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Alamo Drafthouse Strikes Gold by Redefining the Cinema Experience

October 16, 2012
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/224235

Ignore the calendar. The pages may say it's 2012, but here at the Alamo Drafthouse, it's the summer of 1982 all over again.

The Austin, Texas-based theater chain is dedicating a chunk of its movie programming slate this year to reviving the Hollywood blockbusters of three decades past, a box-office bonanza that includes Poltergeist, Tron, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Rocky III, all presented on Drafthouse screens in their original 35mm format.

Alamo Drafthouse Strikes Gold by Redefining the Cinema Experience
Hard-core: Punk band Rockatansky plays with pyrotechnics before Alamo Drafthouse's presentation of The Road Warrior at a Summer of 1982 event; fans of the film dress up (pictured).
Photos© Annie Ray

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema does not simply blow the dust off these films: It gives them new life, jolting them back into the cinematic consciousness with the fervor and audacity of a mad scientist in a Saturday matinee serial. Vintage trailers, music videos, public service announcements and news reports precede each Summer of 1982 screening, and Drafthouse employees deliver period-correct Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers directly to moviegoers' seats. Mel Gibson's post-apocalyptic action vehicle The Road Warrior is even presented as an outdoor spectacle, complete with a live rock band and a four-car "thermonuclear flaming death race."

The outsized scope and sensibility of events like the Summer of 1982 series have been synonymous with the Alamo Drafthouse brand since co-founder and CEO Tim League opened the chain's first location 15 years ago in downtown Austin. All 11 current venues serve made-to-order food and beverages directly to patrons' seats, with cabaret-style tables stretching in front of each row and auxiliary aisles between rows facilitating waitstaff service. Celebrity guests and live musical accompaniment are staples of the Drafthouse calendar, as are interactive audience-participation events, including singalong and quote-along screenings, as well as themed presentations like "Sommelier Cinema," which pairs classic films and fine wines.

"You need to think about the customer experience all the way through, from buying a ticket to arriving in the parking lot to watching the movie to leaving," League says. "The cinema industry is competing against everything else people can do on a Friday or Saturday night. If they don't have a good time, you're going to lose them to something else. So much of what we do is trying to make the Alamo experience special."

The marquee attraction at the Alamo Drafthouse's flagship Austin location on this particular Friday evening is E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, without question 1982's most lucrative and beloved Hollywood release.

As League settles into his seat, one of the theater's regular patrons leaps up to shake his hand, introducing League to his teenage daughter. "I have a lot invested in this movie," the man says. "It's the last movie I saw with my dad." His voice chokes, overwhelmed by the memory and the moment.

This is what Alamo Drafthouse does: It connects moviegoers and movies on a visceral-- even primal--level, conjuring the magic and excitement of audience members' most formative cinematic experiences.

"I have memories of watching movies that are very important to me. People go to movies, and it's something that stays with them," League says. "That's why it's so important that we pay attention to all the details."

The Alamo Drafthouse experience goes beyond the cinema. League's burgeoning empire includes Fantastic Fest, an annual film festival devoted to horror, fantasy and other cult categories historically snubbed by the Hollywood elite; Drafthouse Films, a distribution arm that releases new and forgotten genre features via theaters, DVD and video-on-demand; the pop culture enthusiast website Badass Cinema; and Mondo, an art boutique devoted to original posters commemorating celluloid classics of the past and present.

Now League is expanding the Alamo Drafthouse brand nationwide. This summer the company took over operations of the Mainstreet Theater, a cutting-edge venue in Kansas City, Mo., that was previously owned by AMC Theatres (the 5,034-screen U.S. chain sold to Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group earlier this year for a cool $2.6 billion). Alamo Drafthouse is also in the midst of renovating historic locations in New York City and San Francisco; Los Angeles is the next market in League's sights.

"We want to be a national company," League says. "I think we have a unique service model. People have a great time when they come here. There are not a lot of theater exhibition companies that are paying attention to the same things we're paying attention to. Provided we can execute on our vision, this business is going to work everywhere we go."

