April 27, 2020
Brian Barber draws animals better than anyone.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Run Lola Run, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The Apartment.
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.
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.
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.
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.