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BIZBASH — Event Innovators 2015: Talaat Captan

By Alesandra Dubin
July 1, 2015

Original Story

The president and C.E.O. of Air Hollywood has turned one of the most unique studios in town into a memorable event venue.

The crowded entertainment landscape of Los Angeles can make it difficult for venues to gain distinction. But Talaat Captan, 56, heads up one of the most unique outfits in town: Air Hollywood is a specialty motion picture production studio and prop house that provides multiple airplane interiors as filming locations.

Beyond that, it houses the new Pan Am Experience, which opened in October and has propelled the venue into a live-event space, as well: The mock-up, built from interior components of a retired 747, along with newly fabricated pieces, has been restored to the look and feel of 1970s air travel glamour.

Within the space, servers dressed in period uniforms serve a four-course meal to guests seated in airplane seats, upholstered to match those of real Pan Am planes of the ‘70s, as part of a complete dinner-theater-like experience gaining popularity for social as well as private corporate events and incentives. It consistently sells out about six months in advance, despite a price tag that approximates the cost of an actual plane ticket.

Captan has also made use of the imagination-inspiring space for an innovative, niche philanthropic component. When traveling one day, he noticed a family with an autistic child struggling to clear a T.S.A. security checkpoint. Motivated to help, he reached out to local autism organizations as partners to bring children to the facility and experience a mock-up of the airport experience, as a way to get prepared for the real thing.

At an event, the families check in, receive their boarding passes, wait in a security line, and go through a T.S.A. screening complete with X-ray machines and metal detectors. Then they wait at the gate and board the mock-up airplane, and the staff simulates a short flight with beverage service and a bit of turbulence. The day ends with a light lunch.

Captan now hosts such events with various organizations every other month, estimating he’s reached about 800 kids so far.

“We provide a safe, friendly environment for these special-needs children and their families to work out any issues they might face along the way,” Captan says. “The kids gain a better understanding of what to expect, and this helps reduce their baseline anxiety, and the families are equipped with some knowledge and the ability to better anticipate their child’s needs in certain situations that [they] may have otherwise not been able to foresee. The program provides everybody with a level of comfort and confidence in preparation for the real experience.”

Looking to the future, Captan has a second 747 in storage in the Arizona desert, ready to launch as a second Pan Am Experience in New York once a venue is secured. He’s also planning to bring the autism events to New York.