Let’s All Go to the Movies!
It’s Saturday night. You and your significant other plan a night out at the movies. It’s tradition! Most of you plan to see a new release. Cinephiles may be seeing an old movie like “The Godfather” on the big screen. Maybe you’re out with friends, sharing a common interest in a particular movie. A part of the excitement is simply getting cozy in a dark theater with your favorite snacks and drinks. And then take a ‘most excellent adventure’ with the characters on the big screen.
Since Thomas Edison sold a few Vitascope projectors to brothers Mitchell and Moe Mark in Buffalo, New York, movie-goers have been infatuated with seeing movies in the theaters. The Mark brothers called their storefront theater, Vitascope and opened their cinema with seventy-two seats to the public on October 19, 1896.
The State Theater in Washington, Iowa is the oldest operating movie theater in the world, first showing films in 1897. The theater was entered into the Guinness Book of Records on April 21, 2016. It was still operating as of January 1, 2020.
But as you are all unfortunately aware, all movie theaters around the world are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a society the entire world has looked to the cinema in good times and bad times. Movies help us escape the daily grind as well as to be informed in times of war and conflict. Technology has placed moving pictures and information into the palms of our hands, but our appreciation and excitement for the big screen will never fade away.
In 1902, the first motion picture theater, Tally’s Electric Theater, popped up in a California storefront. One of the first and most popular films was “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. It was only twelve minutes long, but it captivated imaginations.
John P. Harris and Harry Davis, in 1905, opened a movie theater in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania storefront, coining it Nickelodeon for its price of admission, five cents or a nickel. By 1908, thousands of Nickelodeons had opened up across North America.
Before Nickelodeon theaters were all the rage, people flocked to theaters to watch actors perform vaudeville, a variety show and combination of burlesque, comedy, song and dance. One vaudeville veteran, Buster Keaton, was invited by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle to play a small role in a two-reel comedy he was co-starring in and directing, “The Butcher Boy” in 1917. Keaton found his calling!
Buster Keaton went on to direct and star in films he made famous, “The General,” “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” “Sherlock, Jr.,” “The Navigator,” “Go West,”, “The Scarecrow,” “The Paleface,” “Battling Butler” and “Seven Chances.” His deadpan face and humorous ways made us laugh at him and with him. He did anything for a laugh. He went to great lengths to perform the most incredible and dangerous stunts just for a laugh. He put his own body through a lot of damage. All in the name of entertainment.
Personally, I grew up admiring lots of characters that stemmed from the early days of cinema when everything was in black and white. Other favorites include Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and The Three Stooges.
I really liked Charlie Chaplin, but didn’t know the extent of his genius until I moved from New York to Los Angeles, California in 1992. And I barely knew of Buster Keaton really until I moved to LA. The Los Angeles County Museum was screening many of Keaton’s films for a few months in early 1994 I believe. Those screenings literally changed my life. I fell in deeper love and appreciation for the cinema and seeing movies on the big screen that I didn’t know was even possible. And I have Buster Keaton to thank for that. I even ended up making a few short silent films with a friend.
Charlie Chaplin was someone I got a kick out of. While Keaton made audiences laugh at his expense, Chaplin’s humor was often politically motivated. “The Great Dictator” is an amazing accomplishment, poking fun at Adolf Hitler while Hitler was still in power. Both comedians took amazing risks in order to reach millions of viewers. Chaplin is known for “The Tramp,” “The Kid,” “The Gold Rush,” “Modern Times” and “City Lights” co-starring Buster Keaton.
Both Keaton and Chaplin along with other film artists such as Harold Lloyd helped kick off the passion that is the cinema. These funny, creative, innovative brilliant minds took us from the days of silent films into ‘Talkies’ an era where sound was added, giving actors a more realistic human feel. Talkies may have ended the silent movie phenomenon at the time, but silent films are still inspiring entertainment today everywhere you look. Keaton’s house falling on top of him, just missing him in “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” has been mimicked dozens of times in film, television and commercials.
