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Posted May 1, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Alamo Drafthouse founder speaks to Apple Blossom crowd

By Sally Voth

Two failures early in his life led up to Tim League's founding of the successful Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain.

League sat down Wednesday with Miles Davis, dean of Shenandoah University's Harry F. Byrd Jr. School of Business, in front of hundreds of diners at the Valley Health Business at the Bloom luncheon.

Employees from the Winchester Alamo Drafthouse -- the first one built outside of Texas -- dressed as characters from various films, including "Avatar," "Star Trek" and "42."Carrabba's Italian Grill provided lunch.

"How did you come up with such a unique concept?" Davis asked, referring to the dinner-and-a-movie combo.

League said he opened his first theater when he was about 23 and had spent a couple years at Shell Oil in Bakersfield, Calif.

Somewhere along the way, he had made a "catastrophic error in judgment in high school" which led to his studying engineering in college, he said.

That first theater opened by League and his wife was a disaster.

The couple then packed hundreds of seats, a projector, a screen and speakers and moved to Austin where they opened the Alamo Drafthouse in 1997, according to the theater's website, www.drafthouse.com.

They differentiated themselves by selling food and beer, League said.

"Then, we started to get known for our programming, and the programming built into this idea of being a community center," he said.

There are now 13 Alamo Drafthouses, and more are planned, but "we're just a network of neighborhood theaters," League said.

Besides playing new movies, the theaters have various events. According to its website, the Winchester Alamo's events include sing-alongs, where musicals are subtitled and there are music video dance parties; showings of old Hollywood classics; interactive screenings with props and quotes; and "girlie nights" with "slumber party favorites."

Except at special "baby day" showings, children under 6 aren't allowed at the theaters, anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult, and the theater will throw out patrons who text or talk on their phones, according to the website.

League said the Alamo wasn't the first theater to serve food with film.

"This is not my idea," he acknowledged. "If I see an idea or hear about an idea, I'm likely to steal that idea."

Davis asked what lures people to the movie theater when there is competition from video streaming and rental boxes.

"Our industry, ever since the advent of television, has been crying, 'Oh my gosh, this is going to be the end of cinema,' since the 1950s," League said.

But, every Friday night, people have the option of either staying in or going out, he said, and as long as theater owners make it compelling to go to the movies, they'll continue to see patrons.

"[The Alamo Drafthouse] is a movie theater by movie fans for movie fans," League said.

Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or svoth@nvdaily.com

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