Why AMC Networks’ CEO Turned a Small NY Theater Into a Passion Project

AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan has a keen eye for shrewd business deals. So was he seeing straight in 2004 when he bought the Village Cinema in Greenport, N.Y.? 

“I would not call it a lucrative business,” he says of his 632-seat, four-theater venue — now called the Greenport Theater — which offers movies all week long during the summer tourist season in the former whaling village on Long Island’s North Fork.

But Sapan knew what he was doing. He wasn’t in it to make money. The theater is his passion project, embracing his love of cinema and desire to support the town of about 2,200 near his weekend home on Shelter Island.

With so many people transfixed by TVs or mobile devices, “we’re in a world that’s increasingly remote and sometimes isolated,” he says. Greenport Theater “gives some heart to the town. Someplace for kids to go when it rains, and a place for people to go when they want to be physically present together.”

The closest competitor is a small multiplex about 13 miles away in Mattituck.

Sapan is playing with his own money, not AMC shareholders’. Greenport Theater has no corporate ties to AMC’s IFC Films, which operates New York City’s IFC Center.

Still, the Greenwich Village and Greenport theaters share a scrappy vibe. The Greenport Theater reserves one screen for independent and art films. The others show Hollywood releases without 3D, supersize screens, recliner seats — or ads.

The concession stand sells popcorn and soda. Sapan leases an adjoining café to a Greenport resident.

The theater also has a photo gallery run by the community’s East End Arts. When summer ends, partners use the venue for cultural events including the Manhattan Film Institute’s North Fork Summer Workshop series and the North Fork TV Festival.

Sapan offered to lease the theater to the town rent-free to keep it open over the winter. It recently began showing non-current movies on weekends. 

The AMC Networks chief’s infatuation with movies began early. During his childhood in New York, “I fell in love with the sound of the movie projector,” he says. “It really was like ‘Cinema Paradiso.’”

The allure continued after he graduated from college in 1975. Sapan and a partner rented films including “The Bicycle Thief,” “Last Year in Marienbad,” and “Reefer Madness,”and for a few months drove through Ohio selling tickets to showings on makeshift screens.

The Greenport Theater’s art deco design rekindled Sapan’s movie-showing flame — although he “thought the real estate was a good price too.” Legendary movie palace architect John Eberson revived the venue in 1939 after the Great New England Hurricane of 1938 destroyed the original 1915 structure.

Before television, “when a film would open, the streets were clogged with people,” Sapan says. Old-timers tell him stories, for example, about the plates and dinnerware the theater gave frequent ticket buyers. “One told me that he was an usher there and wore a uniform with a cap,” says Sapan. “Other people told me that’s the first place they made out.”

Sapan had the original touches restored. A few years ago he installed digital projectors as studios phased out celluloid prints.

He made the technological change “reluctantly,” he says. In his young film-screening days, Sapan remembers, “I always had great affection for flipping the industrial switch to ‘Forward.’ It connoted people coming together to watch movies.”

People do so in Greenport because a businessman ignored the bottom line. At a time when many theater owners are abandoning Main Streets to show movies in extravagant, restaurant-driven entertainment centers, Sapan has flipped the switch to “Pause.”

More Biz

  • Harvey Mason Jr.., Chair of the

    Grammy Board Chief Calls Allegations of Nomination-Rigging ‘Just Not Right’

    Among the many allegations in ousted Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan’s blockbuster legal complaint, the one that possibly cuts most to the heart of the institution — and is of most concern to artists and the public — is the allegation that the nominating process is “rigged.” The example in the complaint points to the [...]

  • Annabella Sciorra

    Friend Tells of Annabella Sciorra's Mid-1990s Struggles at Harvey Weinstein Trial

    A longtime friend of Annabella Sciorra testified Friday in Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial that the actor turned to cutting herself and exhibited other troubling behavior in the mid-1990s after she was allegedly raped by the disgraced film mogul. The defense questioning of model Kara Young got heated as Judge James Burke sustained repeated objections to [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    Judge Doubts WGA Claim That Packaging Fees Are Kickbacks

    A federal judge seemed skeptical on Friday of the Writers Guild of America’s claim that packaging fees amount to a criminal kickback to agents. Judge Andre Birotte heard more than two hours of arguments from attorneys for the guild and three agencies: WME, UTA and CAA. He said he would issue a ruling at a [...]

  • Songs for Screens Powered by Mac

    Songs for Screens: Why Aerosmith Is Still Gold for Synchs

    Aerosmith’s star-studded tribute concert as the 2020 MusiCares Person of the Year honorees on Friday night (January 24) will cement another important milestone in the historic Boston-founded band’s contributions to the American rock canon. But over the past decade, some of the band’s best-known music has remained part of the cultural conversation through some of [...]

  • Sirius Logo

    Radio Hall of Famer Kid Kelly Leaves SiriusXM After Two Decades

    In a surprise move, veteran programmer, on-air personality and Radio Hall of Famer Kid Kelly has left SiriusXM after nearly 20 years with the radio giant, a rep for the company has confirmed to Variety. The news was first reported by RAMP. He most recently served as SiriusXM’s VP of Pop Music Programming. “After a [...]

  • Shanghai Disneyland

    Shanghai Disneyland Closes in Response to China Virus Outbreak

    Shanghai Disneyland will close its doors Saturday as a reaction to the spread of a form of coronavirus that has now killed 26 people in mainland China. The resort complex, which normally operates 365 days per year and welcomes more than 10 million visitors annually, announced Friday afternoon local time that it will shutter the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content