For the Al: Tim and Karrie League

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So tell me if you have ever had this experience- you find some time and think about going to a see a movie. No? Well you may have noticed that we dig movies here at JPGB so play along please…

Yes-okay so you want to see a movie, you go online to see what is playing, you look at the list of films currently screening at the movie houses you frequent and you think “blech I don’t want to see any of this” or some equivalent thereof.  Just how much we are held hostage to Hollywood became even more apparent to me a few years ago when I rented a house near Zilker Park in Austin for a month. Austin at the time had five Alamo Drafthouse sites in operation, which meant that there were a consistent barrage of older, offbeat and classic films to choose between. I took the kids to see E.T. and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade for instance, both of which were more fun than the How to Train Your Dragon 2 meh stuff that Hollywood happened to be shoveling out that summer.

The Drafthouse, with their combination of zany programming and out of the box thinking has brought something crucial back to film- soul. Authentic community is a treasure in life, and you simply can’t get much more of it out of a big-box theater. It is therefore with great pleasure that I nominate the founders of the Drafthouse, Tim and Karrie League, for the prestigious Al Copeland Humanitarian Award for showing us a path forward to redeeming cinema from the tedium of the factory farm film making.*

Like many great things in life, this story starts in Texas at Rice University, where Tim studied Art History and Mechanical Engineering, and Karrie majored in Biology and French literature. What do you do with that? How about “revolutionize the movie going experience” for starters. After Rice, the two opened their first theater, a prototype called the Tejon in California in 1994.  Located on the wrong side of the tracks, the couple began to develop their carnival style in an attempt to lure people to the theater. They for instance got a live band to accompany a silent film (a later Drafthouse regular.) They brought a pig to a screening of Charlotte’s Web. Unable to obtain a liquor license for the Tejon, Tim and Karrie did what a great many sensible Californians do- packed up and moved to Austin Texas in 1997.

Tim and Karrie set up shop in a former parking garage in the Warehouse district in Austin. They got the liquor license that eluded them in California. The rest is history.

Starting as a single screen, small theatre, Austin fell deeply and passionately in love with the Drafthouse. Local directors started hosting film festivals there, followed by non-locals. Some of the non-local directors bought property and became locals.

Big box theaters noticed that the Drafthouse was earning about twice as much per person and started serving food and beer. That’s all well and good, but what makes the Drafthouse the Drafthouse is culture and programming.  Examples include Master Pancake Theater (three comedians mic up on the front row and ridicule a bad movie), Hecklevision (audience text ridicule at a bad movie which appears on the screen), Midnight Blaxploitation (good grief how did this stuff get made?), Sing Alongs and Rolling Road Shows.

So sing alongs, here’s one for the ladies:

and another for Queen fans who want to put on a Freddy Mercury mustache and scream their lungs out with their favorite songs:

You of course already know about rolling road shows like Jaws on the Water:

But they’ve also gone out and about. One of my favorites was a canoe trip with a screening of Deliverance on the shore after a long day of rowing and eating pig sandwiches. They have also gone to filming locations to screen classics:

The Drafthouse is also famous for dealing with certain transgressions firmly and quickly:

Which prompted this gem (NSFW):

which was followed by a similar incident when they had to throw a Sith Lord out:

Anyhoo- thank you Tim and Karrie for making film an absolute blast. I am counting down the days until the opening of Drafthouse Phoenix.

 

* You may choose to infer an education analogy from this post, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

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2 Responses to For the Al: Tim and Karrie League

  1. Greg Forster says:

    Wow, an outstanding selection to nominate, and an outstanding post. If anyone else wants to secure The Al for their nominee this year, the standard has been set. Game on!

    It was only after drafthouses became a thing that traditional theaters began expanding and softening the seats; adopting what used to be called “stadium seating,” which we now call just “seating”; etc. The numbers on the bench in one of the photos made me realize that reserved seats (first come, first serve) when you buy your tickets online is a model more theaters are switching to.

  2. matthewladner says:

    Thanks! Yeah the big box theaters have been setting up food service and stuff, but…well….they need to keep trying.

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