Cinema industry authority to mentor new cinema manager

By Madi Chwasta

Cobram Community Cinema will soon be seeking a manager from the region, who will be mentored by an Australian cinema industry veteran.

Cobram resident and cinema committee member Wayne Harris has spent 40 years managing Hoyts cinemas across Melbourne and said he would mentor the young person who took on the role.

“We're looking for someone creative, innovative, resourceful and driven,” he said.

“Experience in the industry is probably not possible, but that is okay, it's not necessary.

“I will introduce them to the industry and will be available to them 24/7, for however long it takes to help them.”

Mr Harris said he has had some fantastic mentors during his time working at Hoyts and wanted to pass on his knowledge.

“It’s a wonderful world - people who get into the industry are very passionate,” he said.

“Everyone, including the opposition managers, film distributors, independent people, cinemas and drive-ins, are just fantastic.”

Mr Harris’ career in cinema management started when he was in high school, when he worked at the Burwood drive-in in Melbourne's east.

He got a job in a bank after high school, but saw an ad going for a job at Hoyts at Waverley Gardens in Melbourne's south-east and got the role.

From there on, he climbed the ranks and spent his professional career in cinema management, where he was responsible for a number of cinemas across Melbourne.

While there have been highlights through the years, he said the most exciting times were the launches of big blockbuster films, where he and his staff would go all out.

One such time was in 1993 when Jurassic Park was released and his team at Forest Hill in Melbourne's east came second in a Universal Pictures international competition for best movie marketing.

“We ended up building a 30-foot dinosaur made from old banners and posters, had a local nursery provide us with ferns and the staff got dressed up.”

“Everyone got into it and we used to do those sorts of things all the time.”

Other highlights ranged from installing recliner chairs a few years back, to simply meeting people of all ages and backgrounds.

“You’d have different demographic for different films - in school holidays you have families, and at other times you have seniors and other regulars,” he said.

While he has seen enormous changes and threats to the cinema over the years, he believed it would continue to endure all the challenges – even the current pandemic.

“Every time we go through a bad times, cinemas thrive,” he said.

“We had some bumpy years – fighting piracy, the Global Financial Crisis, DVDs and now streaming.

“But despite it all, last year in cinema was the biggest gross box office year ever.”

He said the not-for-profit cinema would not only put Cobram on the map, but would boost the local economy.

“It will bring people into Cobram for first release movies, something you’d have to go to Shepparton for,” he said.

“In shopping centres, restaurants are strategically placed to support cinemas and cinemas support restaurants.”

Mr Harris is passionate about the Cobram Community Cinema, something he did not expect to encounter when he moved to town with his wife Sarah looking for a "quieter life".

When he arrived in December 2018 and took over the Cobram East Caravan Park, the cinema had already attracted significant funding and he joined the committee.

Moved to Cobram for a "quieter life": Cobram resident and cinema committee member Wayne Harris also owns the Cobram East Caravan Park.

Just as well he did, because his contacts have lead to generous donations from Hoyts for the cinema seats, sound systems, hearing aid loops, wall curtains, screens and projectors.

He's also got ideas to help engage Cobram's youth.

“I’d like to organise with the media teachers in the area to support their departments with software and organise on-screen advertising, where students can make the ads.”

And Mr Harris hopes his enthusiasm for the silver screen will be passed on to future staff, as well as inspire the youth of Cobram, and the greater community.

“The caravan park is my number one priority,” he said.

“But the cinema is my passion.”