Fox's Philanthropist: Chris Aronson receives Humanitarian honor

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“I define a humanitarian as someone who gives back by donating time, energy and money for the betterment of human beings.” Chris Aronson, president, domestic distribution, for Twentieth Century Fox Film, not only gets to the heart of the matter, but proves himself a living example in his philanthropic endeavors for our industry.

Says Robert Sunshine, chairman of the Film Expo Group, “We are extremely pleased to honor Chris with the Salah M. Hassanein Humanitarian Award at ShowEast 2018. Having worked together on the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneer Foundation, I have seen first-hand his commitment to giving back. We could not have found a more exceptional individual to recognize at this year’s show.”

Equally so, Aronson worked alongside Salah Hassanein when he first joined Will Rogers. “It is a fitting honor that this award is named after Salah, as he is a great humanitarian.” Aronson also mentions the late Tom Sherak as a guiding force. “I would like to thank all the people I have met in our industry who have tirelessly given back, not only within our industry, but outside it as well. When it comes to philanthropy, Salah and Tom have always inspired me to find ways to give more. Also, the people who have dedicated their lives to running charities have always inspired me to do more. Their selflessness and dedication to their causes are truly inspirational.”

“Two of my favorite causes are the Motion Picture Pioneers Fund and The Lollipop Theater Network,” he declares, having served them for 20 and 10 years, respectively. “These two organizations are doing tremendous work for both adults and children, respectively. The true reward is visiting a person, or a facility, that has been the beneficiary of your charity’s endeavors and witnessing first-hand how financial support can positively affect those less fortunate or afflicted.”

Aronson brings up further examples. “Whether it be visiting a NICU [Neonatal, Intensive Care Unit] and seeing the infants and amazing doctors, nurses and staff who work there; or experiencing the look on a child’s face when they are watching a first-run movie in their hospital room and a star of the movie visits—it has all been pretty special and inspirational. Imagine being with The Greatest Showman himself, Hugh Jackman, walking into the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and surprising everyone there with a visit. It brought such joy, not only to the children who were ill, but to their families who are all under a tremendous amount of stress. Witnessing that moment, and seeing the joy it brought, meant the world to me.”

Witnessing more than 30 years of our industry—and actively shaping it in the process—Aronson has seen much and drawn his conclusions too. “The current state of the cinema industry is seemingly healthy on the surface, but if we look a little deeper, we see some cracks and fissures. Population has increased, but cinema attendance has shown a downward trend. We are in a very competitive environment when it comes to entertainment choices. Content creators must provide compelling content. Exhibitors must create an inviting experience for moviegoers.”

While that is certainly happening, he is still concerned. “I am worried about our ability as an industry to increase attendance, as trends in exhibition seem to be leaning toward reduced capacity with luxury seating and higher prices. We need to ensure moviegoing remains affordable to all. I would like to see distribution and exhibition businesses work together to create a more symbiotic relationship.”

As someone who has also spent close to a decade on the popcorn side, Aronson has “not only learned how that business works.” With positions at Rentrak Corporation, MGM Distribution Company, Destination Films and Columbia Pictures, among several others, before heading to Fox in 2005, “I also learned how differently various studios operated. This afforded me the opportunity to take the best practices approach of all…to create the most successful businesses possible.”

A self-proclaimed “purist” of popcorn and water, who considers “an aisle seat in the center section prime real estate,” Aronson has plenty of good moviegoing memories. “One of my favorite movie theatres was the Jack London Cinema in Oakland, California, because it was a one-of-a-kind theatre at that time and truly reinvigorated moviegoing in that area. Another was Pearl Highlands on Oahu, Hawaii, for the same reason. It was the first new theatre in that area in years and truly illustrated how to re-energize moviegoers.” Whereas both were built by Signature Theatres, his list of favorites from the past “would have to include the Empire Theater, which was my neighborhood theatre from my childhood, and the Fox Theatre on Market Street in San Francisco. Three of the earliest movies I recall are How the West Was Won, Grand Prix and The Scalp Hunters.” His all-time best include The Godfather and The Godfather Part II.

Naturally, Aronson “can think of many exciting events in my career,” when we asked for more. “From my first day on the job at Universal in San Francisco to distributing Dirty Dancing, to my employment being greenlit at Twentieth Century Fox, and everything in between. What other industry gives one the opportunity to go to Mars with Matt Damon? To go back in time with The Greatest Showman, Hugh Jackman? To hang out with spies, comedians, aliens and superheroes? It is all quite wonderful, because this is a wonderful business. But the most exciting event is always the promise of the event that comes next!”

Although Aronson and his team have quite the lineup coming up, the biggest promise might be bigger than anything ever before. “The Disney acquisition of Fox,” he says, “is occurring in a period of rapid change in our industry. It is imperative we embrace change, not fight it. If the industry works together, it will become even more vibrant and have an even brighter future.”

As someone who strives for “honesty, integrity and a sense of fairness, both personally and professionally,” Chris Aronson makes that very future his key message to share. “It is important for all of us to work collaboratively for the future success of our industry. We also need to continue to give back—not just to our industry colleagues, but to anyone in need.”