Los Angeles also has the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood. In the mid-90’s this place screened all sorts of silent films and with live organ accompaniment. It was a really hip thing to attend. There are still events today, but not as authentic as those days in the 90s.
Some of my earliest experiences with the cinema were in Minnesota where I lived as a kid. I recall seeing movies in a drive-in theater. I remember seeing “The Towering Inferno.” And my most endearing memories of cinema involve a gigantic dino-lizard named Godzilla, stomping through Japan and destroying Tokyo. Last year, 2019, The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, did a revival of Godzilla movies and played back-to-back films in 35mm. I…was…in…heaven. Seeing and hearing Godzilla ROAR on the big screen put me right back into my childhood days.
Sidney Patrick Grauman built two of the most elaborate cinema landmarks in Hollywood; the Chinese Theater and the Egyptian Theater. My favorite movie theater to see larger-than-life movies is by far The Chinese Theater. The Chinese Theater opened May 18, 1927. A lot of the elaborate decor is of Chinese nature. And Chinese artisans designed sculptures to enhance the theater’s look and feel. The TCL Chinese Theater, as it’s now called, is absolutely breathtaking! The Egyptian is also quite amazing. Both theaters have very high ceilings like buildings that could have belonged to the Greeks, Romans or even the Egyptians perhaps in between the Pyramids.
When I was about six years old, my father took me to see “Star Wars, A New Hope” in 1977. I was FLOORED! What is this world of rebels, furry characters and dark figures breathing heavily into my face and psyche? I think my Dad, a huge movie fan was taken by it too, because we returned to the movie theaters to see it a second time. I believe we were going to see a different movie the third time, but whatever that movie was was sold out. No matter. I would spend the rest of my life seeing this movie, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” whenever the chance presents itself on the big screen. That’s where these George Lucas movies were intended to be seen and for generations to come with the new Star Wars adventures.
My childhood was also very much influenced by Steven Spielberg. “Close Encounters,” although I didn’t quite understand it until years later, would have a profound affect on me. My sense of wonder about the world and the universe would blossom over the years. Soon it would be “E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial” that warmed my heart. And my sense of adventure was catapulted into existence by “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” All these movies seen first on the big screen is how I’ll always remember and think of them.
In my early adult years, Stanley Kubrick took over my mind. I think he stole it. Kubrick figuratively pulled back my eye-lids like in “A Clockwork Orange” and pulled me in to his worlds. “The Shining” is one of my favorite movies. “2001, A Space Odyssey” continues to affect me. The visual effects are absolutely dream-like and gorgeous. If anything was meant to be seen in 70mm IMAX, it’s “2001.” Much of Kubrick’s films, like Spielberg, were meant to be seen on large screens. Some of Kubrick’s larger-than-life films include “Paths of Glory,” “Spartacus,” “Lolita,” and “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Another wonderful film worth mentioning is “Full Metal Jacket.” Larger than life characters need to be seen and heard as big as the screens can be made.
The bigger the better! That’s why we need to support the movie theaters when unforeseen events force them to close for a period of time. Los Angeles is especially full of cinema history. And there’s outdoor venues, cemetery screenings, movies in the park, etc. Go see them all, but don’t forget the movie theaters.
When Laemmle Theater chain opens up again I plan to go see a movie to support bringing them back. They’re a smaller movie chain that often shows independent and/or foreign made feature films. Laemmle is just beginning to partner with a streaming company that will offer their movies on demand so they can survive in the meantime. Click here for more info., trailers and more.
AMC Theaters recently started on-demand to coincide with the regular box office theater option. I’ve been a member of their popular AMC Plus Pass which allows you to see three movies a week for $19.95 a month. They’ve suspended the cost for now while the theaters are temporarily closed.
For a few years I had a Meetup group called Movies That Matter LA. Usually I would pick a new release that involved a social issue related story. Often these movies were based on real people and true events. Some movies we saw were “Hidden Figures,” “Miles Ahead” “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “Snowden.” One of the documentaries we saw was “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power” about climate change. My group would see the movie and then we would discuss it afterwards at a restaurant or coffee shop.
