by Sara Michelle Fetters -
SGN A&E Writer
HORROR WEEK FESTIVAL
October 25 - 31
With a gala screening of Army of Darkness - featuring cult superstar Bruce Campbell in attendance - Seattle's landmark Cinerama Theatre kicks off Horror Week, a seven-day mini-festival that one hopes will become an annual event. With 17 classic favorites on the schedule, including Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, William Friedkin's The Exorcist, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Ridley Scott's Alien, and Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist, along with a newly restored look at director Robin Hardy's 1973 cult sensation The Wicker Man and rare big-screen viewings of the immortal 1931 masterpieces Dracula and Frankenstein, the docket is filed to the brim with spine-tingling cinematic goodness, everything culminating October 31 with, most suitably, a 35th-anniversary presentation of John Carpenter's Halloween.
But putting a festival like this one together isn't easy. Just ask Greg Wood, the man behind the scenes at the Cinerama responsible for much of the programming as well as plotting the theater's course into the future. 'A lot of it is me talking to my general manager and my staff,' he states candidly. 'Our staff is sort of our target audience for all of this, so we just ask everybody what they would like to see - what's their wish list of titles, if you will. We cull the Internet looking at top-10 lists and see what films are out there people are talking about. Then, in the end, we start reaching out to studios and to those who own the various prints or copies of the films we're looking at, to see what's available.
FILM OVER DIGITAL
'Anytime we plan a festival we try to keep it as original as possible,' Wood continues. 'We try to get the original versions of the movies we want when they are available. When they're available on film, we'll show [those prints]; if they're not that's when we'll go into the DCP [digital] market. As for this week, we wanted to get our hands on the most iconic horror films possible. We talked to people about what they thought, made a list, and then started contacting the studios to see what was available. This is what came out of doing that.'
Not that it's always such a scavenger hunt finding the right things to program. 'The lovely thing about the Cinerama is a lot of things come to us because of the theater,' says Greg. 'Because of that, we have good relations with many of the distributors, and The Wicker Man sort of dropped into our laps. I got this e-mail a while ago saying they [Rialto Films] were looking for a Seattle play date, and would we be interested in showing the film? At that time, we were just starting to think about Horror Week and we knew it would be a perfect fit for that. That worked out really well.'
With Horror Week, Greg knew they wanted someone to help start things off with a bang. The found their man with the Evil Dead icon, and the programmer couldn't be more pleased he was willing to help them kick off what they hope will be an annual Seattle festival. 'When we put together a festival we try to anchor it with a big event when we can,' he explains. 'That takes a lot of work. Originally, we were going with the possibility of having John Carpenter come up, but scheduling-wise it didn't seem possible. Then Bruce Campbell's name came up and it was, like, what a perfect fit, you know? Bruce is such a fun guy and so iconic, so to be able to showcase Army of Darkness with him in attendance, that just sort of worked out for us. We were incredibly happy to get him. It's going to be a fun night, that's for sure.'
Still, it's relatively easy for Wood to put into one word just how difficult it is, to not only plan a festival of this sort for the Cinerama, but just to plot out the schedule for the theater in general. 'Hard,' Greg chuckles. 'Really, really, hard. Certain films are difficult to get a hold of - it's just that simple. The hardest thing is identifying what's really left on film, will the studios even let us have [the print] and what condition it is in - is it even in good enough shape to project? It's also a lot of times goose-chasing to find out and discover who even has certain things, who owns the rights to the print in the first place. Halloween, for example - its rights aren't held by a major distributor, it's a small company. It's a lot of bouncing off distributors and forming relationships. With these festivals, it's a scavenger hunt. Where are all these prints? Who has them? Can we even get our hands on enough titles to make an event like this worthwhile? It takes a lot of work.'
It's the first-run material where the majority of the stumbling blocks could arise. Where Greg would like to schedule more one-off events and mini-festivals such as this, it's relatively obvious that major studios would rather see their latest hits taking up Cinerama's gigantic screen and making use of its high-tech facilities than a cult-genre favorite from 1978. 'Yeah,' he agrees immediately. 'You hit it right on the hand. That was the studio requirement. A lot of the studios have stopped lending out film or have been a lot more restrictive on film, so assembling the 70mm Festival was more difficult this year because of that. It's one of the reasons with Horror Week we only have five 35mm prints of the titles we're showcasing. Everything else as far as this festival was concerned had to be DCP or we weren't going to be able to get our hands on it.'
The Science Fiction Festival was a victim of this scheduling conflict, and where some thought that three-week event was never going to return, the Cinerama chief is happy to dispel that idea. 'The Sci-Fi Fest has found a home!' Greg states triumphantly. 'It's coming back. January. We're looking at hopefully always having the Sci-Fi Fest in late January or early February, Horror Week in October, and the 70mm-slash-Classic Festival in September. Those are three festivals we're looking at hopefully banking on every year. It always gets hard because first-run movies open and you can never guess how a certain picture is going to perform, so the dates can sometimes scatter around a bit. But, we think we've found a home for the Science Fiction Festival, and late January appears to be it.'
There is wiggle room, however, as far as dates are concerned, as Greg can never fully anticipate just how well a given first-run title is going to do no matter when it is released, as has just been proven by a certain sci-fi blockbuster ushered onto screens the typically slow first weekend in October. 'Yeah, that's very true,' he agrees. 'Gravity is a perfect example [of this]. Who knew that it would be such a huge movie? We were actually running into trouble where the numbers for that are so big we were kind of wondering what was going to happen with Horror Week? Were we going to have to cancel? But Warner Bros. was super-nice and we have such a strong relationship with them they let us come off-screen with Gravity so we could still do this festival. It was possible there for a second, though, based on the film's success, that Horror Week might not have happened.'
