SHORT END : Royce rolls off, Croft clocks in

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By Philip Wakefield

Exhibition/distribution identity Royce Moodabe has retired after 57 years in the business.
The eldest of pioneering exhibitor MJ (Michael Joseph) Moodabe’s three sons, he was farewelled at a 20th Century Fox conference last month in Bangkok.
Moodabe was managing director of 20th Century Fox New Zealand but his family’s association with the Hollywood studio dates to 1936.
According to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, MJ Moodabe persuaded Fox to buy a half interest in the exhibition company he ran with his brother, Joseph, to help guarantee film supply for Amalgamated Theatres.
“By 1938 the company’s circuit had grown to 65 cinemas, and attendances that year were said to be five million – equivalent to three visits by every New Zealander.
“When television came to New Zealand in 1960, the Moodabes arranged for Fox to buy the remaining half share; the latter agreed on condition that the Moodabe family remain in management control …
“In 1962 the Moodabe brothers retired from the cinema chain they had created, leaving the executive management (with Fox’s blessing) to Michael’s three sons, Royce, Michael and Joseph.”
Despite being the son of a “born showman”, Royce Moodabe traditionally has eschewed personal publicity and declined media requests for interviews when his retirement was announced.
In a Fox press release, he described movies as his passion. “It has indeed been my privilege to have helped entertain generations of moviegoers.
“My time in the business has been nothing short of breathtaking. I am extremely pleased to have been part of it all.”
Moodabe exits on a high note, with Fox movies – including Ice Age 2, X-Men: The Last Stand and River Queen, accounting for 25% of the box office in the first half of the year.
His successor at Fox, Mark Croft, says Moodabe met a range of challenges during his extraordinary tenure, from the introduction of TV and home video to the development of multiplexes.
“It’s testament to Royce that he has been so successful through such a period of change in the industry – and still holds the respect of people around him.”
Croft says replacing Moodabe is daunting but, having worked alongside him for six years marketing Fox releases, “I should be able to pick up the reins without too much of a hiccup.”
One of his top priorities is investigating how New Zealand cinemas are preparing for the changeover to digital.
“Big changes are coming,” he says. “Fox has taken the lead in setting the industry standard … and has started delivering films in digital form to cinemas that are ready to go with it.
“In the next five years there will be a huge roll-out of digital cinema throughout the world.”
Digital cinemas project films from discs but once there’s sufficient bandwidth, broadband will be the preferred delivery vehicle.
“It’s just a matter of time before studios and cinemas are connected,” Croft predicts. “In 10 years, 50% of the world will be digital.”
Who will pay for the transition is unclear but Croft says cost is much less of an issue because a number of business models have been developed.
“Some require participation by the studios, others not. It’s a matter of looking at individual territories and the desire of people to advance digital.”
Croft doesn’t see the new technology putting distributors out of work.
“The physical distribution of prints is only 5% of a distributor’s job,” he says. “You still need strong marketing at the local level.”
An example of this was Fox NZ’s success with The Ringer, a comedy about the fixing of the Special Olympics that Croft says was popular here but didn’t work elsewhere.
Fears that The Ringer would offend people proved groundless when Fox previewed it to a Special Olympics audience that found it entertaining.
“Word of mouth spread through the whole community organically,” Croft says.
Meanwhile, Royce’s brother, Joe Moodabe, is at the helm of this month’s opening of SkyCity Cinemas’ first Wellington multiplex, in Lower Hutt.
It will introduce Gold Class seating to the Capital, and Croft believes this is as much the way of the future as digital.
“The overall entertainment market is in a constant state of change,” he says, citing the proliferation of home cinema systems and next year’s launch of free-to-air digital TV.
“These present a challenge in terms of people’s time, not just their disposable income.”
He expects more cinemas will offer Gold Class-style seating to combat the appeal of watching movies on high definition DVD at home in an armchair.
“[In Bangkok] I saw some amazing examples of individual cinema comfort that will compete with people’s lounges.
“It will cost more but it is supremely comfortable and gives viewers the sensation of flying first-class.”

© Copyright Onfilm magazine August 2006

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