This week at South by Southwest, I got turned away from two films because of Alamo Drafthouse’s policy of not letting badge holders in if they’re so much as five minutes late, even if there are still empty seats. Gah!! So when Alamo’s founder, Tim League, conspicuously showed up seven minutes late to a panel discussion about “Indie Film and the Death of the Theatrical,” I was half hoping he’d get ba-ba-bounced. Justice, man! But let’s face it, it’s hard to stay mad at Alamo. They did the whole Nitehawk thing long before there was a Nitehawk. And I definitely had to forgive League when I noticed he was wearing a hilarious Bernie Sanders/Circle Jerks mash-up t-shirt. Plus, he came with news about Alamo’s forthcoming Brooklyn location.
When the Times recently wrote about the opening of Metrograph and other fun developments in the New York cinema world, they mentioned that the Alamo’s long delayed Downtown Brooklyn location, at 445 Gold Street, would open this year. But League was able to be more specific and reveal that it’s set for this summer. “We’re actually starting to hire in Brooklyn, so that means it’s really actually happening. We’ll be announcing an opening date hopefully really soon.”
That’s good news for Matt Grady, founder of Factory 25, a Brooklyn-based production and distribution company responsible for local gems like Onur Tukel’s Abby Singer/Songwriter, Applesauce, and Summer of Blood. He was also on the panel, and stressed that while niche films can find success via social media and special events (NYC filmmaker Leah Meyerhoff, who founded the Film Fatales collective, said she has had success with academic screenings, for instance), narrative features still depend on seven-day runs in order to qualify for an Oscar or even find subsequent success in the online sphere.
“The old theatrical system is totally broken, but I have to try to work in that world,” Grady said. “Getting that week run in New York means everything to me. It still does, because the New York Times will review it, and then I’ll get all the Rotten Tomatoes reviews I need to be considered a legitimate film.”
In part to address that issue, Tim League says he’s opening more and more 30-seat auditoriums, including in the chain’s forthcoming Brooklyn theater. “The beauty of that is if you play a very small film— like a Drafthouse Films release, for example, hypothetically— and you put that into a 200-seat room and you give it a full, seven-day run, it’s a disaster.” Whereas, “if you put it in a 30-seat theater and you get 25 people it’s actually this raging success.”
“There’s more of a conversation to be able to, in those smaller auditoriums, do seven-day runs, because we understand the importance of it,” League said. “It’s super expensive [for filmmakers] and there’s no options to do seven-day runs in New York, especially if it’s a day-and-date release [meaning a movie that’s simultaneously released in theaters and online]. So it will be an option coming soon.”
When that happens, there should be plenty of local filmmakers clamoring for screen time. “I think the New York scene right now is the best it’s been since the ‘70s,” Grady said. “I actually, really believe that.”
Still, getting people to spend $15 on a movie ticket remains a challenge. “If everyone bought one less ramp-jalapeno taco and went to see a movie, I would be psyched,” Grady said.
Then again, at Alamo you can pretty much do both!