Opening Credits
League's personal narrative contains enough twists and turns to fill its own Hollywood screenplay. He spent his formative years in Houston, about 165 miles southeast of where Alamo Drafthouse's headquarters now lies. Exposure to the epic-scale visions of filmmakers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas exerted a profound, lifelong influence.

The kid stays in the picture: Alamo Drafthouse's Tim League.
The kid stays in the picture: Alamo Drafthouse's Tim League.
Photo © Sarah Wilson

"When Jaws came out, I was 5 years old--my dad took me to see it instead of going with the rest of my family to the opera. It was a horrifying and completely traumatic experience for me, and it's still burned in," League recalls between bites of brisket at a picnic table adjacent to JMueller BBQ, a trailer he ranks among Austin's premier dining destinations.

"I was also one of those kids who was super into Star Wars. I saw it with my mom on opening night."

League's burgeoning love of movies coincided with the dawn of the home-video era, and as a teen he and his friends binged on a steady diet of genre films resurrected via VHS tape. "We were the movie nerds," he says. "We watched all the horror movies, all the movies with boobs. Horror movies were titillating and exciting and strangely taboo. It all boils down to what you think is cool. Part of that comes from the danger--the taboo excitement of it."

League expanded his filmgoing horizons at Rice University, where he earned degrees in engineering and art/art history. He began haunting an art-house cinema close to the school's Houston campus, developing an appreciation for foreign films and experimental fare. After graduation, League accepted an engineering gig in Bakersfield, Calif., with Shell oil, a job he loathed. While driving to work through the city's Old Town Kern district, he spotted an abandoned movie house, and within a week he and girlfriend Karrie (now his wife) signed the lease. They opened the Tejon Theater in 1994.

The Tejon established the blueprint for many of Alamo Drafthouse's signature innovations: The Leagues regularly paired second-run films and cult favorites with live music, interactive events and promotional tie-ins, and even made a failed bid to purchase a liquor license. "The spirit and the aesthetic of the theaters definitely started there," League says. "We set out to build the model that we wanted. We were movie fans, and we thought about all the little things that either pissed us off about other theater experiences or would get us really excited."

But the Tejon struggled. "It was on the wrong side of the tracks," League says. "It was in a high-crime neighborhood, and nobody wanted to go there. There were gangs and prostitutes and everything awful, so no one would come, especially to see French-language films in a 1,000-seat theater. Some nights we hoped that nobody would show up instead of two people, so we could close early and get the hell out."

The Tejon experiment came to an abrupt end in 1996. Following a post-movie performance at the theater by Montell Jordan, the one-hit wonder made famous by the R&B smash "This Is How We Do It," a quarrel erupted; a man was shot in the head, and his car crashed into the Tejon ticket booth. "It was all over the papers the next day--there was a victim of a shooting on our porch, with our marquee in the background," League says. "People already didn't want to come, and we knew there was no way we could recover. Within a month, we had packed up and split."

After sizing up a number of possible destinations, the Leagues targeted Austin, home to several of Tim's relatives and a city he had visited often while living in Houston. They brought with them the Tejon's screen, speakers and 35mm projector, as well as 200 reupholstered seats.

"We took everything we could," League says. "We wanted to start from scratch, but we didn't have the money to do it."

The Leagues struggled to find a suitable cinema location within their budget, finally settling on a spot above a parking garage in Austin's downtown Warehouse District. The first Alamo Drafthouse opened for business in May 1997; this time, the Leagues hired a licensing professional to secure a liquor permit and introduced a casual-dining menu alongside traditional fixtures like popcorn and soda.

"When we moved to Austin, we didn't have more than a month of operating capital. It had to work," League says. "The first night, we sold out. The next night, there were five people." To help make ends meet, Tim took a job at a pizza joint while Karrie toiled as a waitress. "We both worked long enough to copy their restaurant manuals and steal all their ideas," he says with a laugh.

League credits coverage in local media outlets like the Austin American-Statesman for helping raise Alamo Drafthouse's visibility and building a regional fan following. "We've never done much traditional advertising," he says. "I haven't taken out a daily print ad in 10 years. We rely on editorial content and social channels."

