Considering Imax® and Omnimax® Theaters in Science Museums as Traveling Exhibits – Association of Science & Technology Centers (ASTC) 1992, Toronto Annual Meeting
Transcript – 60 minute Panel Discussion Created and Moderated by Ben Shedd with Dr. Jeffrey Kirsch, CEO Reuben Fleet Science Center, San Diego, CA and Executive Producer IMAX Films, Linda Johnson, Associate Director of Programs, Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Fort Worth, Texas, Diane Carlson, Director of Public Programs, Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Washington.
Panel Transcript – Recorded from audience. A few sections are partly inaudible.
Ben Shedd/Moderator: The title of this panel is “Considering Imax and Omnimax Theaters as Traveling Exhibits Space.”
Science museums, Cultural Centers with Imax theaters and Omnimax theaters constitute at the moment 64% of the large format theaters. The Imax Corporation estimates that when the new theaters come on line that figure will probably change to 62% and this panel is about how think about what the makes the museum theaters special. It’s about thinking about how science centers dedicate certain amount of square footage and museum staff to the operations of the large format theater. These theaters have well documented drawing power. The question is, as other large format theaters show up, probably in the same cities, how can science centers differentiate themselves with the way their theaters present films. Now I want to explore the similarities and differences between the presentations of Imax/Omnimax theaters and museum traveling exhibits. Often the films are shown in the theaters and are produced by museum or consortium museums and that is very similar to the collaborative making traveling exhibits. The films are booked and leased in museums in a fashion similar to traveling exhibits. In many ways the events in the Imax/Omnimax theaters to my mind can be viewed as an everchanging traveling exhibit. There are many of the events within the theater – previews, trailers, ushers and in some cases even popcorn, the entering/exit activities prompted my mind from movie theater traditions rather than from museum exhibit traditions. And the question that I would like us to discuss today is where do the traditions merge and where do they converge.
Some of the questions we’re going to address are:
· How does the experience in the Imax/Omnimax theater relate to the larger museum activities?
· What types of films meet the museum mandates?
· How will the museum Imax/Omnimax theaters differentiate themselves in the future in the larger event film market?
· How can museums influence the film subject and content?
· How can theater staff be part of larger museum operation? How are the activities in the theaters perceived by the public in relationship to the entire museum experience?
· How can the museums tie the films with exhibits and educational activities in the museum?
I want to thank the Alden B. Dow Creativity Center and the Science Museum in Minnesota for sponsoring a fellowship where I did the basic underpinnings of this research.
I was partly drawn to this question when I was reading Peter Anderson’s book written for the Association of Science and Technology Centers. Is everybody familiar with that booklet? The Space Theater Consortium is a subset of the Association of Science and Technology Centers [ASTC], which has published a number of publications about designing science centers and exhibits and one of the books is called `Before the Blueprint’ and in the subset paragraph 6.9 under theaters, the author writes museums and science centers now have theaters, some of these are simply program spaces, others are major revenue resources. It notes that big screen theaters that these are usually Imax/Omnimax theaters where the primary purpose is revenue generation. And then parenthetically it says, “Note, however, that increasing efforts are being made to enhance the educational content of the shows.” At the same time I was reading a wonderful article by Rob Semper, when he wrote this he was the acting director of the Exploratorium, and it’s an article called “Science Museums as Environments for Learning.” “The museum is an educational county fair, a serious and exciting learning environment with relationships between one exhibit and the next and among the exhibits the visitor space can be seen as whole or very important.”
I travel a lot to see the various films I’m working on and I get to lot of different theaters and I was struck by the fact that in many cases I have the impression that the Imax/Omnimax theater is disconnected from the rest of the activities in the museum and my idea is it’s a giant moving image window of the very world that science centers are trying to explore and every other nook and cranny of the science center needs to be actively displaying science education. With this panel, we’re here to try to take a five year view into the future about how theaters might be more incorporated into the regular exhibit activities of the museum. I chose the traveling exhibits space parallel as a starting point for the discussion because when I use exhibit language that is applied to an Imax/Omnimax film I find it very useful.
During the several years I’ve been coming to STC meetings, I had the opportunity to talk with these other panelists about this idea and asked that all of them join me to talk about the museum experience and the Imax theaters and film content.
I would like to start by introducing Dr. Jeffrey Kirsch. Dr. Kirsch is the Executive Director of the Ruben Fleet Space Theater and Science Center and he also, among his many hats, is the ASTC Co-chairman of the Traveling Exhibits Committee. I’ve asked Jeff to spend a few minutes defining what traveling exhibits are and to see how some of that language might apply to the Imax/Omnimax theater experience.
Jeffrey Kirsch: Thank you, Ben, for having this type of panel.
I view traveling exhibitions from a general standpoint as exhibitions that meet the need and are targeted to educate and entertain a wider audience than the museum ordinarily attracts. They are, in fact, designed, and this is becoming more and more the case, to attract and provide elevated image, public image, for the museum and they are specifically used by the programmers and the publicists to keep the museum in the public light and provide the local community with access to diversification of exhibition material that the local staff within budget within reason could be expected to provide. So, it is, I think, viewed by the museum administrators now becoming much more of an ordinary thing to have extraordinary exhibitions at your institution that has been produced outside the institution. It has developed in parallel with film, I think Omnimax film has established many collaboratives in the museum network, special collaboratives amongst small numbers of the museums. It was in that same spirit that the major exhibit collaboratives have been born, that have made traveling exhibitions, I think, kind of blossom in the same ten year period. The max, which I’m not sure what that stands for but it’s the big exhibit collaborative, exhibit research, (inaudible). And then one which we are a member of, the smaller institution of the exhibit research collaborative which produces smaller square foot exhibits and I think there is even a third party creating exhibits. These have been extraordinarily successful in my opinion at bringing a diversified group of exhibits to people around the country. In fact that many of them travel around the world. We have one that’s on the world that is being picked up for international exhibitions. So, as we look at that as travel exhibitions and the role they are playing in institutions, it’s clear to me that in many respects what I use to describe a traveling exhibition–one-to-one transformation over to describing what the large format film is. It is–they are, they have been generally intended to attract the lighter audience to a museum.
