Tim League talks Alamo Drafthouse Expansion, Drafthouse Films and more!
I was blessed with the opportunity of getting down to the nitty- gritty with Alamo Drafthouse founder and all around cinephile showman and entrepreneur Tim League. Please leave your comments below and don’t hold back.
I’d like to congratulate you on sticking to your guns in the way you handled the recent Madonna texting incident. I love how it sends the message that celebrity or not, nobody is above the communal cinematic experience. Are we going to get a related P.S.A. in the near future?
Only if Madonna gives us a call and wants to repent by filming a PSA for us. The likelihood of that seems to be pretty thin.
You’ve been asked about your start in this business many times. I’m interested in knowing more about your experiences at the Tejon theater, showing midnight movies and having The Ramones come play a punk gig there. There’s rebellion in your philosophy and work ethics, your motto even stems from Bud’s line in Repo Man. In a nutshell what shaped you into being the man to stand up and fight against the corruption of the cinematic experience?
I’ve always liked punk music, ever since high school, and yes Repo Man is a super-important movie in my life. I’ve never thought of myself as a punk though; I was never deeply into any particular music “scene.” I’m more of a sampler of a lot of different types of music. As far as the days at the Tejon, we were really just trying to make anything work – we did a little bit of everything: classics, art film, foreign film, silent movies with live scores, cult and midnight movies, Rocky Horror, you name it. The one thing that paid the bills and got us enough cash to eventually split town and come to Austin though was live punk/heavy shows: The Ramones, Fugazi, Korn, Bad Religion, Pennywise. Those shows saved us. Through all of the early years though, we were just trying to build a cinema where Karrie and I would want to go ourselves. With that as our objective, we quickly developed a deep intolerance towards people who talked during movies.
I see your cause like a classic spaghetti western. Let’s say you’re Harmonica, corrupted Hollywood is Flagstone and the purity of cinema is Cheyenne. Do you see Alamo Drafthouse bringing water to the rail-workers and will you ride off with Cheyenne?
I’m not sure I buy this analogy. I really love Charles Bronson though, so if there were a chance to go horseback riding with him, I suppose I would do whatever he wanted. In all seriousness though, I do want the big cinema chains to take a stronger stand against talking and texting. I think lots of people will lose interest in the cinema if the experience sucks, and the big guys control the vast majority of the market.
You were a private collector of 35mm prints early in your life. How did you get involved in that trade and what are some of your fondest memories from it?
I started collecting when I was in Bakersfield at the Tejon. There were stacks of old trailers in the projection booth and that started my collection. The jewel of that collection was a spanish-dupped Ricky Schroeder pedophilia PSA. I was also too poor to pay for shipping on prints and trailers so would drive down to LA to pick up my trailers in person. The National Screen Service warehouse had a huge back catalog of trailers, so I would just order trailers for Black Belt Jones, Superfly, Coffy and the like and pick them up with my trailers for Belle Epoque. That started my collection, which has now gotten quite large. We have about 3000 prints and about the same number of vintage 35mm trailers. One of my fondest memories was a recent acquisition from the midwest. I asked Lars to ship the prints down using UShip. We set up an order on their website and a day later were asked to be featured on Shipping Wars.
Drafthouse Films has been the saving grace in acquiring neglected films and bringing them to a wider audience. Aside from The ABC’s Of Death and it’s upcoming sequel, what do you and Evan Husney have planned as far as in-house productions? Does the fact that you want the creators to have control of their art attract filmmakers that you want to form a working relationship with?
Right now we are really focusing on acquiring completed films. ABCs of DEATH was a huge amount of fun, and we are currently in production on the sequel. That said, that’s not our core business at this point. In 2014, we will be releasing one film per month, but none of them original productions like ABCs of DEATH.
You’ve mentioned before that when it comes to films that you distribute, it’s important that they can impact the viewer into sparking a conversation about the experience they have with it. Do you have a strong memory of before you became Drafthouse C.E.O. of such a strong movie experience that sparked a life changing conversation?
When I was living in Bakersfield and my girlfriend (now wife) was in San Francisco, we would watch movies at the same time and then get on the phone afterwards and have a post-movie conversation. One of those conversations eventually led to the idea to open up a movie theater (we both were looking for a career change). I suppose that was one of the most life-changing conversations I’ve ever had.
How did you come to acquiring Ms. 45 and The Visitor and what do you anticipate to be the audience reaction? Do you see these films having the kind of success you had with Miami Connection?
Evan Husney sought out both of those titles and generally oversees the direction of our repertory acquisitions. They are both very different than Miami Connection, but yet they are both amazing films in their own right. I hope they both dazzle audiences this winter, but it will be in a different way than Miami Connection. We do have another film coming in 2014 that I can’t yet announce that should ignite a similar fan frenzy to Miami Connection.
Your relationship with Paul Thomas Anderson began at a Boogie Nights screening during your Rolling Roadshow and you were the only one instrumental in getting The Master seen the way it was intended. Have the two of you discussed collaborating? Do you feel he would be a good fit with Drafthouse Films?
