Most independent filmmakers are lucky if they can get their movies in theaters.
Unless, of course, they happen to own the theater.
So it goes for Bigfoot Entertainment, which recently bought the Majestic Crest, a Los Angeles landmark founded in 1941 by Frances Seymour Fonda, wife of actor Henry Fonda and mother of Peter and Jane.
Bigfoot, a Venice, Calif., company that produces and distributes independent films, TV programs and reality shows for the international marketplace, last month acquired the 460-seat theater in Westwood for about $4 million.
“We wanted a great theater to showcase our films, not only ones we produce but ones we plan to acquire,” said Kacy Andrews, chief executive of Bigfoot Entertainment. “Everyone knows the Crest. It gives us a lot of prestige.”
The company, whose owner and chairman is German investor and filmmaker Michael Gleissner, produces action and horror flicks, like the cult film “Midnight Movie,” in which a killer comes out of the film to “attack” those in the theater.
But it’s no stranger to the theatrical business: Its chief financial backer is a Hong Kong-based private equity firm called Bigfoot Ventures that happens to be the largest investor, with a stake of 14%, in Carmike Cinemas Inc., the nation’s fourth-largest theater chain.
Not coincidentally, Bigfoot has tapped Carmike to manage the Crest. The Columbus, Ga.-based chain operates 240 theaters mostly in small towns and suburbs in the South and Midwest. Carmike has theaters in Arizona, Washington and Oregon, but the Crest is the chain’s first theater in California.
“Even though it’s in a big metropolitan market, it fits nicely into our model of community locations,” said Carmike Chief Executive David Passman.
The transaction comes at a time when large circuits such as AMC and Rave Motion Pictures have been bulking up, while smaller chains and independently owned theaters have struggled to compete against multiplexes with the latest digital technology and 3-D screens.
The Laemmle Grand 4-Plex movie theater in downtown shut down last year after nearly two decades as the 14-screen Regal Cinema was set to open near Staples Center In March, Calabasas-based Regency Theatres took over the operations of the historic Village and Bruin Theaters in Westwood.
The Crest was squeezed by competition from the Landmark on Pico and the AMC complex in Century City, hindering its ability to attract first-run art house films, former owner Robert Bucksbaum acknowledged in a recent interview with The Times.
Andrews said Crest will benefit from being managed by a leading circuit, which will be able to use its clout with the studios to book a “stronger lineup of movies.” Carmike, which was one of the first theater chains to adopt digital technology, already has installed a new digital projector, silver screen and 3-D system at the Crest.
About 75% of the bookings will be commercial films, such as the animated kids’ film “Alpha and Omega” and the upcoming “Tron: Legacy” from Walt Disney Studios, while 25% will be set aside for independent movies, including those produced and distributed by Bigfoot, Andrews said.
Most of Bigfoot’s 11 films, with budgets of $1 million to $4 million, have gone directly to DVD or appear on cable channels.
Beyond the typical Hollywood fare, Bigfoot will offer “niche cinema,” such as midnight horror movie screenings catering to nearby UCLA students, Asian Film Nights and an annual film festival beginning next year. The theater will also hold monthly classes tied to film schools that Bigfoot operates in the Philippines and Miami.
It won’t be all change at the Crest, however: Bigfoot will keep the theater’s famous “night sky” scene of star constellations on its ceiling, the back-lit wall murals of old Hollywood and Art Deco style.
Originally intended as a showcase for live theater, the Crest became a venue for local residents to watch newsreels about battles during World War ll, the city designated it as a historic cultural monument in 2008. Former owner Bucksbaum bought the theater in 2002, taking over operations from the Pacific Theatres chain.
Carmike has had experience managing single-screen historic theaters in such locations as Bozeman, Mont., and Ocala Fla., said Carmike’s marketing director, Dale Hurst.
“People talk about these theaters,” he said, “like it was their first date.” Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times
In the early 60’s Westwood California was considered a second run venue. First Run motion pictures opened on Hollywood Boulevard, then played the “neighborhoods” after that.
I was head of advertising for a small distribution company, Herts Lion International. I’m not sure where the word “International” came from because the tiny cramped offices were located on Seward Street in Hollywood.
Somehow the company acquired the domestic rights to “A Matter of WHO,” staring Terry-Thomas. We couldn’t find a theater on Hollywood Blvd.to stage the North American premiere, but the Crest Theater was affordable and available. I staged this event with a red carpet, searchlights sweeping the night sky, and photographers paid by the company. It was a rousing success. Westwood was now on the map as a first run venue, with numerous big studio premieres in the years to follow.