Dialogue: Alamo Drafthouse Honcho Tim League Talks the Summer of '82, Novelty Programming, Fears of Over-Expanding and More

Dialogue: Alamo Drafthouse Honcho Tim League Talks the Summer of '82, Novelty Programming, Fears of Over-Expanding and More

May 14, 2012

At the beginning of March the Alamo Drafthouse announced ambitious plans to recreate the release schedule of the Summer of 1982, screening in order of their release Conan The BarbarianThe Road WarriorRocky IIIPoltergeistStar Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T.The Thing (which Movies.com will be co-hosting!), and Tron. Well, their awesome time machine has arrived. Last Friday saw the first screening of the series (Conan) roll out, and it only gets cooler from there.

We got on the phone with Alamo Drafthouse co-founder Tim League to talk about the elaborate endeavor and find out where the whole idea came from, what Tim remembers from the actual Summer of '82, as well as the future of the Drafthouse and what the company will do to make sure that its continued expansion doesn't come at the expense of novelty programming like this very series.

 

Movies.com: How old were you in 1982?

Tim League: I was 12. It's easy to do that math because I was born in 1970, so it's all round numbers. But yes, I remember that summer well.

Movies.com: How do you remember the theatrical side of things that summer? What was going to the theater like?

League: Several of the movies that were playing I did not see because I hadn't quite figured out how to sneak into R-rated movies until I was about 14, so I saw the PG movies. In terms of what the theaters were doing, for that summer, I don't have any special recollections. I had just moved to Southeast Ohio from Houston. It was a real small town and the theater was a United Artists theater in the mall. It was the Ohio Valley Plaza 6 and that's where I saw everything. It wasn't a particularly amazing theatrical experience, but I do remember going to see movies with my friends and I saw a lot of these opening weekends, Tron in particular. I was completely obsessed with Tron and the build up to the opening day, and really the whole summer. I played the video game, I was a computer programmer. I was basically a hardcore nerd and was looking forward to it all summer.

Movies.com: You were a programmer at 12? I knew you had an engineering background, but I didn't realize it started that young.

League: Yeah, it did. I went to computer camp. [laughs]

Movies.com: What film would 2012 Tim go back in a time machine and punch 1982 Tim for not sneaking in to?

League: The Road Warrior, for sure. And probably Conan. I was big into movies with boobs, too. That was right around the same time mom and pop home video stores had started to pop up, and Sword and Sorcerer and Conan I saw probably the next year when I figured out video rental stores didn't give you a damn if you were 16, 18, 21, whatever. You could rent anything on the shelf. It was a powerful passport.

Movies.com: Whose idea was the whole Summer of '82 programming?

League: That right and honor belongs to Mr. Ryan Fons [Editor's note: Ryan is one half of Fons PR, who rep the Drafthouse]. It was his idea. Ryan pointed out to us, "Do you guys realize the significance of the movies that came out in 1982 and how awesome and un-repeated in the course of history the summer was?" And so we looked at it and were like, Oh my God, you're right. It was his idea, he brought it to the programming team, and it didn't take us long to be convinced.

Movies.com: Aside from the obvious lack of creativity and having their own Fonses and programming teams, what's stopping other theaters from doing similarly inspired summer events?

League: Nothing really. All these movies are available to book. It was really just the idea of packaging them together to celebrate a very special summer. Anybody could do it, and I think folks like Cinefamily are going to do some of our Summer of '82 programming. We've been talking to Adrian about that very idea.

For me, when I was 12 years old and living the Summer of '82, that was a very important time in my life in becoming a movie fan. I watched, you know, Star Wars when it came out and had certainly been into movies, but that was sort of when I was coming into my own. So when I got pitched this idea, I was immediately flooded with waves of nostalgia and I think people around my age bracket are experiencing the same thing.

Movies.com: A constant topic these days is a decline in theater-going, but I know the Drafthouse's attendance numbers are up year-over-year. Do you think other theaters are going to have to adopt these kinds of novelty programs in order to survive in the future?

League: Maybe, but we are heading into the Summer. There's been doom and gloom in our industry, "Oh my God, the industry was down last year!" But no one is really talking about how the industry is way up this year because of Avengers and Hunger Games, two early season performers. And we're looking at a really strong Summer. I always find it's funny that the bad news is what gets reported and translated into the death of cinema, because in my mind, I've always thought cinema was doing fine. We're fine.

