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Big Looks Better To Theater Chain

November 05, 1986|JACK MATHEWS

You know you're in a family-run theater when two of Dad's favorite cars--a 1929 Packard Phaeton and a 1936 Rolls-Royce--are on display in the lobby. You also know that you're in a pretty big lobby.

Everything about Edwards Cinema at Newport Center is big: the lobby, the concession stand, the parking lot, the auditorium and, best of all, the screen. At 40 feet high and 75 feet wide, it is one of the largest in the country.

Recently, I asked the president of distribution of a major studio which theater he considers the best--in terms of quality presentation--on the West Coast. He named this one.

There are two theaters in the Edwards Newport Cinema complex. The original 1,275-seat theater, which has become the flagship of the growing Edwards chain, was built in 1965. The second, a 525-seat theater, was added in 1971.

The big auditorium is as well designed as any in Southern California. The screen is curved and there are good sight lines from every seat. There are also 26 speakers in the theater, which is equipped for six-track Dolby stereo and both 70-millimeter and 35-millimeter projection.

"Children of a Lesser God," currently playing in the big theater, isn't the best film by which to judge the presentation. The print is 35-millimeter and the image goes a little soft projected onto that huge screen. Neither does it have the kind of sound mix that is done with large theaters and large sound systems like this in mind.

But it is merely a sign of the times that we think of large theaters as homes for "event" movies. The big theaters are expensive to operate, which means they need to do high-volume business, and that usually means noisy big-action films that appeal mostly to kids.

It's true that "Top Gun" would take better advantage of the equipment. But it would still be "Top Gun." What struck me in watching "Children of a Lesser God," a love story communicated most of the time in sign language, was the emotional power generated by those outsized images.

Larger than life? You bet. You don't often see actors' faces, filled with emotion, in 40-foot scale these days. Our loss.

Concession prices are standard at all 42 Edwards theaters, as is the stuff they put on popcorn. It's butter. The prices are moderate, with popcorn ranging from $1.10 to $2.70, candy from 70 cents to $1.85 and soft drinks from $1 to $1.65.

Parking is free, which is like a $3 bonus to moviegoers used to Westwood and Hollywood forays.

The cars in the lobby of the Newport Center theater belong to Jim Edwards, who has a stable of antique cars from the '20s and '30s, many of which have been used in movies. According to the accompanying sign, the '36 Rolls sitting there now appeared in both "Gable and Lombard" and "W. C. Fields and Me."

Edwards opened his first theater in Monterey Park in 1930. The chain now has 130 screens, most of them in Orange County. Jim Edwards Jr., president of the company, said the company is now building 10-plexes in Azusa, Corona and Laverne and expects to have 200 screens operating by the end of next year.

BACKING IN: Movie trailers have been used to getting audiences interested in coming attractions since the beginning of the medium. But Bill Riead may be the first person to use a trailer to attract investors to get a movie made.

Riead, a former TV newsman who has spent most of the last 15 years producing featurettes of other people's movies for studios, just completed his first movie, a $2.4- million action film that he wrote, directed and produced--a year after he made his trailer.

"I didn't know how we were going to get the movie made," Riead said. "I had written the script, and I was pounding the pavement trying to find investors. Finally, a friend said, 'Why don't you make the trailer first, show them one scene and they'll know.' "

Riead's script was a conventional action story about a government agent who foils a terrorist plot. He decided to shoot a key scene in which the agent goes aboard a commercial airliner and disarms three terrorists.

Riead said he enlisted about 25 friends and neighbors in Redondo Beach, had them cut their hair SWAT-team short and rented police uniforms for them from Western Costume. He talked a cargo airline company into letting him use one of its Boeing 707s for about an hour, and one afternoon at Los Angeles International Airport, they shot the scene.

Eventually, the scene was edited down to three minutes and with a three-minute presentation tagged to it, Riead and his partner Jack Burrows took it around and showed it to potential investors. In 60 days, he said, he had the money to make the movie.

Cost of the trailer: $14,000.

Riead said his movie, "Scorpion," which stars karate champion Tonny Tullenurs, has been picked up by Crown International for both theatrical and video release and he and his investors are already in profit. He is now in pre-production on his second film, "The Drum Garden."

This time, he said, he will finish the movie before he starts on the trailer.

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