Every museum that has developed an Omnimax theater and Imax theater has intended to increase dependence by widening its attractiveness. Because the programs change, generally twice a year, sometimes more often, sometimes less. But because of the subject matter being interesting but bringing in people to publicize the film or having somebody (inaudible) on a hospital building or bringing–like they do with the traveling exhibits–the dinosaur down at the lakeside in Chicago, you gonna have to attract the attention of the media with (inaudible) and the excitement bringing a large format film and museums use it to keep themselves in the public image, to give themselves an allure to a wider audience. So, I see this relationship as being very (inaudible) in terms of the treating, if you can treat the films, large format film, as a traveling exhibit, it may, in fact, as we start thinking along these lines, make administrating museums a little bit easier to comprehend. When you are dealing with exhibit departments and, if not film making departments, groups at the museum are helping to produce films. The one issue that comes up right away is that or how much is the museum willing to put in the film versus how much into a traveling exhibit. There, I think, is by-in-large where you see a wide disparity and I think it’s been to the detriment of the film and to the benefit of exhibit makers.
I think yesterday we had a comment from Bertrand (inaudible) that what you do is you get the film makers to work cheaper to produce cheaper films. I think that’s problematic given the level of cost involved in making the films that, I think, the recent that was left unsaid in yesterday’s meeting is how much a museum’s willing to invest and or pay for films. Are they treating the film the same way the would treat major exhibits, and, I think, in large part the answer to that’s no they’re not. The film is still the second cousin, with the exception of a few of the museums that are playing a major role in producing films or invest a large share of their capital resources into film making and need capital (inaudible) dollars and the brainpower. The large majority are, especially if the community is reactive and is passive when it comes to film production. I think what the museum network and others have been able to establish is when museums get involved in production things happen to the film. You start to see better films. I think the one thing that everybody agrees is we need better exhibits and we need better films and the films will become integral to the museums and get the museums to (inaudible) more integrated in donating the cost. There is the kind of a message I want to leave and we can draw in the details etc, but I think my colleagues have a different prospective which I’m real interested to hear.
Ben Shedd/Moderator: Thank you, Jeff. I invited Diane Carlson who is the Director of Public Programs at the Pacific Science Center to talk for a few minutes about integrating the staff of the Imax/Omnimax theaters on larger museum activities.
Diane Carlson: Thanks, Ben. You know if there hadn’t been so many friends in the audience tonight, it would have been easier. I think that makes for a bigger challenge and thank you all for coming. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the Pacific Science Center it is located in Seattle. We are a regional institution and we serve about 1.2 million throughout our entire state. Of that 1.2 million we serve about 900,000 at our facility. And our facility includes four exhibit buildings and two theaters, one of which is an Imax Theater. Now for us, last year 96% of our daytime visitors to the Imax Theater also participated in our exhibits program. So for our visitors the integration of theaters into their total experience is a reality.
In wanting the best for our visitors, our theater staff, we’ll call visitor service systems, must be actively of all of the programs and they are there to service the entire experience, they’re are just not ticket takers. This is a challenge, and I know it’s a challenge that we all face. I’m sure that for the most of us are front line staff is probably paid the lowest wages. This group probably has the largest turnover, and the cinema job is sort of a necessary burden out of the career options. Our staff does a good job and they are knowledgeable about the rest of the institution. I was pleased by these comments but I also know that we can always do a better job.
Here are some of the elements that we have used in our facility to have all of our programs and services integrated for the public. A key point is that all the on-site workstaff are in the same division. It is called Public Program and Visitors Services. Staff are cross-trained in several areas. There is nobody who is just a cashier. There is nobody who is just an usher. There is no one that’s just a demonstrator. This has several advantages, one is a more knowledgeable staff. It also breaks down artificial barriers that come between staff like `Oh, you’re only the ushering staff,’ or `You’re only the cashiering staff.’ I think it gives a message that we are all there to serve our guests. We also get a less bored staff. We rotate staff through their positions throughout the day. On real busy days, for example, no one ushers actually more than about two hours at a time. New uniforms and nametags without titles – first name only – are similar for all staff in all divisions that work with the public. So again this reinforces the message to the staff as well as to the public that everyone is there to help them and the theater is just as integrated with the whole operation as are traveling exhibits. Again, I want to emphasize this is all staff oriented, our visitor’s service staff, gift shop staff, they are all highly identifiable. I should also mention that the marketing department is also is in the visitors service division. Again, I think, that sends a message that marketing is everyone’s business. It’s not just a group that puts a few ads out in the newspaper or radio spots.
The most important marketing we feel is that that happens right on site of the total visit for our guests. Another element that I think is important is that all staff are empowered to make our guests visit a good one. And we offer a full refund – no questions asked. We treat experience at Imax the way we do at an exhibit. If you don’t like the film, you are unhappy with your experience, whoever is working as the usher, can say: “Please go to the ticket booth, you’ll get a full refund.” There won’t be any questions asked at the ticket booth. I think this gives the staff a sense of control and a sense of importance that they can help that visitor out. The third area is communication. I put here in my notes – Communication, Communication, Communication. No matter how much we do, it’s not enough but everything helps.
