The Backlot Cinema: A Technological Marvel Transforms Blackpool’s Entertainment Landscape

After years in the making, Blackpool's hotly anticipated £21 million The Backlot Cinema has arrived, delivering a truly world-class cinema experience to this iconic British seaside town. Nestled between the Winter Gardens and Houndshill Shopping Centre, this multimillion-pound endeavour is more than just a cinema; it’s a cultural nucleus designed to redefine how audiences engage with films and events. At the heart of the ambitious entertainment hub is a cutting-edge, future-focused design outfitted by CinemaNext together with its vendor partners. 

"Backlot is as much a conferencing centre as it is a cinema, diner, eSports venue and events destination, all rolled into one completely new model," said John Sullivan, Founder of The Big Picture and Owner of The Backlot Cinema, at the recent Leisure Property Forum: Cinema 2024 conference. "Through the 21st century, cinemas have been aging and many have reached the end of their life cycle. I don't want to see them demolished, but rather repurposed into dynamic, multi-use spaces. That was the vision driving Backlot." To achieve that vision, CinemaNext’s technicians had to combine cutting-edge technology and visionary design with the practicalities of any new cinema project. 

The Cinematic Experience 

While it is also many other things, Backlot is first and foremost a cinema. From the moment visitors step into The Backlot Cinema, they're enveloped in an atmosphere carefully curated to transcend ‘ordinary’ moviegoing. Offering seven screens tailored to diverse needs, each space is meticulously designed to cater to specific experiences, while always feeling like the best possible cinema environment.  

The crown jewel is the venue's massive 10.85m tall by 19.87m wide IMAX screen featuring IMAX's dual 4K laser projection system and immersive IMAX audio. It's one of the largest such premium large format screens in the entire North West region of the UK.  While it is the centrepiece screen – audiences can even peer into its projection room through a porthole when there is no film running  – it is far from the only auditorium with cutting edge technology. 

Screen 7, for instance, doubles as a conferencing hub, equipped with integrated power sockets and USB ports (both standard and USB-C) at every other seat, as well as laptop-friendly tray tables, offering unrivalled versatility for both business and leisure. Meanwhile, Screen 3 transforms seamlessly into an event space, sacrificing two rows in the rear for an entertainment zone, ideal for private gatherings or parties. "Having worked closely with CinemaNext over many years, I knew they had the expertise to bring my vision for a transcendent, future-proof cinema to life at The Backlot," said John Sullivan. "Their team collaborated with us every step of the way to design and integrate the cutting-edge audio and projection systems alongside innovative architectural elements." 

Central to the cinema's allure is its state-of-the-art projection and audio systems. The IMAX screen, obviously commands attention, offering unparalleled visual immersion, but it also raises the bar for the other screens. In addition to the IMAX experience, CinemaNext equipped six auditoriums at Backlot with four Barco Series 4 laser projectors and two upgraded Barco Series 2 projectors with laser light upgrade (LLU) units, refurbished by KD Kinotech. The speakers powering the immersive sound are from CinemaNext's partner MAG Audio

The CinemaNext Spain team provided their innovative 'passive' boothless projection design, which works by suspending the laser projection systems from the ceiling at the rear of the auditoriums. This eliminates the need for a protruding booth, ports or extra soundproofing, as the system's clever design uses natural airflow to operate smoothly and silently. Every cinematic moment is thus brought to life with breathtaking clarity in both sound and vision.  

Integration of Amenities 

Beyond cinematic excellence, The Backlot boasts an array of amenities aimed at elevating the overall experience. The Studio, a chic bar area overlooking Blackpool, serves as a versatile space for private events, seamlessly integrated with the IMAX auditorium, with a dedicated entrance. Additionally, the American-style Diner on the ground floor evokes nostalgia with its film-inspired fare, providing a delightful pre- or post-screening dining experience reminiscent of classic Americana. 

Audiences can enjoy the full big screen experience on IMAX or the other screens, whether catching the latest Hollywood blockbuster like "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" and “Furiosa”, or revisiting a classic like "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy in IMAX, which Backlot has scheduled, along with recent releases such as "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" that missed Blackpool during the town's cinema drought.  

In addition to new movie premieres, Backlot's cutting-edge facilities can host live broadcasted events from concerts to sports and eSports tournaments. One of the biggest initial technology challenges was Backlot's lack of high-speed internet connectivity upon opening in late March. As a stopgap solution until fiber was installed, Elon Musk's Starlink satellite internet service was deployed on the roof - the same used by the Ukrainian military in the field! 

Collaboration with CinemaNext 

At the heart of the Backlot’s technological marvel lies the partnership with CinemaNext, a collaboration lauded by Fabio Vidotti, the cinema’s manager. “When working with contractors, especially on a project of this size and complexity, we need teams that we can rely on to do their job well. The CinemaNext team delivered a seamless execution, and I was very impressed with their entire approach.” The sentiment was echoed by CinemaNext’s lead project engineer Richard Rhodes, “While there was time pressure to get the cinema opened in time for Easter, we had nothing but positive interactions with everyone from the Backlot team, the architects, builders and vendors throughout the process.” 

Through meticulous planning and execution, CinemaNext’s expertise ensured the seamless integration of cutting-edge solutions, from the laser projectors to the rich audio systems. Despite time constraints, CinemaNext’s dedication (and lots of coffee) enabled the Backlot to launch on schedule, laying the foundation for future expansion and innovation. 

Community Impact and Vision: 

For John Sullivan, the visionary behind the Back Lot Cinema, this endeavour transcends mere entertainment; it’s a testament to community enrichment and revitalization. "Blackpool deserves the best and I think Backlot is the best cinema in the UK - I don't think anywhere will come close," boasted Sullivan. "Thanks to CinemaNext's expertise, we've created an immersive entertainment wonderland that will draw people out of their homes and provide an experience you simply can't replicate at home. While it is currently a challenging time for cinema, this is all the more reason to think outside the box." Sullivan’s vision also aligns with Blackpool’s broader regeneration efforts, positioning the cinema as a catalyst for economic growth and cultural resurgence in the town and region. 

While the cinema builds a loyal localcustomer base and prepares for the summer rush, the team has lots of plans for how to develop the experience and offering further . For now, there is much to tempt Blackpool visitors and locals away from the beach, rollercoasters and other seaside attractions. The Backlot isn’t just a cinema; it’s a glimpse into the future of entertainment and cultural enrichment. You don’t even have to wait for a rainy day to enjoy it.

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