That’s me, Ross H. Martin, in the photo holding a Golden Ticket from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” one of my favorite movies. This screening with a Q & A took place at the NoHo 7 Laemmle Theater. It was part of a month-long celebration of Gene Wilder films.
Originally called The Pacific Theatres Cinerama Dome, it opened November 7, 1963 with the premiere of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” in 70mm. Cinerama is a process that brings three synchronized movie projectors together displaying one-third of the picture on a wide, curved screen. The curved screen is an added touch to make the audience member feel more connected than watching on a plain flat screen.
What’s your chosen candy? I grew up eating anything chocolate. My go-to was Rasinets, Goobers or Nestle Crunch bars. And of course, popcorn. Although I can’t much popcorn anymore as it upsets my stomach. There’s nothing like kicking back and reclining in a stadium-made leather chair with a drink and snacks and watching a new movie release. I actually miss the old days when you could hear the plastic film running through the projector.
Today, projectors run digitally and very quiet. With technology getting better and better, movies are looking better and sounding better. Having worked at Fotokem post-production the past five years, I’ve witnessed the work being done on 70mm films still being produced by the likes of filmmakers Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) and Christopher Nolan. Just last night I watched “The Dark Knight” on my little TV screen. Yes, I need a bigger TV. But I recall first seeing “The Dark Knight” at the famous Arclight Cinemas in the Dome. Over 75 feet tall, the Cinerama Dome, another favorite theater of mine, is as impressive on the outside as it is on the inside.
Today, the Dome seats 800 people. At times, there is a display as a part of the giant white dome. When “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019) was released you could see Godzilla’s face breaking out of the top and light shining from it symbolizing his nuclear energy zapping the heavens. The Arclight Theaters is also very big on quest speakers doing Q & As after screenings.
And after writing about these movie theater icons and theater chains, I may have to attend them all once they open back up for business. I’ll go see a movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater (TCL Theater). Then maybe I’ll catch a movie at the Dome. I’ll definitely go support Laemmle Theaters.
And now I’m reminded of another great movie theater in Hollywood. The Vista Theater, opened as early as 1923, holding 400 seats. It plays newly released movies as well as classic movies of the past. Last year, at the Vista I saw “Batman: The Movie” (1966). It was the first time I had seen it in a theater and it was wonderful. All the cheesy dialogue and action made me feel all warm and fuzzy.
At Vista the manager or ‘epic manager’ as he is often referred to as, Victor Martinez, is very much like a showman, dressing up at his premieres. He even recruited Wonder Woman.
And finally, with my re-instated AMC Plus Pass, I’ll return to doing what I love most, seeing movies in the theaters.
We in our 40s grew up with so much change at the cinemas. We look forward to bigger and better. Younger people can look forward to those awkward first dates. The movies give them something to break the ice afterwards. Some hand-holding. Sharing popcorn. Maybe a scary horror film makes one lean on the other. These couples will have families and take their children to see the newest animated film and perhaps see them in 3-D. Enjoy!
See you at the movies!
While working at Richard Photo Lab I felt very much like I was coming full circle since my film school, Columbia College-Hollywood, used to be a few doors down at 925 N. La Brea Ave. in Hollywood. Working in the film prep department was a great experience, but it was a temporary position. It was very nostalgic handling film again. I didn’t think I would get another chance to work with film directly again. After being out of work the first few months of 2015, I was starting to hit the streets with my resume…literally. It seemed like an outdated way of seeking work. I walked into Fotokem Film and Video Services and filled out an application even though the company wasn’t hiring then.
About ten days later I got a call regarding a film vault position. The pay is low, but there are opportunities to move into other positions there. In my last post, Handling Film Then and Now, I mentioned filming a short film, “The Turnaround” on 16mm at Columbia College-Hollywood. Well, I still have elements from some of my films, “The Turnaround” and feature film, “Rubbernecking“ vaulted in one of Fotokem’s vaults in Glendale. So I’m not only an employee, I’m also a client. “The Turnaround” was filmed in 1995 and some elements have been vaulted all this time.