We’ve remained friends and see each other every once in a while, but I don’t think we’ll ever really collaborate. If he has a film that Drafthouse Films can afford, then he’s done something really wrong with his career.
Badass Digest is the outspoken voice of Alamo Drafthouse that never shies away from being straight to the point or blunt. How did your relationship with Devin Faraci develop and how did the whole team come together?
Devin attended Fantastic Fest as a journalist. He ended up giving us this quote: “If there’s a heaven, I want it to be just like the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar during the week of Fantastic Fest.” – Devin Faraci, CHUD.com. We became friends, he would come down and stay with me for events like Buttnumbathon. When he was expressing his growing dissatisfaction at his current gig, we concocted the plan to start up Badass Digest.
For the cinephiles that don’t live near an Alamo Drafthouse and still enjoy the feeling of walking into a store and grabbing a physical copy of something they enjoy, are their any plans to make Birth.Movies.Death. or Mondo posters more wide-reached and accessible?
We have no immediate plans of increasing the circulation of Birth.Movies.Death, but that would be a nice evolution. I’d like to see it happen but we don’t have the budget for it right now. As for Mondo, small edition sizes is part of the model, so we don’t look to change that anytime soon. That said, Mondo is releasing more and more albums and will likely be releasing more products outside of posters that won’t have the same low edition runs. Those should be more readily available in the upcoming months.
With the new theaters under construction, you plan to stay away from the cookie cutter fast food corporation mind-set. What are some of the obvious differences in these new locations that will give them their own distinct personality?
The biggest difference is the people. We hire a creative manager for each new location as well as a chef to oversee the kitchen. The best way to avoid being a cookie-cutter operation is to give up control in certain areas and allow the creative manager and chef to define the personality of their local theater.
Do you feel like a role model or trend-setter for movie theater exhibitionists in the industry who fell out of love with movies or is that something that doesn’t weigh in on your goals and ambitions?
I don’t look at myself as a role model, but if you have fallen out of love with the movies, then I would kindly ask that you get the hell out of the business.
You announced hiring an apprentice earlier this year. What’s your method of separating who’s legit and who’s blowing smoke up your ass and how close are you to choosing the right person for the gig?
I’ve got a number of strong candidates. There is a pretty extensive interview process and I have specific experience requirements. We go pretty deep checking references too. On top of that, there has to be a good personality fit. I haven’t hired anyone yet, but hope to have it sorted in the next couple of weeks.
Now that you’re a dad, are you trying to free up your involvement with your enterprises and do you trust that they will meet the standards you’ve set for the future?
I do try to spend a lot more time at home with the family. I still go watch a lot of movies at the theaters, but as the company has grown, my attention to any one specific aspect of the business is unavoidably divided. The key is to have good systems, good data to monitor guest satisfaction and good people on the team. My job now is more guiding the brand, laying down the priorities of the company and making sure we hire good folks.
What’s your favorite memory of Quentin Tarantino’s film festival, why did it stop and are their plans to bring it back?
The year before Kill Bill went into production, Warren Beaty was cast to be the titular lead. During that QTFest we did a Kung Fu all-nighter and David Carradine unexpectedly showed up and held court with Quentin until 8am between films. That experience and bonding between Quentin and Carradine was one of the main reasons he eventually got the role.
As far as the event, I don’t think it has stopped 100%, we’re just on a long break. I think when Quentin invested in the New Beverly in Los Angeles, he found a home for his programming obsessions that was a lot more convenient. I hope to have the event back someday. Maybe for the 10th anniversary of Fantastic Fest in 2014!
Why did Hunter Walk turn down your Fantastic Debate challenge and who else have you not faced that you’d like to get in the ring?
I have no idea. I have skinny arms and I’m not much of a boxer. 95% of the people we ask to be in the debates say no.
Other than your bout with Tiger Chen and your sparring of the minds with Keanu, what has been the most memorable for you personally about this year’s Fantastic Fest?
My favorite part about Fantastic Fest is getting to know new folks. I really loved meeting and hanging out with the whole team from ALMOST HUMAN. All five of them seemed to wear nothing but black horror movie shirts, a different one each day and in eight days I never saw a single repeat. That was impressive.
In the spirit of October festivities, when it comes to Halloween what are your go to horror movies, your favorite beer and karaoke songs?
Favorite karaoke – I’ll always fall back on old country and western standards as well as Tanya Tucker and Loretta Lynn, but I don’t like to really be pigeonholed in Karaoke. In terms of beer, I like to try things that are I haven’t had before – there is soooo much good beer in the states these days. Some standard go-to beers are Anchor Christmas, Barrel-aged 512 Pecan Porter and just about anything from Jester King. I don’t really revisit too many classic films – there are too many new movies to watch for Fantastic Fest. I’ll dive into Silent Night Deadly Night anytime though.