New doors open for director with a cinematic background
The 1950s were the heyday of the silver screen here but with upgrades around the country Paul Anderson may be looking at a sequel
Paul Anderson, managing director of Omniplex Holdings, at the group’s Swan Cinema in Rathmines, Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Paul Anderson may be cited in various rich lists as being worth more than €50 million but his offices tell a different story. In a tiny little boardroom above the hustle and bustle of the Swan Shopping Centre (which he owns) in Dublin’s Rathmines, the Omniplex Group managing director is keen to talk attendance numbers rather than turnover figures.
The boardroom may be hard pushed to fit more than six people around the table, but it’s how many people the cinemas can fit that matters. And in terms of the Omniplex Cinema Group, it’s a lot.
The group, which has 22 cinemas located throughout Ireland, sits 5.5 million people for different films each year, although a lot of them are repeat customers.
“In the 1950s there were more than 50 million cinema admissions in Ireland per year. There are between 16.5 and 17 million admissions per year now even though the population has doubled.”
The story of Anderson’s love affair with cinema began with his father Kevin, who set up a film distribution business with his half-brother Leo Ward in 1948.
“The first movie they bought the rights of was The Hills of Donegal. The second movie they acquired was called The Rose of Tralee. It had no connection with the Rose of Tralee we know now. I don’t think the competition had even been dreamt up back then.”
“It did very well around the country and they eventually persuaded the Carlton cinema to put it on. They recovered all their costs from acquiring the film from the Carlton showing alone and that started the whole ball rolling in relation to the business.”
The two went on to purchase their first cinema in Lucan in 1955, where Paul began working as a cashier at the age of eight.
“The price of tickets was six pence for kids and one shilling for adults. Sometimes parents would come and give me a pound to pay for two adults and three kids and I’d have to work out the change in my head.”
“On three occasions the till was short at the end of the night and my father said to me I would have to make up that money. I said to him I would if I got paid for doing the job.”
Anderson officially went into the business upon finishing school at 18, opting to take a role renovating and designing cinemas.
“We had a cinema in Killarney with one screen. I decided to put two more screens into it. Everyone thought I was mad at the time, as the only two cinemas in the country that had more than one screen were in Dublin.”
“I went ahead and did it. I think my father and uncle were just waiting for me to make a mistake but it turned out to be hugely successful. We recovered all the costs from putting in the new screens within 20 months.”
Transition to digital
Anderson says the cinema business has changed rapidly over the years, not just with the transition from film reels to digital and surround sound, but also in the screening durations, with few films now staying in cinemas longer than a few weeks.