Alamo Drafthouse: Them’s the rules

The Alamo Drafthouse was founded to improve on the moviegoing experience.

Tim League is the CEO and founder of the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain. His Austin, Texas, theater enforces a strict “no texting” policy Video during films.

(CNN) — In the wake of the recent Alamo Drafthouse “Don’t Talk” PSA that has been blazing a viral trail on YouTube over the past 48 hours, I was asked to expand on our other operational policies at the theater.

Most of them go back to 1996, when my wife and I were first getting into the business. Despite the fact that we had zero experience in exhibition, we decided to quit our “real” jobs and open a movie theater. We had no desire to make movies, but we sure as heck loved to go to the cinema and watch them in the right environment.

What drew us to open a theater in the first place is that we were finding a trip to the multiplex to be, more often than not, a disappointing experience.

Poor projection, bad sound and, worst of all, disrespectful patrons in the cinema were slowly eroding our fun, so we conceived of the idea of opening a cinema ourselves on our own terms. We could program the movies that we loved, create unique experiences around those movies and make sure people behaved appropriately.

In the first couple of months of operation, we came up with some very simple guidelines that all of our theaters still adhere to today. They were all born from our own reactions to experiences we hated and endured when we went to the movies. The insistence on these simple policies is one of the main reasons people are loyal to our cinemas today.

We also serve beer, and that helps.

1) We do not play ads before the film.

If I spend $9 or more to see a movie, I equate that to paying for premium cable. Paying for the movie means you get to skip the ads. If the cinema model were similar to Hulu, then sure, the ads are a means of paying for the screening of the film.

The barrage of ads used to be annoying enough when they were just slides projected on the screen. Now, with full audio and video, they are insufferable and should not be tolerated.

At the Alamo, instead of ads, we create customized video “preshow” content that is fun and entertaining and themed to the movie you are about to see. If there is ever an ad, it will be along the lines of a Japanese Charles Bronson Mandom cologne ad from the 1970s, not a PSA with fake-rock jams enticing you to join the Army. Our hope is that even if the movie you paid for is terrible, the preshow is awesome, you had an ice-cold beer and left happy.

2) We do not allow children under 6.

If the movie is a non-crossover kids movie, we sometimes flex this age down to 3 and up, and we also have select “Baby Day” screenings each week for infants and small children. If you want to take your 4-year-old to see “The Hangover 2″ at 10 p.m., however, you’ll have to go somewhere else.

3) We do not allow unaccompanied minors.

There are of lots of great, well-behaved 12-year-old individual kids, but assemble them in pods of four or more and drop them unaccompanied in a darkened theater, and they will pave a swath of destruction akin to feral hogs. We don’t allow it ever. Minors must be accompanied by a parent or guardian, and if they act up, they will be thrown out.

4) If you persist in talking or texting, we will throw you out.

After the past few days, I think I’ve probably articulated our policy on this topic fully. If you talk or blatantly text, we will warn you to stop. If you persist, you will be asked to leave.

These policies (with the exception of the no-ads policy) have the same underlying rationale. When you are in a cinema, you are one of many, many people in the auditorium. When the lights go dark and the movie begins, every single movie fan in the room wants to be absorbed into and get lost in the flickering images on the screen.

A light from a cellphone, a screaming baby or a disruptive teen cracking jokes all pull you out of the magic of the movies. Providing an awesome experience for true movie fans is the reason we opened the first Alamo Drafthouse back in the mid-’90s, and it is the exact same philosophy we adhere to today.



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