Barry Kryshka Q&A

May 4, 2020
Barry Kryshka runs one of the most respected micro-cinemas in the country.

“In 2012 when we asked Warner Brothers for a 35mm print of Gremlins to show for Christmas, they responded that they have a limited number of prints and need to put those into big theaters. But digital Gremlins, no problem. The message we want to get out is that we love all movies, and we’ll always try to run the best format for the film in question.”

How do you decide on a block of programming? Is there spirited debate?

Often! John Moret has been our programmer since taking that job over from me about five years ago, and I’m usually smart enough to trust his instincts. But yes, there are debates. We also involve our volunteers to get suggestions, and we consider suggestions our audience gives online and in the box office suggestion book.

You started out at Oak Street Cinema. What was special about Oak Street that you have carried on at the Trylon?

When I got out of Macalester in 1993, I was looking for a cinema I could go to multiple times each week. (Yes, I had that much time on my hands.) The Oak Street Cinema screened more than 200 films in its first year. Sometimes I joke that I’m more interested in maintaining a high level of quantity at the Trylon, and that quality will follow, but there’s a seed of truth in that.

Before you opened the Trylon you did guerrilla screenings around town, including in parks and alleyways. Do you have a favorite memory of one of those?

We did a series of screenings behind the Matchbox Cafe, back in 2006-ish. That was the first time I saw The Hot Rock, which totally impressed me.

How would you describe the Twin Cities film-going community to someone not from here?

Especially in virus-time, I’d describe them as incredibly supportive. About a week ago we put out a call asking for people to buy our five-movie punch cards online, to use once we reopen, and to help us cover rent and payroll during our closure. Within a few days we sold just under 130.

You’ve described cinema as a social experience for people who don’t like to talk to people. Is that part of how you came to loving films?

Even before this current state of quasi-mandatory isolation, grocery delivery was a growing business. If we can play a part in stemming that a bit … it’s important for humans to be around other humans regularly, and my heart is with the folks who find that the most awkward or difficult. A cinema is a great place to be around people without being required to interact.

When you were raising money for Trylon, how did you decide it would be a 50-seat microcinema? Were there other micro-cinemas you modeled the Trylon on?

Honestly, we got our hands on the biggest space we could afford, and that turned out to be 54 seats. Then we just plugged along at finding ways to make 54 seats work.

Do you ever get overwhelmed trying to watch everything?

Our programmer John doesn’t believe in programming any film he hasn’t seen, and I respect that, but when I was programming, I was the opposite … I didn’t want to see a film for the first time at home and then show it at the Trylon, I wanted to watch it with an audience in our theater. And did that lead to some mistakes? Definitely.

You recently renovated the Trylon and doubled the seats to 100, after raising $175,000. Are you pleased with the new space?

Absolutely, we owe much of the credit to Ken Martin’s team at MSR Design. I’m especially proud of the improved wheelchair access. For years our audience tolerated an incredibly inconvenient arrangement, without complaining, and fixing that was at the top of my list. That said, it’s never finished, and there are plenty of ideas in my head for further improvements.

Cliché question alert: what are your three Desert Island films? Films you have seen a million times and love every time?

Run Lola Run, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The Apartment.

You once explained the vitality of theaters by comparing them to bars: people can drink at home but they still go to them. Do you imagine this will always be the case? 

In Minnesota, Governor Walz has done a tremendous job of building trust. I think when our state decides it’s safe to go back to movie theaters, then our audience will trust that decision and swarm back. Conversely, if the governor decides that theaters need to stick it out through a longer closure for the good of the community, we’re ready to accept that responsibility and sacrifice. We have a plan either way.

You are protective of the film-viewing experience being the same today as when a film was released, which means 35MM and changing reels. Do you fear this may be lost as digital continues to be used?

John loves 35mm projection, and for good reasons. I love “availability of content.” In 2012 when we asked WB for a print of Gremlins to show for Christmas, they responded, “We have a limited number of prints and we need to put those into big theaters.” But digital Gremlins now, no problem. The message we want to get out is: we love all movies, and we’ll always try to run the best format for the film in question. New technologies that enable us to show even more films are just as valuable as the old ones. But to answer your question, we’re never giving up 35mm projection. There’s too much good stuff unavailable in any other format.

You have spoken about how watching a film in a theater helps a viewer focus and not hit pause and get up and do something else. Do you still have to remind audiences not to use their phones? 

Our audiences are just a cut above in general, and we love them. That said, it’s not unheard of. One of the great things about our volunteer program is that almost every screening has a Trylon volunteer watching the movie, unlike a multiplex where two or three employees are vaguely keeping an eye on 18 auditoriums. So that’s super helpful.

You’ve said that your marketing budget pretty much only covers the printing of your quarterly calendars and local artist-made posters. Between that and your savvy use of social media you’ve cultivated a tight connection with your audience. Any advice to non-profit managers working on a shoestring on how to allocate their limited resources?

Our primary tool is our email list, which we’ve built up to almost 10,000 and costs about $50 a month. In the early days we built it with a clipboard at the ticket counter; We really focused on that. But any way you do that will take time, and the best shortcut we found was collaboration with other groups, so that our event would get a mention in their materials.