There are three levels of meetings in terms of our staff, in particular our part-time staff, that I think is real important. One, there is a meeting of 15 – 20 minutes for all for floor staff and volunteers each day. On a light day when we’re not very busy, this maybe 10 – 15 people. On other days it’s up to 40 people. Everyone gets together for that 15 – 20 minutes in the morning. These meetings provide immediate update and reminders of special promotions, of exhibits that aren’t in service that day, of program changes. This is very helpful, especially with the constantly changing and large number of part time staff. The staff in the theater can alert a visitor if they happen to mention an exhibit that perhaps the staff was servicing that day, but they should try the Diatron or another exhibit. The volunteer in our animal attractions area has suggested to a family that’s really keenly involved in animals, stop by and the mountain gorilla. There is also a monthly staff meeting that all staff, part-time, full-time and volunteers are invited to. These include freshly baked coffee cakes, coffee and tea. It not only increases participation, but I really think it is a gracious way to treat our staff. A lot of times, it’s those little things that make a difference and, then again, the part-time staff feels part of the whole.
We include the staff previews of upcoming films at this time and if the schedule works we also bring in films at that time for preview testing and we always ask staff to provide information and evaluation of the film. Again, that also includes staff, whether they are in shop or in the accounting division. They are all invited to the screening. Then the staff are invited to special sessions and get private seats inside into a film or program. We have brown bag lunches, for example, there’s been brown bag lunches with visiting Soviet cosmonauts when we had the Soviet space exhibit and again it’s open to all staff. For example, with Mountain Gorilla, we had a movement and vocalization workshop with Craig Scholey(?) who was the scientific advisor for development. Our staff biologist participated in this program, met with Craig and got information that then she would incorporate into a workshop on endangered species for our school groups. At the same time, this fall, we hope to incorporate a mini-vocalization workshop just (inaudible) at the beginning of each school screening of Mountain Gorilla. We would have done this last spring, but the shows were so full we didn’t have enough turn-around-time to actually do that. These are just a few concrete examples.
In preparing for the presentation, I thought of another idea that will be incorporated into our training. We have articles from the Big Frame magazine available for all staff volunteers so they can get information on films. At times, I have done Behind-The-Scenes information sheets with the kind of tidbits that we all pick up at these kinds of sessions or talking to our colleagues or the filmmakers. I sometimes talk with the staff and I realize in thinking about this presentation that I think that’s a really important thing to do. Again, it makes them have information that’s not otherwise available, and they can share these tidbits with audience when they are waiting in line or coming out of the theater.
Training all new staff, it requires you spend a minimum of eight hours of experience in our programs, including Imax. I wish I could stand here and say, yes, every single one of them get in all their eight hours. I think we all know we have the times when you hire someone, they have to get on the job, but we do really try to keep on all the staff and get everyone to get that time in. Imax is automatically seen consequently as part of the integrated whole of the Science Center offerings.
I think the things I have been talking about are really tools and strategies; however, the most important fundamental element is the vision from the top. It’s our executive director, George Moynihan who champions, directs and unifies the visitors service experience. I think there is no question that the Imax Theater’s fully integrated into the complete visit. It’s our institutional policy to make experiences as good as possible for our guests. I think this commitment to the division is probably most strongly seen in the program that’s he initiated and that’s called alternative service. In this program all full-time staff, including George himself, work nine days out of their regular work schedule in a public area. And again, the priority is the public area. This keeps all staff focused on serving the public and also adds a special dimension, when our staff sees George on hand greeting visitors, acting as an usher, taking the tickets and giving the introduction to the Imax film. It also has given an interesting opportunity for our visitors to interact directly with our executive director and so I think that this gives an idea of the total involvement of the staff in the operation as a whole and how we try to integrate the theater into the program. Thank you.
Question from audience: Diane, is that nine days per year?
Diane Carlson: Nine days per year and these are not extra. I mean this is–everyone is released from their normal job nine days a year. Then I can answer more questions on that later and turn it over to Linda.
Ben Shedd/Moderator: Thanks, Diane. I appreciate your contributions to this discussion. I invited Diane to join this panel because of the several times I have visited the Pacific Science Center and found very much that the staff is in a way dealing with the Imax theater very much like an exhibit space and seeing it as an integrated part of their science interpreters being able to actually give information about the films. Thank you.
I’m about to introduce Linda Johnson, our next speaker. Linda is Associate Director of Programs at the Ft. Worth Museum of Science and History. I invited Linda to do a presentation on the visitor’s view of the theater which is an idea which she has been researching for some time.
Linda Johnson: Well, that’s the truth and it is an idea which I will be researching, I’m sure, until the day I die. This is one of the most difficult issues. Jeff alluded to it. We’re lower than classic museum exhibit collectors and I spent two days this summer at a retreat to determine what was happening with that organization and found that they were dealing with some of the same issues that the theaters have been grappling with for years. Things that were never even mentioned ten years ago when our organization was formed. It was fascinating because I think there is quite a bit of (inaudible) exhibits in this town. But SMAK(?) people who building exhibits, temporary exhibits, people making (inaudible) and trying to figure out the point of view audiences are faced with. The tremendous difficulty of trying to quantify the quality of the experience. It is extremely difficult. I’m drawing the information I’m going to be talking about this morning mostly from a survey we did ten years ago. It just so happens that, at this present moment in fact, we are finishing up a survey that is very similar in a sense to what we did ten years ago for our visit program. That deals with Omnitheater audiences.
I wish we were doing this six months from now because I’ll know a whole more about that because as I said it’s an ongoing process. In 1982 before we opened our Omnitheater we did quite a bit of market research. We did a combination of focus group testing, in-depth interviews with the staffs and collected 1150 questionnaires from respondents who were from areas where they had never been to a museum before, to telephone surveys from the entire metropolitan area Dallas and Fort Worth, as well as people who are in our institutions. There was a very broad range of information that we were seeing. One of the questions that we asked because we began the survey talking to them about forms of entertainment that they participated in and then worked into the Omnitheater context. Which, remember, ten years ago that market never had any idea what you were talking about. No concept for what this was. And so I want to read to you how we described the theater to (inaudible) or any person that (inaudible) and then give you an idea ten years ago of what their responses were to this information. We said – I am going to read you a brief description of a new multipurpose facility then ask you a few questions about it. “A new multipurpose facility is now being constructed at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. This facility will have (inaudible) tilted down which completely surround 360 seats. It will be the largest of its kind in the world. Large scale motion picture film is projected on to the entire dome. The seating arrangement alone (inaudible) visibility. Typical film subjects will be oceanography, earthquakes and volcanoes, other cultures, the space shuttle launch and the stars and planets. The huge show gives the viewer an often feeling of being engulfed by the image. Our programs usually last one hour. This facility could also come to plays and concerts on the small stage area. How appealing is this facility to you? 57% answered very good. On a scale from 1 to 5 with 1 being yes, very much and 5 being be no, not at all, would you consider the film program mentioned above as 1) entertaining on a 1 to 5 scale, 2) educational on a 1 to 5 scale, and 3) for all ages.
