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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Californian Brings Muscovites the Big Screen

MTRising Star Media's Paul Heth attributes his business success to seeking out the best people and his passion for cinema.
It was Paul Heth's love for movies that started his career in Russia, and 10 years after he arrived he is about to open the nation's largest multiplex.

The Californian's only previous contact with show business was with his father's work as a theatrical director and manager. The young son was not very successful selling candy because he ate all the profits.

"I learned about inventory control when I was very young," he said Wednesday in an interview.

Heth studied history at university in Tampa, Florida. After graduation he worked in the government service, which took him to West Berlin where he saw an opportunity in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"I saw that the attitude was changing and got out of the government service. I came to Russia on a kind of adventure with $600. After a week or two I noticed there was no place to see movies."

He and fellow American Ray Markovich, an attorney and accountant, formed Golden Ring Entertainment in 1993 and began patching together screenings for expats. Markovich administered the business while Heth did the marketing and "getting the films."

At that time U.S. film studios were avoiding Russia -- probably deterred by the rampant piracy that Heth says is still a huge impediment to the foreign and local film industry working in Russia. But after meeting someone in a bar in Los Angeles, Heth found contacts in the key studios that enabled Golden Ring to buy English-language films for cash that could be screened for two weeks.

"I would fly Aeroflot and hold the film in my hands. You couldn't lose it. We would have been ruined."

Their first project was the Americom cinema -- today the America Cinema -- in the Radisson Slavyanskaya hotel, where they pioneered live translation into Russian over headsets.

Although the partners had little capital, they were able to get relaxed credit terms from Coca-Cola, popcorn supplier ConAgro and The Moscow Times that enabled them to kick-start the business.

Heth found cunning ways of marketing films, for example fixing a screening of the movie "Tombstone" for junior White House staff when U.S. President Bill Clinton was in town, giving the film a boost locally and getting coverage in USA Today.

In 1995 Golden Ring moved its business from the Radisson Slavyanskaya to the Dome Cinema at the Renaissance Hotel.

Meanwhile, Henrik Winther, general manager of Rosinter Restaurants, gave Heth a tip for Golden Ring's next project, alerting him to a former conference hall in the Izvestia complex on Pushkin Square. Heth opened a single-screen cinema there in 1996 -- the Kodak Kinomir -- which became one of the most successful cinemas in the world, at one time accounting for 60 percent of all official cinema revenues in Russia. It convinced him that his target audience should be Russians.

The cinema's success brought many investment offers Heth's way, but the 1998 financial crash brought all that to an abrupt halt. In 1999 Heth and Markovich parted company with Heth still having a strong desire to expand operations.

Guided by his Irish grandfather, Heth said it has always been his strategy to learn from the best people and, throughout the 1990s, he cultivated a business and creative relationship with Shari Redstone, president of the Redstone family's U.S. entertainment giant, National Amusements.

Drawing on Heth's Russian experiences and ideas developed in brainstorming sessions, Heth and Redstone formed Cinebridge Ventures in 1999, opening The Bridge cinema in downtown Los Angeles in 2000 and a second cinema in Philadelphia last year.

But Heth did not neglect Russia, continuing to invest his money here and to support an office in Moscow. His latest project, the 11-screen Kinostar, is to open in IKEA's Mega mall in September. The multimillion-dollar project is also a partnership between Heth and National Amusements working together as Rising Star Media, which aims to have more than 60 screens in Moscow in the next four years.

Heth's achievements were recognized by Russia's Kinobiznes magazine last year when it awarded him first prize for contributions to the modern Russian cinema industry.

Heth says he has seen many young Americans come and go from Moscow, but six or seven from his original group have persisted and many of them still play basketball together, although "it's turning into an over-the-hill group."

One of them is Noble Gibbons/CB Richard Ellis managing director Jack Kelleher, who describes Heth as a highly entrepreneurial pioneer of the entertainment and leisure market.

"He's always looking for a deal and always ready to listen to a deal," Kelleher said. "What they achieved with the Kodak Kinomir on Pushkin Square is just fantastic, and I am sure it's due to tremendous hard work."

The only negative comment Kelleher had on Heth was about his jump shot.

"It's gotten worse over the last 10 years, and it doesn't have a jump in it."