The WGBH National Center for Accessible Media
The Media Access Group at WGBH

MoPix® Motion Picture Access

woman using headphones to hear audio descriptions
woman using reflector to see captions
da Vinci Award

2006 da Vinci
Award Winner


1995
The Ken Mason
Inter-Society
Award Winner

Roadmap to Movie Access
One Advocate's Journey

Bob Burns is an attorney, advocate and movie fan living in Omaha, Nebraska. Bob also happens to be blind, and enjoys description tracks created for television programs, videos and DVDs. After learning about the availability of description tracks for first-run films, and that there were no local theaters in Omaha which offered this access feature, Bob set about a chain of events that resulted in the installation of the Motion Picture Access (or MoPix) systems at the AMC Oak View in his city. MoPix refers to Rear Window® Captioning, a closed caption system for delivering the audio portion of movies to patrons with hearing loss, and DVS Theatrical®, which makes the visual aspects of films accessible to patrons with vision loss via wireless headphones. While these systems have been installed in many US and Canadian cities, they had not yet been adopted by a theater in Omaha. Enter Mr. Burns...

WGBH: Hi Bob. When did you first hear about descriptions in theaters?

In the winter of 2000 I read an article in USA Today that talked about MOPIX. After reading the article it perked my interest, and I attempted to learn more. I poked around now and then for several months, and then I finally found the MOPIX web site. After reading the information in the web site I called the nearest theatre that had installed MOPIX. It was a General Cinema theatre in Illinois. They told me the system worked great, and they only wished there were more movies. Next I talked to Mary Watkins at WGBH in October of 2000, and she told me some basics on MOPIX. At this point I thought that at some point I would like to try and get MOPIX for Omaha. In fact at the Omaha White Cane Banquet in November of 2000, I told the audience that the National Federation of the Blind Omaha Chapter needed to take on a project like getting MOPIX to Omaha. The mission of getting MOPIX to Omaha then went onto my back burner. I did not have any road map as to how I could get MOPIX to Omaha, and other projects consumed my time.

Then over Memorial Day of 2002 I was in St. Charles, Illinois, and I noticed a General Cinema theatre that was now an AMC theatre. In Omaha AMC is one of the 2 major theatre chains. I remembered that General Cinema was the theatre that I had originally called about MOPIX. With the release of Star Wars last summer my thoughts of MOPIX were strongly awakened.

Then in the fall of 2002, I decided now was the time to make MOPIX happen if I could in Omaha. I talked to Mary Watkins, and a couple of theatres that had recently installed MOPIX, and I was encouraged that this could be done. I called AMC headquarters in Kansas City, and after several exchanges of messages I finally received the name of the person who handled MOPIX for the AMC chain. The person who I talked to was Mr. Phil Pennington. When I talked to Mr. Pennington I asked him about retrofitting the AMC theatre in Omaha with MOPIX. Mr. Pennington informed me that due to market size and other economic reasons Omaha was not on the list to be retrofitted. When I first began the process of seeking MOPIX for Omaha, I always thought that we would have to raise some of the cost locally. Since I was already prepared to offer to raise some of the money for the retro fit, I asked Mr. Pennington if Omaha raised some of the money locally would that put Omaha on the retro fit list. Mr. Pennington was intrigued by that proposal, and asked me to write a letter putting my plan in writing, and to contact him in January 2003 before the next fiscal year’s budget was put together. I did just that, and in late January 2003 Mr. Pennington received approval from his corporate CFO to retrofit Omaha with MOPIX if we raised $8,000. The $8,000 figure was half the cost that AMC figured a retro fit would cost.

WGBH: Had you ever heard description in theater, perhaps while traveling to another city?

I had never heard MOPIX in a theater, but I had watched movies on videocassettes that had had audio description included. I found the audio description very beneficial in allowing me to enjoy a movie independently.

WGBH: What were your first dealings with movie theaters in the Omaha area around the issue of access?

I went straight to AMC corporate because they were installing and running MOPIX movies. With a theatre chain that was already doing it I did not have to convince them that MOPIX was worth while.

WGBH: Do you have any tips for the best way to approach a theater chain?

I have done fundraising in the past, and I knew that this project was a good one. With limited resources budgeted for accessibility, I think that local partnerships with the theaters is a way to speed up the spread of MOPIX.

WGBH: When did you begin to involve others in the community, parents, schools, organizations such as the Lions club, etc?