The film industry has changed so much in the last 20 years. Like Richard Photo Lab is for still film, Fotokem is one of the biggest remaining motion picture film labs remaining in the film industry. All the motion picture studios dropped their involvement with film and Fotokem picked up a lot of the film work and preservation projects.
There’s about 700 people that work at Fotokem. Beyond the main campus at Burbank are vaults and post production facilities in Glendale, Santa Monica and around the United States; New York, New Orleans and Atlanta. Some filmmakers are still shooting on film. At Fotokem, dailies get synced up. Older films still have work done as newer formats are being created. My job in the film vault is to pick up and/or drop off film elements or hard drives from one of the 3 buildings in Burbank to another building. The Burbank location has three buildings. The position involves a lot of walking. My feet were aching in my first month working there. My left foot was so bad I had to see my doctor. My doctor recommended getting insoles as he himself uses them. I found a store in Studio City called Road Runner that custom fits insoles to your feet. Road Runner has a machine right there in the store that molds insoles. I highly recommend this service. Costs about $70, but my left foot is worth it.
The job also requires some heavy lifting. Often we use dollies to move stacks of 16, 35 and 65 millimeter reels. The 65MM film cans are very heavy. Between the walking and heavy lifting film vault people get a great workout. The position involves preparing elements to be delivered, shipped or taken to will call. We box up items and print up receipts that give a written record of what’s in the boxes. Sometimes we get requests to destroy film elements. (My favorite task!)
There are full circles within the bigger full circle. I’ve come across films I’ve worked on such as “Wicked” and “Return of the Living Dead III.” Every day I handle big commercial films that are currently or recently in theaters. It’s exciting at times when you’ve got some of your favorite films in your hands; “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Reservoir Dogs,” “Schindler’s List.” Filmmakers and actors hold screenings at small theaters at Fotokem. Sometimes huge stars are there to attend a screening or screen dailies. Halle Berry was there one day. I didn’t get a chance to see her, but I walked right by Christopher Nolan one day. (Not as sexy, but total movie geekness!)
Julian, my 30 year-old trainer, was moving on to his new position at Fotokem, in the uploading files department. A group of us took him out for a goodbye lunch. The Glendale vault made him a graduation cap out of film trim boxes.
Most days are very busy, but they go quickly. It is a tough position. I hope to move into a different and better-paying position at the company. Because of landing this job I was able to move out of the house I was sharing with four people and have my own apartment again in North Hollywood. Fotokem is only a 10 minute drive. Recently, I started a new shift starting at 7am. My work day is over at 3:30pm. It gives me time to do other things; writing, doing laundry, or taking a nap on my brand new couch.
In 1994 -1995, I attended Columbia College-Hollywood film school. The address was 925 North La Brea in Hollywood, CA. It’s the main corner of La Brea + Santa Monica Blvd. The area was a bit more run-down looking back then. There wasn’t this huge outlet mall with Target and a bunch of restaurants. Carl’s Jr. was actually still there on the corner as of the past year or so before they built some apartment building. (I wish I could take back half the cheeseburgers I had there.) Mole Richardson used to be across the street from the school. All of our school’s lights were acquired from there. And Mole Richardson is not there anymore. We hung out at the infamous Formosa Cafe which is still around. There’s too much Hollywood history in that place for it to go away. There used to be a little Mexican Taco stand on the corner too. Gone. And years ago Columbia College-Hollywood picked up and moved to the San Fernando Valley, Tarzana to be exact. The school moved into the old Panavision building.
