Unsung Heroes

by Adora Lo | | March 16, 2022

Have you ever stayed in your seat and watched the credits after a movie?  Sometimes it is just a good strategy to let the crowds clear, sometimes we just want to stay in the moment after a particularly impactful closing scene, sometimes we want to know who played a particular part that had especially touched us. When I watch the credits, regardless of my motivation, I am invariably struck by how many people are required to produce a film. Some of these contributors receive recognition, some even win Oscars, but most go relatively unnoticed. These are the unsung heroes without which that blockbuster could not exist.

A luxury private cinema requires a veritable army of contributors to reach a level of excellence deserved by a cinema connoisseur. There are many elements occurring behind the scenes of a well-designed theater that, if done well, will go unnoticed by you, our client. And that’s the way it should be; a great theater should be a space for bringing together your friends and family for wonderful and memorable shared cinematic experiences.

To bring those elements together, a lot of thought and care goes into planning and execution. This is where a project manager is essential and must excel. A private cinema project manager needs to have a wide breadth of knowledge to ensure everything needed for a private cinema to perform properly, comes together seamlessly, resulting in an inspiring, immersive and experiential space. Aesthetically pleasing yet supportive of audio, video and acoustic performance, comfortable and configured for optimum viewing, serene yet capable of thunderous excitement.  Entering a completed private cinema should be an elevating experience, engaging one entirely, from our aesthetic sensibilities as well as our senses.

It all starts with an idea. Ideas come to us in all shapes, sizes and forms. Sometimes a simple sketch, other times a full set of architectural drawings with an empty room, still others where a fairly well-developed concept is presented to the team. It is the PM’s task to coordinate the efforts of CAD and interior designers, acoustical, electrical, mechanical and other engineers, myriad specialists and consultants and make sure everyone brings their A-game. Pulling together the best work of the best people to assure you get the private cinema you deserve is the PM’s primary purpose! But all these passionate and talented team members don’t always see eye to eye.

Let’s start at the beginning. Coordination efforts begin with the gathering of all necessary information. Structural, mechanical, and architectural drawings are critical at this juncture. However, we need more than just the meat and bones of the project, we also need the heart. The most important information of all comes from you. The real beginning of a successful private theater project starts when we understand your vision. When we talk with you, dream with you, and guide you through the discovery of your own perfect private cinema. This vision becomes the target on which the PM will keep the team focused.

When we have assembled these elements, we can start the process of reaching your goals. Performance objectives and aesthetic vision however do not easily go hand in hand. The realization of these, often disparate goals, avariciously demands the best from each member of the team and requires a collaborative team with the integrity to work through the challenges without compromise.

Coordinating all of this is no small task but the PM has some powerful tools at her disposal. One such tool is 3D BIM modeling.  BIM stands for Building Information Modeling. What it means is that we can gather parameters from the many collaborators and assemble them into a unified 3-dimensional model that even contains information about the components. Cinema equipment is placed in the model just like it will be installed in the cinema and we can even represent certain performance characteristics. Lighting, mechanical, structural and more can be represented similarly. The efficiency cannot be overemphasized and best of all this tool has rendered one old cliché inaccurate. Many have heard the saying “it works on paper but not in the real world”.  With BIM, it works. If it doesn’t it means someone didn’t follow instructions! A well constructed BIM of a private cinema clearly illuminates many “hidden” details that formerly tended to be overlooked or failed to be properly integrated with other design elements. This enables the project team to confidently design a cinema chassis that is functionally viable so that the rest of the process can be confidently initiated.

One of the hidden issues that we tackle for every project is HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning).  Routing ductwork for a private cinema is not as simple as drawing a straight line to a grill in the ceiling. Private cinemas have very rigorous criteria for HVAC performance and are very demanding of the mechanical systems. Equipment creates heat and must be ventilated, audiences create heat and must be comfortable. It all must be done elegantly and quietly. It is not something that can be worked out “in the field”. The team members who work out this puzzle are truly “unsung heroes” and are rarely in the room when the lights go down on opening night!

One such private cinema project comes to mind. Truly a state-of-the-art cinema in an extensive remodel but with many limiting factors. One is the interior design that had been conceived prior to any engineering.  We needed to work with existing ductwork and limited space but serve a high-performance private cinema with significantly increased HVAC demand. The initial impression was that there was not much we could do and compromise of mechanical noise levels, acoustical isolation and other performance criteria would be necessary. Instead, we pursued duct routing that would provide a better cinema experience overall, going the extra mile to coordinate, confirm and collaborate with several team members to get it right. That, after all, is the vision our client shared with us. Uncompromised excellence.

I did enjoy the opportunity to experience this private cinema in a private audition. It is not something we unsung heroes often experience. When the lights went down and the action began the fruits of our efforts were abundantly clear. I have never experienced, never seen, or heard anything close! This is what we work for and I couldn’t be prouder of my team for their accomplishment. So, next time you sit through the credits, whether it is to catch the extra clips, or just to savor the feeling the film left you with, say a quiet thanks to your private cinema’s unsung heroes.  We appreciate it!

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