The Smallest Show on Earth wins award in Boronia

Tom Schouten has been awarded Cinema Pioneer of the Year for 2023. 373445_05

By Tanya Faulkner

A long-time hills resident has been awarded with a prestigious award for following his passion.

Boronia resident Tom Schouten has won Cinema Pioneer of the Year after a long-standing career in the industry.

Mr Schouten said he first got into the industry by accident in 1960 in Geelong, when his family moved into the manager’s residence at Plaza Theatre.

Tom Schouten said he commenced with Village Roadshow in 1973, managing their Twin Cinema complex in Geelong.

“I worked alongside Village’s Area Manager, the wonderful Geoff Heriot.

“The values Geoff taught me then have stayed with me for my entire working life and are proudly adhered to in my current cinema operation,” he said.

During his ten years there, Mr Schouten also managed the Corio Theatre and helped support the Geelong Drive-In Theatres.

Being in the cinema industry meant Mr Schouten was witness to the release of some modern-favourite blockbusters, including Jaws (1975), E.T. and The Extra Terrestrial (1983), that were released at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne.

“One of my strongest memories with E.T. was converting the Corio Theatre’s ‘crying’ room into a hospital ward so a terminally ill patient could view the movie with her family.

“The lady passed a few days later, but the simple act of kindness gave that family lifelong memories.

“I call that the power of cinema,” he said.

Not only did Mr Schouten provide long-lasting memories for those within the cinema, he also gave one lucky Geelong local the adventure of a lifetime.

“My favourite promotion in Geelong was for Robert Morley’s ‘Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe’ with the main prize being a dinner at the Lido in Paris.

“The winner was to fly to Paris, have a meal, and fly back the next day!” he said.

Mr Schouten’s first cinema in Melbourne was a joint venture between Village and Hoyts in 1985, which also led to his forever after.

“I was joined at that years’ Movie Ball, by a girl from Hoyts, by the name of Cynthia.

“That night ended up being our first date.

“A month later I proposed and the rest is history,” he said.

That same year, Mr Schouten was awarded Village Roadshow’s Manager of the Year for 1985.

Mr Schouten’s cinema career has been nothing short of influential and progressive, introducing several policies into Melbourne cinema’s that still stand as the norm today.

“While managing Doncaster Cinemas in 1998, I introduced the daily multi-sessions policy giving patrons a choice of up to five daily sessions.

“In 1999 when I was based in Dandenong, I introduced the first non-smoking policy for any cinema in Australia,” he said.

Despite a rewarding career over the years, Mr Schouten said his greatest joy has been returning to Boronia, and opening Metro Cinemas in 2005 with his daughter, as a totally family-owned operation.

“My daughter Ellie has the role of General Manager of the cinema and I enjoy the ongoing support of my wife Cynthia, and daughter Lisa in administration and front-of-house.

“My son Kristian helps greatly in hunting for the inevitable roof leaks and other technical issues when he’s not at work,” he said.

His advice to any parent, where they can, is to always make sure their children surpass them, which is his goal for his family as they pursue their careers in and out of the cinema.

“Ellie is every bit as good as I was, and she could easily take over a cinema in the city.

“Kristian is very good at what he does, and we are very proud of our kids,” he said.

Mr Shouten said running the cinema has not been the easiest task over the years, particularly through Covid, but has been his pride and joy over the years.

“The years of operation have been difficult working on shoe-string budgets, and the Covid years nearly broke us.

“However, those years brought us closer together and we managed to get through the pandemic.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, we continue to fight for our little cinema,” he said.