When I went to interview on Thursday, June 26th, at Richard Photo Lab at 979 North La Brea, a few doors down from where Columbia College-Hollywood (CC-H) used to be, I couldn’t help but think back to those early days of working with film, 16MM film. Wearing thin white gloves, cutting on Moviolas, flatbeds, editing scenes of “Gunsmoke.” “Abby, do you want to go with him or stay with me?” I recall preparing some dailies from a short film I was producing, writing and directing called “The Turnaround.” The lead actor, Tony Assini, was meeting me to view the dailies. Not long before Tony arrived, I had done the ONE THING you never do when handling a film reel, especially larger ones. I held the reel up from its sides. So, if the film or work print as it’s known was tight I might have been okay. But this was not the case. The center DROPPED! Oye! The film unraveled EVERYWHERE in this maybe 10 x 15 foot room. It was probably a bigger room, but looked a lot smaller when filled with 16MM film. So, Tony arrived and was gracious enough to help me weed out the giant spaghetti bowl I had created.
“The Turnaround” was filmed in various locations including CC-H, a bar in Calabasas and on Romaine Ave. Romaine sits parallel in between Santa Monica and Willoughby. It is also where my cast and crew staged a ‘mugging scene’ for “The Turnaround“ near the school.
We filmed an additional scene at the end of this block of Romaine where Tony who plays aspiring actor Daniel Frenzy crosses the street without looking at the on-coming car. The black Eclipse you see in the mugging scene above was used for both scenes (my old car). My mother AKA Set Mom was the driver who mouthed the words, “I’m sorry.” So, I drove a black Eclipse and I wore my Alice In Chains cap. This was roughly February 1995. What a time capsule, huh? Oh, and I’m wearing my University of Hartford sweatshirt from the college I graduated from before heading West.
That photo at the very top of this blog was taken outside The Pelican’s Retreat bar in Calabasas. That place also closed. But that picture represents one of the happiest and most zen-filled moments in my life. I was in film school writing, directing and producing short films….on film I might add. And really thought I was making the film that would launch my career. That instant success never happened from this or any other film I’ve written, produced, directed or edited over the last twenty years. You can lose your mind over the ‘what-ifs.’ Although I haven’t made it yet, I am grateful for the people that have helped me along the way. I could not have made “The Turnaround”
without the exceptional crew I had made mainly of students and one friend, Sean Kinney, who plays Skunk in the film. I did have one project manager who was a tight-ass…so I kicked them off my shoot. And I am so honored to this day, over twenty years later how lucky I got with my cast. This was a student film. No one was being paid. I have worked with many great people on so many projects.
In my first ten years of pursuing a career as a screenwriter and director, I wrote many scripts and there was that traffic movie. “Rubbernecking“ was conceived actually on the 10 freeway on the way to pick up props for “The Turnaround.” Sean Kinney knew a guy who had gun and holster props. Sean and I got stuck in horrible traffic and that became “Rubbernecking.” A few years of us writing and re-writing. Some financing woes. Finally raising enough money. We filmed in the summers of 1998 and 1999. After working with various editors over the next few years, it seemed that “Rubbernecking” would itself never get out of traffic. It was never picked up for distribution.
I think the one regret I have about Columbia College was not mastering a specific skill like camera or editing early on. That way I could get continued work while pursuing my true passions of writing and directing. I did take up some Avid courses early on, but didn’t have connections or leads to work. It wasn’t until 2005 when I started learning Final Cut Pro that I took editing seriously. It was going to be my day job. Well, it was more of my day job to pursue editing work. I got some decent gigs in 2008, but realized my technical know-how was limited. I found it was difficult to learn After Effects. Companies big and small were requiring more and more of editors so I stuck to being a picture editor. I’m a storyteller! Give me a film that has issues in story and I’ll reassemble the pieces into an even better story.
Jobs have been very hard to come by. I’ve worked in real estate companies. I worked at a non-profit charity for the blind. In 2010, I landed in Las Vegas to stay with family and seek out opportunities there. I had some great article writing opportunities, but they weren’t consistent enough. I couldn’t find much editing work there either. I did leave Vegas with some interesting projects; Social Media Film Festival and a short film called “You Are What You Eat.” In 2013, I moved back to LA. I had to be where the real action remains. So, I’ve been working part time jobs because I can’t find a full time job. So, when I went into this job interview on Thursday, June 26th, I was seeking a full time opportunity.