What’s interesting to me is, remember that description is somewhat skewed towards (inaudible) libraries, on that one top scale, 4.63 was the mean or average for (inaudible) educational which was the top response. (inaudible) 4.41 for entertaining and the third highest average of 4.29 was for all ages. I think it’s interesting that the perception was (inaudible) theater and we described it in essence as we marketed it when we opened is that it was an educational theater. Well, another thing that I want to tie together as I talk about this is – when we got the people (inaudible) when we asked them before we launched into this description of the theater, the types of entertainment that they participated in at least once a year, kind of interesting because the most significant response 72% said movies. 71% said TV. Now remember their perception, their response indicated movies higher than television although we all know that they obviously watch more television more frequently than they go to movies in a yearly basis. 50% sports, 41% amusement parts, 41% parks (outdoor parks), 41% museums, 27% concerts, and 13% symphonies.
I think that part of this begins to show a bridge in people’s ideas of what they do with their leisure time entertainment and part of why the movies, the Omnimovies, have always considered to be kind of outsiders. They are almost too common for the kinds of things that people spend their time doing anyway. So there are not quite as special as an exhibit which they can’t go and have that experience anywhere else. But at the same time, the–it leads to an underlying understanding of the differences between and exhibit experience and the Omnimax experience in a different theater.
First of all, let me talk about the similarities. I think when visitors come and they have told this when were out surveying in Fort Worth and we also did a lot of research into the region market. There is a tremendous amount of information that’s being put together, mostly by people in the amusement park business. The people that choose to come to the exhibits or choose to come to the Omni are both seeking some more experience. They’re seeking a family or group social interaction experience in their leisure time. Both these groups of people whether they are choosing to go an exhibit or choosing to go the Omni film are also making those choices within an institution that, and I think this is very important, they trust to present wholesome experiences with credible content.
The big difference, I think, between the experience in the Omnimax theater and the exhibit hall is totally a question of impact and I want to tell you a story that I think shows this impact. In the spring of 1991, in the lower grades, which for many of us we know what school groups are like at that time, don’t we? School’s gonna be out in a couple of months, it’s a Friday, late morning, this is a new show that we’re doing for school groups because it’s late in the school year and so their coming in (inaudible) the school years. This was a group of about 250, roughly, 6th to 8th graders, several different schools and we all know what 6th to 8th graders are like on Friday during late spring. I mean this is most hellacious group of people we (inaudible) and we all kind of just quaked in our boots waiting to see what they were gonna do. I (inaudible) as I was walking across the rotunda in the lobby area waiting for a film and I knew this film they were gonna see was (inaudible) and so I though, well, you know, I’m kind of anxious to see just how they react to this particular film. And so I watched the crowd outside, I observed the crowd outside and they were screaming, I mean, ’cause those — how many of you have had this experience in watching these crowds outside the theaters — they really literally are screaming, I’m not making this up. They are so excited about this experience. And they were also excited about being out of school,
I mean, I’m not saying it’s just the experience but (inaudible) Omnimax is the event and they are troublemakers at this age range. There are more interested in hormones and other things than they are anything educational and I thought I really want (inaudible) and so I (inaudible) and I snuck out in the middle so I was surrounded by kids. Which before (inaudible) they’re screaming and up out of their seats and everything — (inaudible) Fort Worth and you feel like you’re falling out of your seat. They were, I mean, a tremendously rowdy group of people. And then the film came on, and recall that history is to many students one of the most boring things that they could possibly study. All you had to do was watch while people walk through our history hall downstairs in the museum and it kind of gives you some more experience from where they’re studying it in school. Remember this is 6th to 8th graders and what they think about studying Texas history, I mean, they’ve had it crammed down their throats and they could care less about it. But as I watched the film have this enormous effect on these kids, it was just fascinating. They just slowly but surely became engulfed in an experience and I looked into the comments “I can’t believe that” “I never thought about that” during the film or after the film, the whole thought that the Alamo could come alive. The people that they’d read about in the textbook were there on this horse and, you know, and there he was, you know, and the feelings of the people that were surrounded in that area and thought that you already knew the outcome of the story anyway and they all got (inaudible) but to have it there had a tremendous impact on these students who probably have, you know, skipped those pages of reading it in a book. And, you know, Texas history had an impact, there was no way we could have had that impact in any exhibit hall that we ever would prepare.
Even in exhibit halls with full immersion Disneylike experience, will never have the impact that that film had on those kids. And they know what’s happening, they the most honest group of people in watching a film because they have everything out there and they react immediately to whatever is being presented to them. And that’s why it’s amazing to me that it’s taken so long to have this kind of a panel discussion for this group because those experiences are ones that are really the heart of the museum to me. There the ones that allow us to accomplish our mission of building this bridge between what we’re trying to accomplish in interpreting or communicating or whatever and people being absorbed by whatever is presented in the Omnitheater.
