78°F
weather icon Clear

Las Vegan’s polling company keeps tabs on Hollywood

Vegas Voices is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.

It’s one of the more influential businesses in Hollywood, but the polling company CinemaScore is run out of a couple of home offices in Las Vegas.

In 1978, movie lover Ed Mintz was surprised by Neil Simon’s “The Cheap Detective.” A fan of the writer’s previous work, Mintz wasn’t prepared for this particular movie. “We did not realize it was a complete spoof,” he recalls.

Critics loved the movie, but Mintz realized there was no real outlet for average moviegoers to express their opinions. Thus, CinemaScore — which movie studios have come to rely on nearly as much as sequels and Jennifer Lawrence — was born.

Every Friday, CinemaScore sends teams of pollsters to theaters in 25 major cities, including Las Vegas, armed with cards containing only a handful of questions: age, gender, what drew them to the movie (i.e. actor, director, etc.). After the movie, audience members are asked to bend back a tab indicating a letter grade as well as tabs revealing whether they would buy or rent the movie when it’s released on home video.

Once that information is compiled, Ed’s son Harold spends a couple of hours crunching numbers and running algorithms, and by 8 a.m. Sunday, a studio has a very good idea how much its latest movie will gross over its entire box-office run. (CinemaScore is contracted by all but one studio; Mintz won’t reveal the exception.)

Mintz, 75, moved to Las Vegas in 1990, having grown tired of the traffic and earthquakes in Los Angeles.

But in the early L.A. days, Mintz focused on getting his information — which movies were liked or disliked by audiences — directly to consumers. There was a syndicated radio show — “We had about 15 stations, 12 of which were in Canada,” he says — as well as a show on the pay-TV forerunner Z Channel and a segment on “Entertainment Tonight.”

All of this coincided with the rise of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. A syndicated CinemaScore column so infuriated the latter when it appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Mintz says, that Ebert threatened to quit if the paper kept publishing it. Years later, Mintz says Harold contacted Ebert and was told, “Why would I want to be involved with people who gave ‘Gladiator’ an A?”

These days, CinemaScore is a family affair. Mintz’s other son, Ricky, handles scheduling and data. Mintz’s daughter Julie, who lives in Denver, searches for pollsters.

“Everyone in the family has been in this business. … Every single one of us,” Mintz says. “In fact, my grandson of 15 is desperate to poll. He wants to take over the business.”

Mintz took some time to talk about the inspiration for CinemaScore, its religious origins and which stars can throw off the company’s projections.

Review-Journal: You pretty much owe your entire empire to Neil Simon.

Mintz: Yeah, it’s interesting, because if I don’t overhear a moviegoer say something or, for some reason, I just skipped the movie, my whole life is changed. I doubt that another epiphany would come rolling up to me so quick. We came out of the theater, and there were a lot of people complaining. … And all of a sudden, some guy said, “Is anybody here wondering why they can’t get the opinions of actual moviegoers and publish that? We keep getting critics.” I looked at him and thought, “Wow, that’s a great idea!”

RJ: What did you do with the idea in the meantime?

Mintz: I thought, “What could this possibly be?” For weeks I was going crazy. And then I happened to be at temple for Yom Kippur. … Forgetting that I probably should be keeping my mind on God, but it was running through my head. … They don’t want you to write on that holiday, so they give you a pledge card, and you just bend back the tab (designating how much money you’ll give). I’m telling you, I took that thing in my hand, and it was like a bolt of electricity. I almost jumped out of the chair. … I thought, “Simple. How simple. How simple.”

RJ: So after focusing on consumers, at what point did the business model change?

Mintz: I never understood why I would be interested in going after studios, but studios, led by Fox in 1989, started approaching us. … From there on in, other studios started hearing about it. And then we started looking at each other and said, “Wait a minute. Maybe there’s a lot more money in going after the studios and not worrying about the movie public.”

RJ: Why poll on Friday nights?

Mintz: Friday night you have the fan base. That’s what we want. And people always say, “You just want the fan base? So you’re going to give every movie an A?” It doesn’t work that way. It really doesn’t. Yes, the grades will tend to be higher, therefore we will build into the system a curve that straightens that out. A’s generally are good, B’s generally are shaky, and C’s are terrible. D’s and F’s, they shouldn’t have made the movie, or they promoted it funny and the absolute wrong crowd got into it.

RJ: Are there movies whose scores still baffle you?

Mintz: I remember (“National Lampoon’s Vacation”). I loved it. I loved it. Got a C+. I couldn’t figure out for anything why people didn’t love that more.

RJ: Are there any outside influences that can affect your projections?

Mintz: I’ll tell you who nails me. There are two stars, it doesn’t matter how bad the film is, they can pull (the projections) up. That’s Leonardo (DiCaprio) and (Tom) Cruise. We’ll give a movie a C+, and Leonardo just pulls the box office with him. … Cruise was amazing. “Eyes Wide Shut?” D-. $100 million. Never, I thought. That’s unbelievable.

RJ: Do you still consider yourself a fan of movies, or is this all just a business for you now?

Mintz: No, I am a big fan of movies. I don’t watch horror movies much anymore. And I’m getting tired of the genre of the unbelievable action films. I always liked action films, but they’re so ridiculous now. I prefer good acting, a clever plot and good ideas in the movies. So, no, I love movies, and I get my share. I wait for October to come, November. That’s when I get a lot of the movies I like.

RJ: So have you ever gotten the chance to talk to Simon or thank him?

Mintz: You know, I didn’t. I saw him in a screening in Los Angeles. But I am the type of person that will not approach a talent, especially if there’s crowds or people around. I will never, never approach. And it never came up again.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Juliana Margulies confronts epidemic in “The Hot Zone”

Based on Richard Preston’s 1994 nonfiction thriller about the origins of the Ebola virus and its arrival in the U.S. in 1989, the three-night miniseries debuts Monday on Nat Geo.

TV best bets for the week of May 26

This week’s top choices include the return of “America’s Got Talent,” “Deadwood: The Movie” and the debut of “The Hot Zone,” starring Juliana Margulies.