They were offering a full time position that was only going to or through November. Bill, the guy interviewing me said, “You’re over qualified.” I told him that I know and that I can’t get hired anywhere because of that. He wanted to know what line of work I was pursuing and I told him editing, but that I was ‘under-qualified’ to get editing work. So, I’m a rock in a hard place. He hired me and I started the next day, Friday June 27th. Now, the job is prepping film after it dries from developing. Film. That’s right. I said film. Photographers are still shooting film. A lot of the film coming in now is weddings. So, when the film comes out on a tray I make sure the film is dry. I cut off the edges with a scissor to clean it up. I match up the numbers on the film with the numbers on the orders. Sometimes the exposure of the film is pushed or pulled so we add the amount on stickers and place them on the film. I really like this job. I love being able to handle film when I thought I’d never handle film ever again. Even though it’s twenty years later and I still haven’t made it as a screenwriter or film director, I am surviving. This job was a blessing at a time when finding work seemed bleak. I had been working at Barnes & Noble since February 2014. It was supposed to be a full time position at a certain pay rate. In two weeks B & N told me that they’re putting the position I applied for on-hold. With that, my $11.50 pay was going down to $8. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my hours quickly went from the 30’s and 20’s to 9 HOURS A WEEK!!!!! What? I looked at it as a paid internship. So, on Thursday night, I decided to go shopping at a bigger B & N store to purchase some books for my niece and nephew and two screenwriting books and some dark chocolate for Uncle Ross. I used my ’employee discount’ one last time and headed to my B & N store in Marina Del Rey to tell the MOD or Manager On Duty:
Don’t you love quitting a job you can’t stand? The job itself wasn’t bad, but I could not catch a break at this store. Of course it would be nice to make $15, $20, $30 an hour as I have before. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get that money on my next job. But for now, the Summer and this Fall, I will be happily getting paid $10 an hour to handle 135, 120, 220 color and black and white negative film. I work with these two older Thai guys who train me. They talk Thai to each other. And when I speak with them I often find myself guessing what they’re saying back to me. They’re great guys and the whole company seems like one big happy family and that’s how Bill described the team. Bill actually set up a BBQ grill behind our building today and cooked Kiełbasa sausages for the whole company in pre-July 4th celebration. And I made it through my first week. Who knows where this position will lead me? Right now I’m enjoying the work and the journey. I can’t think of a better $10 an hour full time than this one. In 1995, I was looking ahead to where the next 20 years would take me. Physically, I may be on the same street. Mentally and emotionally I am where I need to be. And I still hold on to those same dreams I had 20 years ago. Where will I be 20 years from this point? Hopefully, I will be filling my soul with what I hadn’t filled it with the 20 years before. Happy July 4th!
When I’m working as a film or video editor, most of the time I’m working my ass off for decent or not so decent pay. Yesterday, I worked on a corporate job with a team of editors mostly from out-of-town. I was called in through a reference as the team was behind in finishing the videos and showreels for an upcoming convention by a large corporation. The company had been very slow in getting material to the editing team. I spent half or most of my time waiting for footage. And then when I got the footage, it took no time at all to string or assemble the clips on a timeline. Hurry up & wait! I had worked on a team-building video before years ago. This was somewhat similar. This company was having their employees make their own videos. Ugh!
What was projected to be a two or three-day gig ended up only being one very long day, 14 hours to be exact. I got paid very well with some time and a half. So, no complaints. Well, except on! During the 14 hours, we were freezing our butts off. Apparently, the casino keeps the AC switched to NORTH POLE! One side of the room was slightly cold. I was in the frozen tundra! At least I got a really nice catered meal for lunch. And the view was not too shabby either! All in a day’s work.
This was the highest I had ever been paid in one day. With freelance work, some days are better than others.