So, I’m reaching a point in life where if I don’t take the above dream seriously, it will probably not happen. Here, I’m interested in putting forward a potential concept(s) for such a theater, to see how it can be made into a sustainable (read: profitable) enterprise. At this point I’m researching the mechanics of such a venture–what kind of investment is required, business plans, etc. In this post, the goal is to put forward the basic concept and my vision of what a trip to this hypothetical theater would be like.
The basic idea here is pretty simple: a theater the specializes mainly in screening all manner of cult classics–a good starting point for the sort of fare potential offer would be the titles listed in the Grindhouse Cinema Database. I have a concern that b-movies may not be enough in themselves to make the venture sustainable, so I can also envision screenings of classic films which would expand the reach of such a theater. The main thing that would set this venue off from other theaters in the market would be that it does not (or not often?) screen the latest mainstream releases.
I could also see this theater showing recent zero-budget films from the likes of Bill Zebub—Antfarm Dickhole was, as far as I am aware, straight-to-DVD, but a one-night theater screening would be a total blast, (but not unprecedented, mind you). I could see such a theater doing all-day festivals for cult classics or lesser known films of cult directors. For example, I could see a David Durston commemoration in which in addition to his most (in)famous work, I Drink Your Blood, is shown, we also screen Felicia, The Love Statue: The LSD Experience, Blue Sextet, and Stigma. It could show some of the classic drive-in/grindhouse fare as double features–screening the original double feature pairs together.
Between all the above kinds of programming, a profitable business model seems realistic, especially if non-cult classic films are added into the mix, to reach a different audience base. I don’t yet know enough about how such a fledgling theater goes about securing rights to screen such films–that is a future post.
As far as the experience I’d want people to have, I’d want people to as soon as they step in to immediately realize this is a different sort of place: posters representing all the major subgenres of cult and exploitation cinema–monster films of the 50s and 60s, Godzilla, sexploitation, nazisploitation, women-in-prison, giallo, gore, drug exploitation, etc. I can see, space depending, a quasi-museum area of collected movie props, autographs, signage from actual 42nd Street grindhouses and other decor to help set the mood, though this is not a requirement to get the theater off the ground. Concessions, where the real revenue from theaters seems to be, would include a full bar–or at least beer as the theater gets itself started. Thus, I see this as an over-21-years-old joint. Cool genre merchandise could be offered for sale–t-shirts, figurines/toys, print magazines, mugs, DVDs, posters, etc.–the sort of stuff one might find at any of the cons. I could see highlighting tweeps’ wares, to the extent those reliable relationships can be established. (One thing to tweet about your love of the genre, quite another to enter into an actual business partnership.)
Lastly, for now, I’d love to screen shorts before feature presentations. The original 1943 Batman serial come immediately to mind, though I suspect gaining screening rights for that particular series would be difficult. The point is to show films the way they used to be: a short followed by the feature. Maybe run 4-5 (as opposed to 8-10!) trailers for upcoming screenings, keeping on-screen ads to a minimum.
So this is my opening gambit at a concept for a movie theater. I have no idea how profitable this can be on its own, or how the concept needs to be edited down (diluted) to attract a wide enough audience that some part of the vision set forth here can be preserved. A lot of that depends on location, which will be the focus of the next post in this series.