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Teaching Clients that a High-End Private Theater Requires the Expertise of Many Trades

Our industry is wrought with buzzwords and acronyms, and “turnkey” is a term that has been thrown about for a long time.

Sam Cavitt ( is president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, Hawaii, and Carlsbad, California. Our industry is wrought with buzzwords and acronyms, and “turnkey” is a term that has been thrown about for a long time. Turnkey, as in, “I want a turnkey price” or “we’re looking for a turnkey service.” So often a client or a project team member will throw out this term, and not completely understand what it requires.

Taken in its strictest form, the word turnkey would mean an all-inclusive service that would require no other participation or additional expenditure for 100-percent completion and satisfaction. To provide a true “turnkey” private theater design service, the following subcategories of engineering and design will be required.

„„• Structural engineering–On new or extensive remodel projects, foundations, framing and other structural planning will be required.

•„„ Mechanical engineering–Above and beyond the noise criteria planning of a theater HVAC and ventilation, a qualified engineer must calculate actual heat and cooling loads and perform the specific mechanical engineering.

•„„ General architecture–Unless the room is a strict remodel of an existing room, modifications and new buildings will require architectural design.

•„„ Electrical engineering–Power calculations and engineering of electrical for the space and systems need to be performed.

•„„ Audio & Video system engineering–The performance specification for the equipment that will power the theater and all the documentation required to install and program that system.

•„„ Acoustical engineering–The analysis and specification of both isolation and internal room acoustics must be performed accurately.

•„„ Interior design–Decorative style, finishes, furniture, lighting and all the elements of the aesthetic environment

The construction specialties and trades that are typically part of a “turnkey” high-performance private theater, include:

„„• Concrete and masonry–Even many remodel projects are additions that require new footprints.
„„• Framing–Modifications, head-outs, special supports and more, as well as the typical residential framing
Specialty acoustical framing and construction–Understanding and constructing the many devices and systems that go into delivering a great private theater experience
„„• Drywall–In the case of well-engineered private theaters, this is a sub-category that takes special care for best results

The interior construction and specialty trades that are also part of a “turnkey” high-performance private theater, include:

•„„ Acoustical treatment installation–The engineered specification of such devices must be faithfully adhered to
„„• Acoustical wall fabric installation–This is a specialty that can make or break the final finish both aesthetically, as well as in the acoustical and visual performance
„„• Millwork and finish carpentry–From sound doors to cabinetry, speaker mountings in columns and more, the integrity of theater millwork is vital.
„„• Furnishings–Seating manufacture, installation, and other specialty furnishings are seen in today’s private theaters
„„• Lighting–rattle-free installation of the specific fixtures is a must

To provide a true “turnkey” private theater design service requires the expertise of many subcategories of engineering and design. Last, but not least, there are these system installation and calibration considerations needed on a “turnkey” high-performance private theater:

• The supply and installation of all AV equipment.
• The supply, installation and programming of control systems.
• Calibration of audio and video systems for more optimum performance.

Believe it or not, that is a partial list. Almost every single item describes a specialized skill that requires years of experience and, in many cases, years of higher education. Do I really want all of that expertise to come from one source? A better question might be, do I want to be that source?

So, what is a client telling us when they request a turnkey solution? We often interpret these requests as meaning that the client will not appreciate our value proposition if we don’t offer all private theater design and build services in-house. In our rush to please the client, we may end up setting ourselves up for failure by establishing client expectations that are too high on elements of the project that we cannot even control.

Remember, our clients are intelligent successful people. What they really want is 100-percent completion and satisfaction at a minimum of difficulty and effort on their part. An effective approach to this scenario is to describe all the elements required to successfully deliver a great private theater. Most clients will be surprised at how many elements go into that finished product. Then let them know that your company makes sure that every contributor to their private theater will be the best of the best. Tell them that your company, as one of those best of the best, has longstanding relationships with these other team members and that you are the coordinator of all efforts and will assure the successful completion and their 100-percent satisfaction.