Westside gains new screening facility

Location, location, location. Oh, and Dolby SR, and Oreos. That’s what film pros want in a screening room, but during Oscar campaign season, just finding a booking is all that matters.

Fortunately, rooms are constantly being upgraded with the latest technology and at least one company is opening a brand-new room.

Artisan Entertainment is building its own 49-seat screening room at its headquarters at 2700 Colorado St. in Santa Monica. The 5,000-square-foot theater will include a kitchen, conference rooms, catering facilities and lounge as well as a reception area.

The screening room will feature most sound systems, including the latest THX, skedded to debut in theaters with the upcoming “Star Wars” prequel.

“We’re building a state-of-the-art theater that will feature the ultimate picture and sound experience,” says Mark Curcio, co-chairman of Artisan.

Curcio says Artisan is building the theater because it saw a lack of screening rooms on the Westside.

“We decided to build the screening room as a way of providing our company and other companies in the fast-growing Santa Monica corridor with a high-quality screening-room experience without having to go to Beverly Hills or long distances to show films,” Curcio says. “We want to make it the preeminent screening room on the Westside.”

Artisan will begin accepting reservations in November and plans to raise the theater’s curtain in January.

Old favorites

Among the established rooms, the industry various reasons for preferring certain rooms. According to theater bookers, an increasing number of filmmakers prefer the small, intimate screening rooms over the larger studio lot behemoths.

It’s a move toward convenience. The smaller screening rooms around Los Angeles not only feature state-of-the-art projection and sound systems — including Dolby, Dolby Digital, DTS, SDDS and THX — but also provide easy access, ample parking and food.

“You don’t want a theater that’s too large (or) you end up with empty seats,” says publicist Michael Saltzman. “You also don’t want one that’s too small with only a TV and VCR. You might as well send out viewing cassettes.”

Twentieth Century Fox’s Little Theater is considered by some to be “the best little theater in Los Angeles” because of its size (about 135 seats), availability of parking on the lot and sound systems. However, the theater is unavailable until July because of renovations and projection upgrades, including emerging digital projectors.

Elizabeth Greenbaum, a senior publicist at Dennis Davidson & Associates who often books screening rooms, prefers the petite 36-seat Sunset Screening Room, at 8800 Sunset Blvd., because of its projectionists.

“You always want to know who’s projecting,” Greenbaum says. “If you only have a couple of prints of a film, you’re concerned. You want to know who’s physically handling the film.”

Price is a major factor, especially for independent filmmakers. The price to rent out a theater can vary from $500 to $3,000. Tuesday through Thursday nights are the most popular.

“You have to consider, too, the audience you’re bringing in,” Saltzman says. “Where are the people coming from? Are they coming from the Westside or the Valley?” Theaters in Beverly Hills or Hollywood — including the Directors Guild of America’s theaters, the Writers Guild’s screening room, the American Film Institute’s rooms — are booked the most.

The availability of food is another consideration. While most studio facilities ban food from their auditoriums, some guild theaters offer a reception area next to their screening rooms, and several independent screening rooms include kitchens, or at least snacks.

The 53-seat Charles Aidikoff Screening Room in Beverly Hills, is one of the few theaters that offers its own kitchen and complimentary snacks. Charles Aidikoff, the 83-year-old owner, provides audiences with coffee, cookies, bottled water and licorice. “The Oreo cookies,” Aidikoff says, “keep bringing people back to the theater.”

Because of its popularity, however, Aidikoff says the theater is booked until Oscar nominations close in January.

Other independent screening rooms are chosen because of their proximity to restaurants.

The food factor also is a reason why filmmakers are beginning to lean more toward using multiplexes to screen their films.

“If you’re doing a screening at 7:30 at night, you have people who are coming straight from work,” Saltzman says. “It can be difficult to get them to sit for a couple of hours. It’s nice for them to be able to get some food or grab a cup of coffee.”

The multiplexes also are more popular because of the availability of parking and scheduling during the week, as well as their prices.

Among the most favored larger auditoriums, the DGA’s biggest house and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ ornate, 1,012-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater rank tops among critics.

“The sound is incredible,” says producer Gale Anne Hurd. “They’re kept in excellent shape. There’s not a bad seat in the house.”

The DGA recently has upgraded its three screening rooms, including the 600-seat main theater and its smaller 150-seat executive screening room, with improved sound systems, including Dolby, DTS and SDDS.

Described as having the feeling of a small screening room but the qualities of a large theater, Warner Bros.’ 520-seat Stephen J. Ross Theater is praised for its comfortable seats and design, although some theatergoers have complained that the sound system is played too loudly.

“It’s just a way the business is going,” says Norman Barnett, senior VP of production services at Warners. “The trend is that filmmakers want it to be loud.”

So, whether the choice is for a big theater or an intimate screening room, the decision most often is left up to convenience.

“You want to make it as easy as possible for people to see your film,” Saltzman says. “You don’t want to give people any excuse for them not to come.”

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