Ben Shedd/Moderator: Linda, thank you very much. I would like to make some comments as a film maker and where, in trying to examine how the films that I and my colleagues work on are played and conceptualized in the science museum and the two points that I find most interesting in thinking about this new film is where a film that I may be working on begins and what’s happened before that experience and just after it ends and all the events that happen after it inside the science center. And as I try to think my way through and I’m sitting here trying to be a viewer, what’s happened to the viewer just before a film starts and working backwards, viewers have seen slides and trailers. It’s quite possible that they are in some slides presented, it’s quite possible right before that there’s been a dome tour, it quite possible right before that there was a person on the floor, an usher doing some sort of an announcement, before that there was a great crowd waiting while their (inaudible) announced it and chatting, and minutes before that it was the group (inaudible) in an exciting situation, and somewhere mixed into that some adults have bought some tickets and they had to have an exchange with somebody for money, and before that we’d been running around in a hands-on exhibits doing all kinds of activities, and they’re bound to sit for 40 minutes. And then, the film experience goes on and finishes, and then are released back in the environment, usually up the stairs in the Omnimax Theater, and out into the light.
And where do people go after they’ve been to the film? Is there anything in the film they’re exposed to that had had any meaning, how do they incorporate that into the next stage of whatever they’re doing in the science center? And part of the reason I ask this question is because, as a film maker, my ideal will be that the lights go down and the film I worked on starts, and I have total control of the environment from the moment the film starts until the moment it’s over. And so I can control all the kinds of moods that the film does. And I know full well there’s a marketing consideration that’s going to be priority.
A film maker friend said “an old cinematographer told him “films are ever finished; they’re just abandoned.” And I happen to know that a film running for 5 or 6 years, somebody’s going to be able to plop it on the screen and run it, totally without any consideration for the beginning and the ending context. And within that idea, how can I as a film maker make films that are about risky context that perhaps need some introduction and perhaps need some audience – he can tell what the audience is thinking by how they leave the theater.
In particular, having just worked on a film on tropical rain forests, there’s a lot of discussion about what can we say (inaudible), what can you do to think about and do think about the environment? And knowing that every museum is going to have its own exit activities, and knowing that the film usually has a shelf life of 7 to 10 years, so that it really can’t have any current information anyway because it will be changed – about the changing nature of the way we view our world environment. I just recently went to a theater which was running “tropical rain forests” and “Antarctica” back to back, and each show had the other show’s trailer on the beginning, so at the “Antarctica” show you had the “Tropical Rainforest” and vice versa. And what was interesting to me was that the person who did the introduction – it was a very nice introduction; in fact, it was one of the introductions that I like, where they were saying “Enjoy the show. Hope you enjoy it,” rather than saying, “Don’t talk, don’t move, don’t push your feet under the seat, dum de dum…” and they said, “enjoy the tropical rain forest.” The lights went down and there’s this beautiful wonderful two-minute trailer for Antarctica. And instead of everything being green and full of plush green colors, it was blue and it had penguins. Where was the rainforest?
And so the question that I’m trying to raise is, “What are the series of events that have an impact on the audience itself?” and in the same way that, if I chose an exhibit of Antarctica and it was an exhibit that an entry point, it is very unlikely that the science center would, at the beginning of an entry point for an Antarctica exhibit, have a tropical rain forest picture. You wouldn’t want to see photography of (inaudible), how you go through an exhibit, and in the same way, I recognize that many of the – in my mind, many of the Imax/Omnimax theaters sort of use what I call “film traditions.” You go to a movie theater and at a movie theater you know you’re going to see trailers first, and so there’s this thing called “trailers” that have a definition, if you’re going to see Terminator II or (inaudible) of popcorn.
But in the same way when you come into the science center, there are certain ways that you’re moving through the environment, and it’s about ideas, and if your trailer’s going to be shown – I think it’s very simple to say everybody’s using trailers at the beginning of the piece so that there is a context for the variety of events that happen one after the other in the theater. And I think this is (inaudible) having in the theater the idea that there’s going to be some (inaudible) which had a handout afterwards (inaudible). There’s going to be something like tropical rain forests which science centers are asking more about, provocative ideas, and then it indicates – very important – that there is a resource center in the science center, that there’s an exit place where you actually have an exhibit that’s tied to the film. In the case of Antarctica, there’s a pre-show activity that goes on, because there’s an audience standing around for 10 minutes that’s basically in a confined space, not interacting with the rest of the science center, but in a transition mode between being in the science center and being in the film space. And I think that’s a place where you could possibly have somebody doing a presentation on Antarctica – “how to dress for Antarctica” activity, “dress for success,” “how to stay warm in Antarctica.” But it becomes an active part of the film activity. And one of the things that I’ve constantly heard as I’ve gone to the science and technology center’s meetings and talked a lot with members of this community, is that what science centers are about is handling activities. And I think the idea of having some hands-on activities directly tied to the films that are running, would then make those films have more impact. Sitting in a film theater is not a hands-on activity. It’s an incapacity period. And just by having some kind of (inaudible), some kind of exhibit somewhere in the science theater that’s directly tied to the film activity, so that that experience is more broadening, becomes a much more broad and active idea for the audience, is something I’d like to recommend.
I’d also like to specifically say that from my observations, there are certain recommendations I’d like to make in terms of thinking about the theater space and the traveling exhibit space, because I believe the science centers aren’t doing this with the exhibit, and I say this both – and it’s also a (inaudible) that I try to do as a film maker is to deliver the film so that it has a context, which is distinctly what the audience experiences in the theater, and all the various impacts that are being had, and try to remove any what I would call “unidentifiable events” from the experience. If there’s a slide you’re going to be showing at the beginning of the show, have it be light letters on a black background so the letters will show up on the screen, rather than black letters on a white background which then puts up a slide there around the edge of the frame, and said “oh, it’s a movie theater.” What’s the underlying psychological impact they’re going on? I am very excited (inaudible) the science centers and (inaudible) pre-show and post-show activities. There’s simply more pre-show activities because of the audience sitting in one spot.
