Only In Theaters Q&A Watch Party – Opening a dialogue within the family business

by Allen Esrock | Oct 16, 2023 | Celebrating Family Business

Advertisment for Only in Theaters watch party set against plush red seats in a movie theatrer

On October 4th, NxtGen Nexus hosted its global Only In Theaters Global Watch Party and Q&A which included Conway Center for Family Business, Middle Tennessee State University, Temple Isaiah, and Capital Group Private Client Services hosting in-person events.  There was also an opportunity for individuals to participate and watch the movie on Amazon and participate in the Q&A online.

Only In Theaters was produced and directed by award winning filmmaker Raphael Sbarge. His film takes us on an intimate and moving journey with the Laemmle family, spanning nearly three years of challenges, losses, and personal triumphs. Laemmle Theatres, the beloved 84-year-old arthouse cinema chain in Los Angeles, is facing seismic change and financial pressure. Yet the family behind this multigenerational business – whose sole mission has been to support the art of film – is determined to survive.

The film received tremendous reviews from the traditional press including Los Angeles Times, New York Times, NBC News, and Variety.  However, the film truly resonates for family business members past and present.    

Frank Connelly, a brand film producer with the Social Impact Entertainment Society and founder of the community tech platform HeroBridge, attended the event at the Capital Group and wrote the following LinkedIn Review regarding his experience:

“Last night I was invited by Allen Esrock to the screening of Only in Theaters hosted by NxtGen Nexus at the Capital Group theater. As a tireless proponent of feature length brand storytelling, this film did not fail to deliver. Award winning filmmaker Raphael Sbarge skillfully used the time to unpack an intimate profile of the Laemmle family (LA’s iconic Laemmle Theaters) and how their business story, like many Jewish immigrants of the time, is woven into American history and in particular the foundation of Los Angeles as the entertainment capital of the world.”

But the film proved to be much more than that due to a crisis that emerged during the filming that Raphael flawlessly followed in such a touching and humane way. (No spoilers.) This doc seamlessly evolves from being an American family business story into a rare glimpse into the very personal challenges of being the leader at the helm of a multigenerational business in crisis. Tensions and emotions ranging from guilt and despair to hope and victory are on full display as Greg, his wife, and family navigate the challenges and decision-making of running an independent theater family business in the age of streaming giants. More than anything, the greatest social impact this film delivered was how well it lent insight into the challenges of stress, anxiety, uncertainty, pressure, and even depression as something to be openly discussed; and as an often unseen (hidden) element of the mental wellness of small business owners in America. If you are a brand storyteller, a family business owner, an independent filmmaker or cause marketer, you owe it to yourself to see this film as an incredible example of how personal brand storytelling can really be.”

Frank lives in Los Angeles and watched the film from the Capital Group’s theater. I caught up with Frank afterwards to learn more about his insights. Turns out he is the great grandson of a family run hardware chain in Ohio!  Frank said,  “I actually went to law school with the intention of returning home to be my family’s business counsel, but by the time I graduated my Dad had struggled through the economic collapse of the rust belt – he was cooked. Thankfully because of our employee stock plan, the business was bought out and continues to this day.  Watching the Laemme’s story and struggle was so personal and intimate a portrait of running a family business in this day and age. Actually, in any day and age – every generation has had its struggles and triumphs, which makes stories like these such a rich tapestry of Americana. I think brand stories are great conversation starters.  I think it would be great to screen Only In Theaters for next gen  family business owners and let them know there are others out there just like them holding up their own legacies.  That kind of community of support could be really powerful, maybe even transformative. It defines us.” 