I started with a base as President of the National Federation of the Blind, Omaha Chapter. While raising money for our chapter I had this project in mind. My chapter put up the first $2,000 and that gave the project immediate credibility. The moment I had the commitment from AMC to do a retrofit I began contacting groups that work with the Blind and Deaf. I never had to go beyond this base to get the necessary funding. The first thing I did was contact the Nebraska State Commission of the Deaf to get contacts in the Deaf community. I received a list of Deaf groups in the Omaha area, and I immediately sent them an E mail telling them about the project. The news spread like wild fire through the deaf community and I had immediate help from those quarters. I personally went to numerous Blind and Deaf group meetings to present the idea.

WGBH: What was their initial reaction?

Every one in the Blind and Deaf community was instantly excited. I think I did a good job of presenting the concept, and there was instant excitement. The Lions club became especially excited, and nine different local Lions clubs donated money. I told all the potential contributors that there would be a plaque outside the MOPIX equipped theatre that would list all the major contributors. Everybody likes a little recognition for good deeds, and I think the thought of being on that plaque peeked groups interest.

WGBH: How did you go about getting the ear, so to say, of the local press?

We simply called the local paper and told them about the project, and they ran an article that same week. The publication of that article gave our cause added credibility. However the article itself only brought one contribution of $35, but we used the article as an advertisement of our project and it helped us immeasurably.

WGBH: Was the idea of fundraising an option that was immediately welcomed by the community and the theater chain in question, AMC Theatres?

The offer to put up some of the money was essential in getting AMC to agree to the retrofit. When I first started fund raising for this project I contacted some local businesses, and they were kind of stand offish to the concept of giving money to theatres that charge so much for popcorn. I told them that even though it would be nice if theatres did this on their own, the facts were that Omaha was not going to get this any time soon if we waited for theatres to get around to this on their own. This argument carried some weight, but it was not necessary to go out to the general business community because we raised the money through other means.

WGBH: How long did it take to raise half of the money for an installation, and how much did you raise?

After just three weeks of pounding the drums I could see that we had all the money that we needed in the pipeline. We raised $8,250. In fact there were groups that offered to help but we already had all the money that we needed so we had to turn them away. I told Mr. Pennington in early March that we were going to have all the money so he should go ahead and order the equipment. By doing this we had MOPIX installed by May 1. We used $195 of the money we raised for the plaque.

WGBH: What was the feeling like when you learned that you were soon going to have access to films, and that the work you'd undertaken was going to positively affect so many in your community?

The process came together so fast that I was astounded. When I began the drive for funding in late January I hoped we could have MOPIX by summer, and we managed to have it by May 1 for the X Men movie. It was very personally gratifying. When we had the dedication and I met Blind and Deaf children who had just gone to "Finding Nemo", and they and their parents were coming up to me to thank me, it was as great a thrill as I have ever had.

WGBH: What was the first film you saw with description at the Oak View?

The X Men movie and it was awesome with the description.

WGBH: How did you go about getting the word out to the community? Did you have help putting together the dedication ceremony?

I have called and E-mailed every relevant group that I know of that MOPIX is installed in Omaha. I contacted the State talking book library, and they are putting the MOPIX notification in the next newsletter. The local paper is running an article in the June 11 edition. For the dedication the Lions club brought out their members, and I called each local television station. One local television station had already run a story on MOPIX. That station came out and went to "The Matrix Reloaded" with me, and ran a story on the experience. For the dedication we used a group that works with Blind children to send out invitations to some of the children in their organization. I also invited parents with their Deaf children who helped me fund raise. My local National Federation of the Blind chapter also attended the dedication.

WGBH: Of the films you've seen so far with description, which has been your favorite?

The Matrix Reloaded was a close first to X Men. The description of the Matrix was excellent, and it made the experience incredible.

WGBH: What 2003 summer blockbusters are you most looking forward to?

Besides the ones that I already have watched I am looking forward to the "Incredible Hulk", and the "Terminator". I am disappointed that "Pirates of the Caribbean" is CC (closed captioned) only. I think it will be my next task to do anything that I can do to make sure that movies are made accessible to both the Blind and the Deaf.

WGBH: Any other suggestions to those folks in other cities looking to duplicate the Omaha success?

Work with a theatre chain that already has MOPIX. This will make your task simpler. Get a commitment from the theater to install MOPIX then first alert the media and get a write up. Then I would contact the Lions club, and Sertoma club of your area. Find Blind and Deaf groups in your area. No matter what the politics are of the Blind and Deaf groups in your community they should all be able to agree that MOPIX is good for all of them. You should be able to find a National Federation of the Blind chapter in your area by going to nfb.org. If you want I can give you the letters that I wrote to AMC and other groups to promote this project. Just E-mail me at blcburns@cox.net, and I will forward them to you. It amazed me how fast it all came together. I think that with this road map you could get MOPIX in your town faster then you think. Good luck. Bob Burns

WGBH: Thanks Bob.