I find it very useful to stand in the exit area as the audience is coming out and trying to listen to what’s going on in the exit area, and see what might be helpful to make the transition back into the science center from (inaudible) and I’ve recognized what I think is in exhibit terms just called the “force flow of exhibits,” where the audience has to go through in a very specific way. And there is actually a lot of research that’s been done in science centers about exhibits on “force flow” – what does an audience do in “force flow” exhibit, and try to look at the Imax/Omnimax Theater in the “force flow” exhibit, and what are all the various impacts we have along the way? I think that the entry and exit ways should be turned into exhibit space so that you have an area that has exhibits – in all the schools in the neighborhood, you do an Antarctica design or a Discovers design, something about Discovers, something about rain forests, you can put it up and so everybody in town is made part of an entry way, and somehow (inaudible), so that when you’re in the outer entry area or the exit area, you all become part of the film activity.
So the question out there, then, is on how do you (inaudible) on subjects, and I’ve found it very useful to go to the (inaudible) meetings. The STC’s meeting is so confined to thinking about the film and that subject and of the whole science center, than – having gone to the (inaudible) meeting (inaudible) where they talk about “the total square feet for a traveling exhibit and you need to have this much (inaudible), and therefore this is the concern we have for the traveling exhibit and we have this much staff personnel available” and all of a sudden I find – there’s a market for what these films are going to be done – it’s not a movie theater context, it’s a science center context. I’d like to ask if there’s some other recommendations that you all have along the way in observing how the theaters and the film can be better seen – have we talked about the film makers?
Linda Johnson: (inaudible) preparing the lobby area for a film waiting – you’ve been talking about that before. The only movie that ever did that, and it really did affect the crowd was “Behold Hawaii.” It was a distributorship of artifacts that we used to be able to create some kind of an environment outside the theater, and it was wonderful. In fact, (inaudible) doing that. It’s hard for our exhibit staff (inaudible). But I’d like to see where people are going through a tropical rain forest, have them walk through a living forest on their way into the theater, and help to begin to create that. I’m not sure we know enough about how an audience is affected by these films to know that they specifically change when they participate in something with their hands, (inaudible) Like I said, we’re just now embarking on a research project that’s going to carry us many years in the future, to look at very complex, statistical and quantitative analysis of that experience, to be able to actually tell if that’s the film or their walk-through that’s (inaudible).
Your comment’s related to that. One thing that we’ve started working with more are our exhibit (inaudible) having activity cards. (inaudible) What we’ve noticed is that there really is a difference in the audience. There are some people that are very comfortable with going and sitting down for the demonstrations. There are other people that don’t feel comfortable in that environment. And no matter what film you view, it’s just from the viewpoint of the visitors, it’s not the activity, make your (inaudible). We would also offer in addition to form demonstration having a (inaudible) part, but beyond something that engages them as they’re walking by, the (inaudible) group activity, something that’s relatively low cost and can enhance the experience, and I think standing (inaudible) thematically tied to the exhibit, or to the film. But the film experience, so that after the tropical rain forests, there are some related activities that people can engage in in a very informal way (inaudible). The other observation I have, in one way, is that the films and exhibits have contributed to very (inaudible), and that’s by the gift shop. And I think there is a division necessarily. They’re very well recognized (inaudible), and have been (inaudible) where for (inaudible) reasons the gift shop manager in that next week, that the visitors don’t see (inaudible) necessarily between the film and the (inaudible).
First of all, there have already been a lot of good ideas here for (inaudible) school kids preferring exhibits in an approach that’s free. And that we have tried, not by intent, but by all the context our educational group is (inaudible), they have all these periodicals at the (inaudible). That’s without concern for whether they’re coordinated with the show or not, but they do create what we – I think Linda’s research 10 years ago validated with respect to why people come to our theaters. The first thing they think about is education; the second thing, entertainment – and that they want those, but they want an education that, if you will, is a sugar-coated performance. And what they perceive as educational can sometimes be dull and drab. They’re coming to the (inaudible) for a different experience. So I think that is the idea of how to use the pre-show area in particular in getting people ready for a different type of experience is what we’ve given, are giving thought to, and it can reflect also on other things that are going on in science museums, because a large traveling exhibit has very a similar problem: how do you prepare people for what is potentially a non-sequitur sometimes in the environment. It is a similar case and the problem – I guess what my reaction is is the problem is very more similar than I thought (inaudible). So I don’t have any great ideas, but I do know that I’d like to say one thing about the difference between films and exhibits, and that (inaudible). Films are different, I think, in principle, as an educational project, that they have an inspirational capability that an exhibit typically cannot. Exhibits have a provocative capability that a film does not, and we’ve got to develop this approach in a similar way. You have an opportunity in a film to make an impression of energy and I would bet, in fact, as in Linda’s remarks, that people start thinking about the subject after they’ve left the theater, but maybe not while they’re in the theater making abstract connections. But really they’re imprinting images and helping them see something they haven’t thought of before, but that probably happens outside of the theater. This is a hypothesis; I don’t have any proof of this. Whereas, in exhibits, I’ve seen people work with exhibits and the ability they have to manipulate, gives them a chance to make the connections directly. So that is in one sense, more powerful, but in another sense, you don’t come out of an exhibit feeling this inspirational motivation that you do when film (inaudible).
Ben Shedd/Moderator: I find it very interesting that there’s a term that’s being used about traveling exhibits that’s a film term, which is “blockbuster,” and that part of the idea for this traveling exhibit is being able to bring into a science center an exhibit that the science center itself probably couldn’t afford to make on a scale that a consortium could do, and so, a lease arrangement is set up and a certain amount of square footage in the science center is dedicated space, and a certain number of staff is set up, and as I say that, I think it’s exactly, in my mind, the same thing that happens in the Imax or Omnimax theater. There’s a dedicated certain amount of square footage that is then committed and is basically a traveling exhibit space, it’s a theater, and it’s always going to be there. And the traveling exhibit is this film that changes once every hour on the hour and/or every six months, and there’s a lease arrangement is made and there’s a certain amount of preparation that has to go on. And in both cases, both with the film and for the traveling exhibit, it tends to increase the traffic as a given in the science center, and then it becomes the responsibility, I would say, for the science center to look at how the audience is moving through your environment and what are the various transitions that are happening that connect all together, so that the traveling exhibit is embraced as a local exhibit, and that in some way the film can be embraced as a local exhibit in the science center.