'It's a lot of guessing on our parts much of the time, coupled with a lot of begging and pleading with the studios oftentimes to let us do what we want. But, you hit it, at this point it is so difficult to plan a festival so far out not really understanding what the landscape is in regards to how a first-run release is going to do.'
One thing Greg isn't shy about, however, is making sure the Cinerama keeps up with the times and responds to the wishes of its audiences, yet doing so in a way that doesn't stop the theater from booking all it wants to showcasing titles as best they can. Thus the introduction of 2D Tuesdays, a way to open the doors to patrons who didn't want to watch certain titles in 3D, but also ensuring movies filmed in that fashion would still be showcased in that format the remainder of the week.
'The national trend, this year, was that 2D movies were vastly outperforming 3D movies,' Greg explains. 'Throughout the summer, this trend just kept building and building. The Cinerama is so high-tech, and while I didn't want to convert fully to 2D, I did want to give people an option to see films [that way]. We weren't ready to throw in the 3D towel, if you will. Which, I'm glad we didn't, because a good example again is Gravity, which is a movie you pretty much do have to see in 3D.'
'But, like anything, we pay attention and we try to listen to what our audience wants. Some members of our audience were asking for 2D showings and that was something we could in our own way respond to. At the same time, it is the peril of only having one screen. As high-tech as we are, we can only show one thing in one way at any given time, so we try to make our choices correctly in regards to what we choose to showcase and the format we project it in.'
HFR: HIT OR HYPE?
Another of those technological challenges that audiences were, if not indifferent to, outright perplexed by, was the introduction of High Frame Rate (HFR), the 48-frame-per-second format Peter Jackson utilized for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Will the adventures of Bilbo Baggins continue in HFR with December's release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug? At this time, the man setting up the Cinerama's calendar doesn't have an answer.
'We don't know,' admits Greg. 'We haven't heard from Warner Bros. if they're doing High Frame Rate with The Hobbit this time around. I imagine they will. If we are selected as one of the locations to show the film, as I assume we will be, then we will run it in HFR as we are one of the theaters in the Seattle area best equipped to do so. We always kind of applaud new technology and we want audiences to able to get a look at the newest formats and cinema possibilities for themselves. While there was some backlash against HFR with the first The Hobbit, I think people just weren't ready for it. Maybe now they will be. Also, [the filmmakers] have had more time to hopefully perfect the format with this sequel, so I'm very interested to see what [The Desolation of Smaug] is going to look like.'
As far as scheduling on the whole is concerned, Greg realizes just how lucky a position he's in, the theater owned by none other than Paul Allen. Knowing Allen has his back can't help but bring about a smile. 'It's fun,' he says with a happy laugh. 'With the Cinerama, the theater is extremely difficult in many ways to run. It's so iconic as far as Seattle is concerned. It's so high-grossing. Distributors want it for everything. There's all kinds of pressure coming from all corners. At the same time, we are only one screen, so there's a limit to what you can actually show. At the same time we're always fighting to get other stuff in there and to be able to do all the one-off events the city has come to know us for. It's super-difficult, super-hard, but also a lot of fun, and to know we have Paul Allen and Vulcan back there supporting us means a lot.'
The flip side, of course, is that with a backer like Allen it's paramount that the Cinerama remains a vital part of the community. Everything from the Seattle International Film Festival to the Jewish Film Festival to the recently completed Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival utilizes the Cinerama screen for at least part of their respective schedules. 'We really try hard,' says Greg. 'I think that's a testament to Vulcan, to Paul's company, that they allow us to do this sort of stuff. When they had AMC there running the theater, it was a really generic operation, and it wasn't what I would have viewed as a company that was taking care of its customers. When I think of Paul Allen I think of what the Cinerama should truly be, so we try to live up to his vision as to how to best represent the community. This is Seattle. It's a film-loving community. We try and fight for and support that love with how we schedule the theater. Which, it goes without saying, isn't always easy.'
Are there events Greg wishes he could schedule but can't, at least for now? 'There's always so much that's dropped into our laps, and sadly it's just not possible to do everything,' he laments. 'It all just depends on our schedule and what is happening with the films we are showing at any given moment. But it's always about change and innovation. We always want to push the envelope as far as we can. Next year we have the new laser projector coming in to add to our repertoire of projection possibilities. We're in early discussions to see if it would be possible to potentially project on the full curved Cinerama screen full-time. So, it's always hard to tell what our future holds, but we'll always try to book as much as possible, support the community when we can, and cram as much into our schedule as dates allow and within a tolerable range.'
ON THE CUTTING EDGE
As for what excites him personally and keeps him energetically coming back to work each and every day, the answer isn't a big surprise. 'The technical stuff is what I really drive for,' says Greg proudly. 'The laser projector, being the first one in the world to install that, that's amazing to me. The concept of maybe projecting on our huge curved Cinerama screen all the time, that personally to me is something I'd be extremely excited for if we can pull that off - that would be pretty special. Those are the types of things that keep me excited and invested in making the Cinerama the best place it can possibly be.'
As for Horror Week, Greg can't help but look at the schedule, and most of all the final film filling out the docket, and think this is one event sure to become a Cinerama mainstay. 'Oh, I mean, come on, right?' he happily exults. 'It's perfect. It doesn't get better than that. Halloween on Halloween? That was always sort of the bell standard for what we were hoping for when planning the festival. It's awesome we could make it happen. Horror Week was just so much fun to plan. You take a look at that list of titles. It's just so great, all of it topped off at the end with the perfect climax. Again, it doesn't get any better.'
For more information on Horror Week, including schedules and ticketing, go to www.seattlecinerama.com.
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