September 21, 2018

Coming Soon to AMC Theaters: Virtual Reality Experiences

The AMC deal, which brings total investment in Dreamscape to more than $40 million, calls for up to six Dreamscape locations to open over the next 18 months. Some will be inside existing AMC theaters, and some will be stand-alone centers nearby. Additionally, Dreamscape will open a flagship location in the first quarter of next year at the Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles. Westfield is another Dreamscape investor.

Steven Spielberg was an early investor in Dreamscape Immersive. Credit Richard Shotwell/Invision, via Associated Press

“In many cases, we have surplus space, and we think Dreamscape will add energy and excitement to our theaters, especially during the week,” Mr. Aron said. “But this isn’t a replacement for movies. It’s a complement.” Tickets are expected to cost from $15 to $20.

Dreamscape joins a cluster of companies that are trying to take advantage of the still-untapped consumer promise of virtual-reality technology, the desperate need by shopping malls to reinvent themselves in the online retail age and the pressure on movie studios (and theater companies) to find new avenues of growth.

The Void, a Utah start-up, recently announced a partnership with the Walt Disney Company to open “Star Wars”-themed virtual-reality experiences at Disney malls outside theme parks in California and Florida. Already operating are two Imax V.R. Centres in Los Angeles and New York; tickets start at $7, and the Los Angeles location has attracted 50,000 people over the last nine months. Imax said it planned to expand the concept to Canada, Britain and Shanghai this fall.

The Hollywood players behind Dreamscape give it immediate cachet. Joining Mr. Spielberg are people like Hans Zimmer, the movie music composer, and the director Gore Verbinski. But their involvement does not guarantee success. Mr. Spielberg, for one, has been down this road before, with mixed results. In the late 1990s, his DreamWorks SKG invested alongside Universal Pictures in a heavily promoted venture called GameWorks, which was supposed to use new technology to revolutionize the arcade business. GameWorks never lived up to its billing.

Around the same time, Disney encountered similar disappointment with DisneyQuest, which was envisioned as a worldwide chain offering virtual-reality experiences. Only two were built.

Two members of the Dreamscape management team, Walter Parkes, a co-chairman, and Bruce Vaughn, the chief executive, are very familiar with those efforts. Mr. Parkes, a movie producer whose credits include the “Men in Black” series, worked for Mr. Spielberg as a senior DreamWorks executive at the time. Mr. Vaughn spent 23 years at Disney, most recently serving as chief creative officer of its Imagineering research and design unit.

At Dreamscape Immersive, from left, Bruce Vaughn, the chief executive; Kevin Wall and Walter Parkes, co-chairmen; and Aaron Grosky, the chief operating officer. Credit Mike Niemann

“Even big-name brands can have a hard time getting people to go here instead of there,” Mr. Vaughn acknowledged.


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Mr. Vaughn was sitting in the Dreamscape warehouse last week with Mr. Parkes and Kevin Wall, an Emmy-winning producer of world-spanning music events like Live 8 and another Dreamscape co-chairman. The men, together with Aaron Grosky, the chief operating officer, said Dreamscape’s fate would be different, partly because virtual-reality technology has advanced so significantly.

“This is truly the birth of a new storytelling medium,” Mr. Parkes said.

As if to prove it, Mr. Parkes took a reporter through a prototype Dreamscape experience. The company uses more than a dozen cameras and sensors to transport people into various settings — home plate in a sold-out baseball stadium, the spider-filled ruins of an ancient temple or a futuristic, neon-lit city flooded with water. You put on V.R. goggles and a pair of gloves. An attendant clips a small device to your shoes. And off you go.

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Inside Dreamscape experiences, which will last about nine minutes and cost about $1.5 million to $2 million to produce, participants can handle objects and — as avatars — even pass them between each other.

“A shared experience is what makes the lasting emotional impact,” said Mr. Vaughn, noting his track record in creating Disney theme park attractions.

Dreamscape is developing original content. Mr. Parkes said the company was also negotiating with various studios and filmmakers to create experiences that put people inside movie franchises.

“If you enjoy our experience, you’ll be more likely to see the movie, and vice versa,” he said.

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