I’ve found it is very useful to try even in thinking of the design on the film content, to try to think about what the educational materials are going to be, what the package is going to be, what the exit activities might be. With the TROPICAL RAINFOREST film, we had to spend a lot of time trying to figure out who was going to put something on the end of the film, which would presumptuously say “here’s something you can do,” which would of course, I think, be 100% counterproductive, it’s everybody’s own idea of how we deal with issues of the environment. But as science centers are saying, give us films with content that make people think, somehow has that activity that’s happening and people are left thinking, What can I do for this, that and the other, there needs to be activities incorporated, and the activities incorporated as part of the – as it happens with a traveling exhibit, the Smithsonian traveling exhibit on rain forests as you exit has a pamphlet you can take as part of the plan of the thing. And I find it a wonderful idea to try to think about how the same kind of connection can be made with the film industries.
When I was first thinking about this panel I proposed to the ASTC people that I write some kind of a publication about the Imax and Omnimax Theater and the science center as a traveling exhibit space and I realized in my mind that the cover would probably be two doors and a place where audiences go in and a place where they come and it’s like what’s on the other side of that wall and how can that wall become transparent in the activity of the larger context of the science center. That there’s this entry place where people go in for 40 minutes, it’s a holding area basically – they’re off the office floor of the science center and they’re given some revenues to the museum, then they come back in to see the movies for awhile. And it’s my hope that that could be instead turned into an exhibit space. Any questions?
Question from audience: Diane, a question about the vision from your staff. Where does that vision come from? It comes from above or…?
Diane Carlson: That vision comes from Barbara, my Executive Director, and it comes from George Moynihan, in terms of a commitment to have it be a whole in the visitor service component. It doesn’t work, though, if that’s the only place it stays. So, I think, you need to be very committed to having, you know, through a management team that vision go throughout the institution. I think the vision also has to be made clear to prospective employees, and that’s one thing that we’re working on at this point, but quite frankly, there are some people that may not share that vision, especially when it comes to visitor services. And so, one effort that we’re putting out now with all employees and potential employees is letting them know what our expectations are, not just in terms of the components of their job, whatever they have to fulfill, but the context in which we want that filled. If you’re a bookkeeper and you have a name-tag on and you’re walking into the facility and someone asks you questions, it is your responsibility to know the answers to some of the basic questions, and if not, to graciously and cordially assist those people and help them get the information. And some people just don’t want that kind of involvement. And so what we feel is that it’s important to make that known to people ahead of time, and have everyone buy into it.
The converse of that is if you have staff that don’t buy into it, then the marriage isn’t a good one, and you suggest that they go elsewhere. The exhibit (inaudible) staff with the alternative services program. We had one full-time staff member who said, “That isn’t in my job description” and we said, “Well, maybe you’re not in the job force.” So, and yes, it’s a radical kind of situation. We have had some staff who by temperament perhaps are not the most gifted to be out with the public (inaudible) you wouldn’t me in the ticket booth because it wouldn’t balance at the end of the day, it’s a real challenge – or I’d be here all night. But there’s some staff who, by temperament, you have to place them carefully if you don’t want your visitors subjected to staff who may not be as comfortable working with them. The other converse of that, in terms of our public program staff, the people who have already spent their time out on the floor, for their alternative service, they serve in behind-the-scenes roles, so that if you are already full-time out on the floor, you might go and work in the exhibit shop. You might help the exhibit crew when they’re setting up an exhibit so you appreciate what they do as well for the entire operation. You might well help in the accounting department, and again, so everyone understands how their role fits into the whole, but with the priority being on the work with the public
Audience question: How many people are on the museum staff or the science center staff altogether? Pardon? How may people are on the science center staff?
Diane Carlson: About 125 full-time and about 200 part-time and 400 volunteers. And, of course, that changes seasonally.
Audience member: You asked about suggestions. Let me say that we’re involved in Chicago with the museums; we’re also involved making films; we’re also involved in distributing films. So we look at this as a closely integrated business, all derived from what we feel have been our needs at the institution. If I may just suggest a couple of things that we find work pretty well and may be of value. The demonstration outside the theater we find to be quite helpful, particularly when there are large crowds. People get antsy, they start to kind of… [END OF SIDE A OF TAPE] As a philosophy, all our exhibits, including the theater, are our classrooms. They’re very different than the traditional classroom, but we treat that as a classroom. And so, the thing I was going to suggest to you is that, since as a distributor and as a museum, we want a curriculum guide for anyone who wants to bring a group in, we develop curriculum guides for all the films we’re distributors for, and that gives the teachers – we have 400,000 students that come in organized with teachers – it gives the teacher a chance to at least get a sense of what the content of the film is about, to select those elements that are consistent with their syllabus, and they prep their kids for a couple of days, sometimes a week. So they take the kids into the theater, then they go back to the classrooms and they reinforce those parts of the curriculum that are consistent with the maturity of their students. And so, the curriculum guide in the theater, as well as in our exhibits, is sort of a standard operating procedure, and we find it to be quite effective and very helpful to the teacher who just doesn’t know necessarily the power of the film or the exhibits that they’re (inaudible).
Ben Shedd/Moderator: Thank you.
