12-screen facility to open in West L.A.

The battle for L.A. moviegoers is about to get very interesting.

Five weeks from today, Landmark Theaters will open the Landmark, a 12-screen flagship facility adjacent to the Westside Pavilion that execs promise will be the largest indie-centric movie theater in the city.

With posh amenities such as reserved seating and a wine bar, Landmark is betting it can woo auds not just from the nearby AMC 15 Century City, but from two of the city’s main upscale movie plexes: the Bridge Cinema de Luxe and Hollywood’s ArcLight Cinemas.

But the plex’s launch is about more than just one new venue. It reflects changes in the moviegoing habits of the city (and the country) and promises to have a ripple effect here.

“I think this will dramatically change the landscape of exhibition in Los Angeles,” predicted Warner Bros. exec VP-general sales manager Jeff Goldstein, who did a walk-through of the Landmark facility a month ago. “It’s a hip, cool place to see movies, particularly for a smart, upscale crowd, and they didn’t spare one penny.”

Landmark — under owners Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner — will compete with giants such as AMC and Pacific by expanding beyond its arthouse roots, reinventing itself as a hybrid chain that isn’t afraid to book both blockbusters and indie pics under one lavishly designed roof.

“I’d definitely book ‘Harry Potter’ as well as a film like ‘Gracie,’ ” said Landmark chief operating officer Ted Mundorff. “I want to play a wide range of product that people want to see.”

Landmark doesn’t want to give up its indie cred, but the chain senses there’s an opportunity for theaters that book pics based on audience demographics rather than budget.

Mundorff, who helped launch the ArcLight and Grove theaters during his stint at Pacific Theaters, said that means catering to auds who want what he calls “adult movie fare in an upscale environment.”

It’s a niche dominated in L.A. by Pacific’s ArcLight, the five-year-old cinematic temple so luxe it’s inspired love letters from national publications.

But the ArcLight is about 10 miles away from the heart of West L.A. — which, given the increasingly awful Westside traffic crunch, means it might as well be in a different state.

“We’re seeing, in all businesses, that east and west are different (cities),” Mundorff said. “People are very reluctant to drive from the west to the east, and the other way around. You just can’t get back and forth anymore.”

Mundorff isn’t saying yet what the split will be between indie fare and more mainstream titles.

Landmark may face a challenge in persuading studios to book their bigger titles with a chain known for attracting arthouse auds. The Landmark–which features more screens than any other location in the Landmark chain –will go head-to-head for new movies with AMC’s 17-month-old upscale 15-plex in Century City.

“We are looking to play many of the same films,” Mundorff said. “The theaters will be competing directly.”

AMC would appear to have the edge, given its far larger size nationally and the fact that newer theaters in any given area sometimes struggle to win the biggest blockbusters. Even the ArcLight found itself being shut out from some titles when it first opened, having to settle for “Hulk” in 2003 rather than the latest “Matrix” pic.

Goldstein doesn’t see any reason the Landmark can’t succeed with its hybrid strategy.

“They clearly could play anything there,” he said. “It’s up to them how they choose to book it.”

The Landmark — which had been on the drawing boards since the 1990s before Cuban and Wagner finally secured a greenlight last August — also enters the market at the same time as two other circuits are about to make a splash in the L.A. market.

AMC’s Universal CityWalk 19 will unveil a complete redo on May 3, converting to stadium seating for the first time and unveiling what it claims will be the “widest stadium style seating available in the U.S.,” with 26-inch wide rocker seats.

In North Hollywood, Landmark’s main indie rival, Laemmle, is ready to break ground on a seven-screen theater. It’ll likely open next year.

A recent hardhat tour of the Landmark revealed leather rocker seats that seem wider and softer than anything else in the metro L.A. market. Auditoriums have built-in lighting and mics, making them instantly ready for the post-feature Q&A sessions that will be a regular occurrence at the Landmark.

The ground level Westside Tavern, which bows next February, will boast 14,000 square feet devoted to an upscale comfort food restaurant (think Kate Mantilini). There will even be three private dining rooms for post-screening parties.

A bar adjacent to the concession stand will seat 90 and serve wine and appetizers. Once inside the theaters, auds will have reserved seating and a commercial-free moviegoing experiences (Mundorff is still debating how many trailers to allow).

Mundorff is also vowing the Landmark will boast “the highest level of customer service in the country,” including concierge service and valet parking.

“We want to bring people back to the theater,” he said. “This is the experience the public is looking for.”

The Landmark plans to use its rooftop parking facility as a space for premiere parties. Speaking of parking, Mundorff can’t emphasize one point enough: It will be free.

“And it will always be free as long as we’re in existence,” he said, right before taking a dig at the cross-town rival.

“We won’t lure people in with free parking and then start charging people,” he added. ArcLight bowed in 2002 with free parking but now charges.

He’s also working on adding some unusual perks. While they won’t be in sight in time for the June 1 opening, Mundorff plans to install flat-panel displays in the bar area displaying a countdown clock so that moviegoers can keep track of when their film begins.

In addition, he vows “unique seating in some of the auditoriums.” He wouldn’t elaborate, but insiders said the Landmark will feature sofa-style seating in a few of its 12 halls.

Landmark has also struck a deal with BevHills’ gourmet Pizza Rustica to offer fresh-made personal pies at concessions stands.

While not ready to announce ticket prices, Mundorff says they’ll be “competitive with the AMC,” and thus a couple dollars less than ArcLight.

He thinks that the opening of the Landmark fits in with the evolution of the indie film marketplace in America.

Time was, indie pics played to relatively small crowds and were relegated to second-tier theaters. But with films such as “Fahrenheit 9/11″ and “Little Miss Sunshine” now outgrossing much bigger titles, Mundorff believes arthouse pics deserve to be exhibited in a more upscale environment.

“Independent film has matured so much, that for a larger part of the population, it’s the main thing,” he said. “This is the culmination of that.”

(Ian Mohr in New York contributed to this report).

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