While the movie had a strong impact on the viewers, it was the experience of watching the movie with family and peers that made the evening so extraordinary as reported from the different venues:

Conway Center for Family Business – JIll Hofmans, Executive Director

  • Who are you? Executive Director of a nonprofit membership organization dedicated solely to family-owned businesses in Central Ohio.
  • Who attended the event? It truly ran the gamut: next gens not yet in a leadership role, a family that works together, a mother and two of her sons – one in the business, the other reluctant to join, next gens who are now the leading generation, some non-family leaders of family run firms, and a few of our service providers who are always looking to learn more about the family business experience.
  • Did they like the movie?  They loved it! It resonated with them on a deeply personal level. They also enjoyed learning the history of the movie industry and now want to go on a field trip to Los Angeles! 
  • What was the feeling in the room? We laughed, we cried, we sighed, and we were cheering the family on the entire time. That a room full of busy family business folks, who paid rapt attention to the film, and all stayed for the Q&A (it was past dinner time!), is the tell.
  • Did they enjoy the Q&A? – They enjoyed it as much as they loved the film, many said the Q&A was the best part.

The most important task for family business advisors is to foster honest and non-confrontational conversations between family members.  If you can help establish this dialogue, the family will thrive.  After the event, one of our members posted the following on LinkedIn “Thanks so much for putting this on! The film and story touched on so many facets of family business. Very thought provoking and a little emotional. My sons and I had interesting conversations on the ride home and probably more to follow.”

Capital Group Private Client Services – Will Ford, Senior Vice President

  • Who are you? Senior Vice President of a UHNW Wealth Management firm with a 90-year track record of delivering exceptional outcomes and services to clients.
  • Who attended the event? Family business owners, advisors, and entertainment oriented members of the LA community. Majority were clients or affiliated with Capital Group.
  • Did they like the movie? They loved it! Enjoyed learning about LA’s film industry origins as well as the challenges the Laemmle faced/faces as it relates to the changing landscape of their industry and passing a business through successive generations.
  • What was the feeling in the room? Great film.  Interesting protagonist (Greg Laemmle).  And there was a lot of food and popcorn!
  • Did they enjoy the Q&A? – Everyone stayed throughout Q&A. Very engaged.  Questions about Greg’s family and the director’s decisions when creating the film.

Middle Tennessee State University Family Business Institute – Joshua Aaron, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship

  • Who are you? Director of a Family Business Institute at Middle Tennessee State University as part of our undergraduate Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship program.
  • Who attended the event? A mix of MTSU students, faculty, and staff.
  • Did they like the movie? They were engaged the entire time. COVID aspect was particularly relevant to them.
  • What was the feeling in the room? Very positive. We used it as an opportunity to co-brand the Entrepreneurship program and the Family Business Institute. I think their eyes were opened to the “behind the scenes” difficulties of running a family business.
  • Did they enjoy the Q&A? – The live aspect of the Q&A was great.

Temple Isaiah – John Benun, Business Consulting Resources, Sr. Consultant

  • Who are you? A senior consultant for Business Consulting Resources, an advisory working with family enterprises on family, businesses, and the successful transfer of leadership and ownership from generation to generation.
  • Who attended the movie? A cross-generational group of individuals most of whom were aware of Laemmle Theaters and their legacy in Los Angeles.
  • Did you like the movie?   The movie intimately portrayed the history of the Laemmle family, their long history in the movie business and the current generation’s dilemma whether to sell their families theatre chain.  
  • What was the feeling in the room? Everybody focused on the important role that Laemmle Theaters and family businesses play in the community.  Afterwards, a large group of us went to dinner at Factors, a family-owned deli.
  • Did they enjoy the Q&A? Even though the Q&A was on Zoom, it was an intimate and compelling discussion.

Family business centers and other organizations interested in a hosting a Only In Theaters Q&A can contact Allen Esrock – NxtGen Nexus

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.

About the Author

Allen Esrock is the Founder of NxtGen Nexus, a platform for the next generation of family business owners which is based on his experience of growing up in a family business. Prior to that he started Jitter Fingers, the first safe, social networking website for tween girls and their bffs with Jitter Finger clubs in 12+ countries and 250+ cities in the US.