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The Smell of the Popcorn, the Roar of the Crowd

September 22, 2002|STEVEN MIRKIN

Los Angeles, the city that brought you waiters who tell you their name along with the specials, is once again breaking new ground in the personal service field. At the ArcLight Cinemas complex at the Cinerama Dome site at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, audiences are treated to warmup patter from a crew member who steps before the screen and opens with, "Hello, my name is . . . and I'll be your usher tonight!"

In addition to their names, ArcLight ushers offer movie factoids and assure the audience that they are available for questions. According to chief operating officer Nora Dashwood, usher conviviality is part of a company commitment to making moviegoing a personal, luxurious experience--a concept that at the ArcLight means theaters with distraction-free European-style "black box" screening rooms, gift shop, cafe with full bar, adult admission prices of $11 to $14 and a "reserved seating" policy in which the theater assigns seating within a ticket buyer's preferred section.

Not every usher ("audience greeter" at the ArcLight) gets stage time. This is Hollywood and there is an audition process. The theater wants the talent--er, staff--to be film buffs who are comfortable addressing large audiences. Dashwood confirms that the applicant pool includes a large ratio of actors.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 20, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 4 inches; 158 words Type of Material: Correction
Cinema complex -- The ArcLight Cinemas complex ("The Smell of the Popcorn, the Roar of the Crowd," Metropolis, Los Angeles Times Magazine, Sept. 22) is located at the Cinerama Dome site on Sunset Boulevard between Vine Street and Ivar Avenue.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday October 27, 2002 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 4 Lat Magazine Desk 20 inches; 714 words Type of Material: Correction
The ArcLight Cinemas complex ("The Smell of the Popcorn, the Roar of the Crowd," Metropolis, Sept. 22) is located at the Cinerama Dome site on Sunset Boulevard between Vine Street and Ivar Avenue.

Ushers Jeremy Catalino, 25, and Bernard Legend Busby, 29, aren't actors, but they are personable, appealing and trying to break into the industry, Catalino as a screenwriter and Busby as a screenwriter and cinematographer. Introducing "Road to Perdition" at a summer matinee, Catalino offers a quick rundown of director Sam Mendes' past credits, while at another showing Busby informs viewers that the film was shot "entirely on existing location in Chicago . . . all [Mendes] had to do was add people and cars."

Like live performers everywhere, ArcLight ushers are occasionally challenged for material. Busby had trouble coming up with anything to say about the recent Japanese import "Warm Water Under a Red Bridge" ("it's an obscure foreign film . . . no one had any idea what it was about") while Catalino says he worried that youthful "Austin Powers in Goldmember" audiences wouldn't take to the theater's seating policy.

Then there's the danger of being upstaged in a town that's crawling with scene stealers. At a late afternoon screening of the comedy "Mr. Deeds," "Friends" star Matthew Perry, an ArcLight regular, surprised crew member Abner Valencuela, 24, who says he yielded the stage when Perry got out of his seat and took over the introduction. After riffing on the movie's poster, Perry advised the audience to keep an eye on the performance of his friend, John Turturro, which he called "just hilarious."

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