That doesn't really answer your question. I think a lot of exhibitors are interested in alternate content and other things that can be done to fill in sessions where they have excess capacity. We're pretty aggressive as a company in terms of doing this stuff, but other theaters are dabbling around in it as well. Ours is a little more nerd-centric.

Movies.com: I have a theory about it, but what exactly happened with Blade Runner? Why is it not playing?

League: [Laughs] We tried long and hard to get the rights to show it and the folks that own the rights didn't want us to show it. In general, it's pulled out of release, and we tried through a lot of angles – including Ridley Scott, who is in full support of the screening. But for whatever reason that's one of those complicated rights issues where if you own it, you get to decide whether it does or doesn't show, and at this Summer of '82 celebration, so far it's not showing.

Movies.com: I figured it had something to do with them not wanting to show the original theatrical any more, and was a case of Warner Brothers saying, "You can show the Final Cut of it, but not the theatrical cut."

League: No, Warner Brothers doesn't even own it anymore, it's gone back to the original producers. That's why it's so complicated.

Movies.com: As far as the expanded programming, how did you guys determine the second line-up? How do those stand toe-to-toe with the originally announced line-up?

League: We started with the blockbuster lineup. Early on we looked at the entirety of 1982 and had other titles we felt were possibilities, but decided to pair it down to 8 titles and see what the response was like to see if people were interested in reliving that area of childhood. And when people responded that put in motion going ahead with phase 2, which are also assume but don't...Vice Squad and Class of 1984 are awesome, but they don't quite have the mass appeal as Poltergeist or E.T.

Movies.com: Is this a series you guys plan to repeat next year with '83 and going on up or is this a one shot deal?

League: I don't know yet. I think that the Summer of '82 is very special. Every year has great movies-- at least in the '80s. [Laughs] We're going to finish this series off and if everyone is happy with it we're going to dust off the '83 calendar and at least take a glance at it. It's certainly a possibility but we haven't committed to anything beyond that yet.

Movies.com: As for the Drafthouse future in general, you guys have been announcing a lot of expansions in recent months. What are you guys going to do to protect the Drafthouse brand? Will over-expansion dilute the Drafthouse power? Do you have fears about that?

League: Sure, that's my number one fear. I've thought a lot about it, really. Moving into a town like New York, we have to be on our best game, and so we're not actually going to try to run it from Austin. The idea there is we have some of our programming that will come out of Austin that we'll provide for them, but what I really want to do is hire a team up there that has a lot of control and flexibility and they can be the voice of that theater. I think if we were going to try to just have a one-size-fits-all, generic programming we could roll out to every location, that wouldn't really have the same feel.

The way I envision it is, each major city we move into will have its own creative team that drives the personality there, kind of like how Zack [Carlson] drives a certain part of the programming at the Alamo. It's obviously Zack, it can be nobody else but Zack. So we're going to hire people like Zack to build up their own communities. And at the same time, that'll mean there will be more creative people in the company as a whole, so everyone that is working in the creative and programming side of things will get together and swap ideas and maybe something like Summer of '82 will roll out more significantly across the entire company, while stuff like Terror Tuesday will still have a level of local intimacy to it.

Movies.com: That's good to hear for my own selfish reasons. I'm sure I speak for a number of Austin Drafthouse lovers who have fears that the Alamo expanding across the nation means all the locations will become homogenized, so it's nice to hear it will be a kind of 'Austin, but in other places' type of expansion.

League: Screw homogenization. [Laughs] That's definitely not the intent. I'm keenly aware of the challenges that expansion presents, but on the flip side, since we started Drafthouse Films, the idea of having more markets and a friendly theater that knows how to promote movies and has a big audience that's built around the same things means they're willing to support the movies we pick up for the label even better.

Movies.com: Are there any crazy Drafthouse schemes on the horizon? Are you close to an LA theater?

League: We do have some additional announcements, but nothing in LA at this point. I can tell you that we are plotting a crazy promotional event built around our next Drafthouse films release, Klown, that may or may not involve canoes and a bit of inappropriateness.

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