I was looking at my notes and I left out one thing that I’d like to make sure that I cover, and in some ways, I’m speaking to the converted here – I look around the room and see a number of my film making colleagues who also have been in this industry for a number of years, and there was somebody yesterday who had attended this STC meeting for the first or second time, first or second-year, who asked me about how to come up with the content for these films so that they work for science centers. And I think, by looking at the model of traveling exhibits, traveling exhibits always have a good advisory team of experts, and my film making friends, you all know this, and it’s absolutely critical that we, as film makers, and you, as science centers, who are wanting certain kinds of content, insist that the film staff has very good science advisory teams in the creation of the idea, so that the science is accurate. And that’s just a foregone conclusion that always happens on traveling exhibits; it’s just part of the definition of how you go about defining the exhibit. And if these films are to fall within that category, I think the parallel is that right there. And as a result of that, what ends up at all the science centers of, to use a film making term, “spin-offs,” such as educational values and floor exhibits, and I find it very interesting, from the film maker’s point of view, about what’s happening to the crowd before they come into the exhibit and the fact that they’ve all been actually confined in some kind of a cow space for a little while they’re waiting to go through the door, and that all having an impact on what their frame of mind is when they see the film. And what’s the right thing – you can have a wonderful, exciting big exhibit on the whales but you have to stand there for ten minutes before you can walk into the theater.
Audience member: What about the father who says to the child, “If you act this way, I’m never going to take you back here.”
Diane Carlson: I wanted to make one addition to my answer to Sharon’s question, and that was in terms of the vision I think the vision, you know, definitely should come from the top but I also want to mention that in terms of the day-to-day workings and suggestions, those come from across all levels of the division, in fact, there are logs that all of our part-time and volunteer staff are asked to fill out that have comments, suggestions critiques, problems that visitors had, and those are circulated on an every-other-week basis, and they go to the top management of the science center. And those are all read. And it’s very common that we get it back from George Moynihan, “What are we to do about this?” or “Should we change it?” And so, in that way, we’re trying to integrate – really the most important resource we have is the staff that’s on the floor with our visitors, and getting that information back up through the system.
I’d really like to applaud the science center’s being so open about that kind of thing, because I think that really is a valuable resource that many museums, and I can think of at least one from my personal experience, some that’s something to take advantage of. I know that I’ve experienced the sort of attitude among curators and developers who are probably research scientists who have their Ph.D.’s, that the theater staff are probably, you know, somewhere just above or maybe even below the custodial and guard force in their status at the museum, and they don’t care to really consider what they might have to do, despite the fact that those folks are there dealing with the visitors every single day and these curators may not have stepped foot inside the exhibit gallery for months or even years, to see what people are really looking at, what people are walking by, what people like, what people aren’t paying attention to at all. And I think there is a resource inside your museums that you can tap into that, you know, knows what your visitors want and are hearing it every day. And I think it’s great that at least one place is taking advantage of it. I think the idea of getting your upper level folks down onto the floor of the museum for several days of the year is a terrific one.
Ben Shedd/Moderator: I’ve been to the Pacific Science Center and I’ve found the staff a very useful resource and having been to a couple of parties at specific science centers that they’re SI’s (science interpreters), as a group, who act as ushers at Imax and Omnimax Theaters, and there’s 15 people who have been there and they can do the entire soundtrack of one of the films narration – it’s a crack-up. And every single line, 15 people at once, because they all know these things. And thinking about that, I mean, these folks know the audience response, and also have the responsibility for taking care of the audience before and after. I recall going to my ASTC first meeting, which was the Pacific Science Center, and I remember one of the keynote speakers was from Disney University, and is training people on the Disney staff, and the thing I remember most about his comments was he said that in terms of who has the most impact on the visitor at Disney is the person who sweeps the floor. People out there who are doing the clean-up are the people that the public is saying to, “Where do I go to the bathroom? What’s this?” and these people have to speak four to six languages and this is the key contact and the key impression and the key information source as to, do people like these films? Did they like the exhibit? Powerful information source.
Diane Carlson: And we’ve have sent our staff to the Disney seminar, and we would highly recommend it. In fact, we’ve sent the head of our human resources; we’ve sent the head of our visitor education; and the head of our visitor services unit, all three of them, down to a two-day program. And I think it really helps to have people visit them. And thank you for your comments.
Ben Shedd/Moderator: Any questions?
Audience comment: Are announcements made at the museums guiding people to the permanent exhibits that would be relevant to the film’s content?
I haven’t been to very many that are necessarily tied to the film. But something like the Museum of Science and Industry where there’s lots of exhibits. We’ve done two things. First of all, temporary exhibits that had value to the film have been staged around the theater. So when you come in to buy your tickets, even though you may not see the film at the moment, you go through an area which alerts you to the exhibit described. We have signs in the theater in the museum which aim people to “Antarctica”. And on occasion, we’ve had people walking through the museum in costumes – beaver costume, Antarctica costume – we haven’t done a gorilla yet, but you know what that’s going to look like. Then, in the “Antarctica” exhibit you also have a small exhibit in the main atrium provided.
In general, (inaudible) the right announcements, (inaudible) really does make that possible. We do things on a more individual basis or, sometimes half the staff wear buttons, and they’re about the film. And if there’s something rated, the theater is a more appropriate place where we have the audience that can really (inaudible), but not institution-wide.
Ben Shedd/Moderator: One of the places I got the idea for this seminar was actually going to Disneyland and going to the Star Tours exhibit and trying to think about the entrance activities and the exit activities, and if any of you have done that ride – there’s about a 40-minute wait in the line and you go through a very interesting environment where you are completely controlled for awhile, and you get so hyped up and they show you a four-minute movie, and then they have about a two-minute exit area where they sort of let you back out – and it’s so obvious how the transitions are so powerful, by having thought about all the activities that proceed the show and all the activities that exit the show, that you hardly notice that it’s less than a four-minute movie that you just spent an hour-and-a-half – I mean, it’s a controlling experience. And I think there are so many ways to take that kind of experience and apply it to the science center so that it vastly enhances the impact of the film.
I appreciate your coming to this seminar and I thought it would be useful to try to put an activity into the STC as part of the larger context of the science center itself. Thank you very much.