinned tuxedos in the summer and black in winter. The customers dressed in suits and sport coats. The Cinema had a baby balcony on top and a swanky lounge below. The main floor
had over 500 seats.
If you ever wanted to own an art house theatre - the Cinema was the one. My grandfather believed in showmanship and hopefully with the Big Picture concept we are bringing that showmanship back.
Recently, we sold our last remaining theatre in Chicago called the Wilmette Theatre which we owned for 40 years.
Years ago, I had just built a five screen theatre in the west suburbs of Chicago when two multiplexes, one with 14 screens and the other with 16 screens, opened up very close by me. We now had to split the customers and business was very bad. It was only a matter of time before my ship was going to sink. I became convinced that the traditional theatre model was not sound but I had no idea what to do for a living. I was truly lost. Then one day I saw an ad for this new state-of-the-art digital projector on the internet. I knew about digital projectors as I would see them in sports bars. The image, brightness and resolution were terrible on a big screen.
I went to a trade show in Dallas Texas called Infocomm and I went to see the new technology in digital projection. The temperature was in the 90's and I had a very bad cold. The event featured what they called a shoot out where all of these new projectors were lined up with each other all playing the same thing. The projection salesman took a laptop computer and plugged it into his digital projector and - bam- the most incredible image came on the theatre sized screen. I was blown away because you can't plug a laptop computer into a film projector. So, I asked in disbelief, you can plug your laptop into this projector and have an image that looks as good as a movie on the theatre screen? Yes. And you can show the internet on the movie screen? Yes, that is correct.
This was the missing link that I was looking for in how to take the theatre experience to a whole new level. The projector was listed at around $80,000 - I told the salesman that I would buy the projector and he was like "sure you will kid". I can tell you that that salesman took me out to lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel when I bought it.
With the digital projector and the rise of digital technology we had the basis of our concept. It was my interest in the nightclub business that led to the next piece which was the hip
furnishings and plush theatres. From my nightclub days I had always been a fan of Ian Shrager, Does anyone know who he is? He was one of the founders of Studio 54, and the person who
pioneered the concept of the "boutique hotel". Well now, what if we created the first boutique digital theatre as a business model? We would build beautiful, intimate theatres that look
hip and feel comfortable and promote them as an intimate alternative to the generic, white walled experience offered by hotel meeting rooms and banquet halls. We'd focus on marketing to
the corporate community and keep them coming back for the great service and to enjoy our venue to hold business presentations and parties. I also knew that a new technology called DVD
was going to give our digital theatres something to shout about. 9 years ago hardly anyone knew what a DVD was. We now hold DVD movie parties for many of the nation's largest companies
Our mantra is that hotel meeting space is boring and there is nothing really special about going to a multiplex theatre. We opened up Big Picture 8 years ago and this month Big Picture Redmond is 2 years old. We decided to compete with the biggest branded hotels to steal you away from that experience. On the days that we are not booked for meetings and events we show first run movies to the public. We will bring martinis to your exact theatre seat at the exact time that you tell us to and we bring the popcorn to your seat in a Champagne bucket with 2 white napkins and white cheddar cheese sprinkled on top. The seats are the first ever Tempur-Pedic theatre seats and the raisinettes are served to you in a martini glass. There is even a love seat in the very back of our theatre in case you want to make out. We do not show commercials before the film and all of the furniture and the bar were custom made. Look around you as there are no kids here to ruin it.
We make meetings and movies memorable and in June we are opening up a hip billiards club called the Q Club here at Redmond.
Community service is very important to me and The Red Cross has the resources and the dedication of reaching out to large numbers of people in need which brings me to the beginning of
that moment of clarity and the power of the word "Yes" that I mentioned at the beginning. Right after Hurricane Katrina hit with all of the victims on television I had an event coordinator
named Nancy Ufkus who said to me "Mark let's do a fund raiser for the victims". I looked at her and said we can't do that as it would take too much time to put an event together so
quickly. I do events for a living. How was it possible that I could dismiss her idea so easily? I told my wife, Katie, later that day what Nancy had suggested and Katie looked at me
and without missing a beat said "Well I hope you told her that we would do it?". I was ashamed as I told Katie that I had told her no that it was too much work to put an event together
so quickly. Katie jumped into action. She said well it's a great idea and we're doing it! Katie told me that we would do a movie screening benefit for the victims and immediately went
on the internet to look for a film that might be perfect and quickly came up with a film entitled "The Big Easy" from 1987 starring Ellen Barkin and Dennis Quaid. Katie said call the
film studio and book it! I called Sony Pictures and when I told the women what we were going to do she decided to not charge us for the film and she was chocked up and thanked me
before I hung up. We have over 35,000 thousand email subscribers who receive our news letter. Katie made up a beautiful invitation to the event and the word got out faster than you
could say "No, that would take up too much time to put together".
Big Picture promoted two back- to- back benefits for the Hurricane Katrina victims with the goal of raising money for this wonderful organization called the American Red Cross. We sold out the benefit in Seattle and we sold out the benefit the very next night here in Redmond. We had many people who could not get in and they gave money at the door. It took us just a few hours of work to package these events and get the word out and I am proud to tell you that we gave 100 percent of the ticket sales and 100 percent of the bar sales in the amount of $8,500 to the American Red Cross. Katie and Nancy had a moment of clarity and had the can do attitude of the word Yes. Would Katie and Nancy please stand.
We have created a successful policy that works very well with our business model. While we cannot donate Big Picture to all of the important charities that reach out to us, we do offer a non profit rate and we donate beautiful gift certificates for a night of movie going entertainment that the charity's can use at their auctions. Last year we gave out over 100 gift certificates to a variety of charitable organizations.
If you have a skill or service you can make a difference but you have to know the power of Yes. I would like to thank the American Red Cross for honoring us and for bringing us here tonight. Thank you."
‘Laugh for Love’ Valentine’s Day Date Party
On Valentine’s Day 2011, Big Picture sponsored 'Laugh
for Love' a special Valentine’s evening in Redmond that featured The EDGE, Seattle’s
hilariously entertaining improv troupe. This event raised a total of $3,000 for American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Redmond Kirkland.