League also cites Austin's progressive attitude toward independently owned businesses: "Since the 1970s, Austin has been a haven for free spirits and hippies. People here value creativity. They value oddballs, and they value things that are local and handmade."

Colin Pope, editor of the Austin Business Journal, agrees that the Alamo Drafthouse is a perfect match for the city. "Tim's theaters capture the essence of Austin--they're quirky and out-of-the-box," Pope says. "The 'Keep Austin Weird' spirit is something he holds onto tightly. It oozes out of the theaters. He does things that the big dogs just don't do or can't do, and we cherish those types of businesses."

Docudrama
The Alamo Drafthouse opened a second location in 2001, inhabiting a four-screen theater in north Austin and expanding into first-run programming for the first time. A third Austin venue followed in 2003, coinciding with the launch of a Houston outpost (which closed this June).

Tim is like the Willy Wonka or the P.T. Barnum of the cinema world.
"Tim is like the Willy Wonka or the P.T. Barnum of the cinema world."
--Actor Elijah Wood
Photo courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse

"We started expanding--we started a franchise company, and then realized that's not something you do lightly," League says. "There's a whole different support mechanism required that we didn't have and weren't prepared to build." So the Leagues sold the Alamo Drafthouse in mid-2004, building the deal around an agreement to license the brand back from new owners Terrell Braly (whose Denver restaurant Sandwich World launched the Quizno's subs chain), David Kennedy and John Martin, and to retain control over the three Austin locations.

While the chain's new owners opened venues in cities spanning from San Antonio to Winchester, Va., League spent the next five years refining the Alamo Drafthouse concept. In 2007 he closed the original downtown theater after the building owner wanted to double the rent; operations shifted to the former site of The Ritz, originally built in 1929 and the first Austin movie house constructed specifically for sound films. League also opened The Highball, a 1960s-inspired bowling alley and karaoke bar, and launched Fantastic Fest. Dubbed "the geek Telluride" by film trade journal Variety, the 7-year-old festival shines a light on independent productions on the margins of American and global cinema, but has also hosted world premieres for mainstream, Academy Award-nominated features There Will Be Blood and Apocalypto.

"I started Fantastic Fest because I was pissed off about the public sentiment toward discounting genre films," says League, who remains the festival's creative director and chief programmer. "I wanted to celebrate great storytelling that heads into dark territory. It's not a horror festival or a B-movie festival. So many people cut their teeth on these movies. They have no budget, but they have the freedom to do whatever they want. I don't like it when people paint the genre with a broad brush."

League also didn't like the path Alamo Drafthouse's new owners had chosen to pursue. "We weren't getting along," he says. "It was two different people trying to take the brand in two different directions--they were trying to tell us what to do, and we didn't want anybody telling us what to do."

League filed suit against the Alamo Drafthouse ownership group in 2010. "I wanted to turn back the clock and take back the company," he says. The two sides eventually agreed to merge the halves back into one company, sidestepping the courtroom and reinstalling League as CEO. In 2011, League's first full year back at the helm, Alamo Drafthouse's box office revenue increased 2.6 percent, even as the U.S. film industry as a whole suffered a 3.7 percent decline in ticket sales. Add in food and drinks, and Drafthouse sales spiked 4.8 percent year-over-year.

Revenue Per Movie Screen

Looking back, League says letting go of the Alamo Drafthouse clarified his vision for the company and its potential for national expansion. "They had built a really great support and operations network, while we were really dialed into what was special about the brand. Our piece fit with their piece just perfectly," he says. "They got a little bit of what was special about us, and we got a little bit of what was special about them. We also ditched the things that weren't great about either company. After the merger, every part of the company was more profitable. So even though there was a bit of trauma when we sold it and a bit of trauma when we merged back together, it was probably the best thing."

Kennedy--who remains half of the Alamo Drafthouse's two-member board of directors--agrees. "Bringing Tim back is one of the best business decisions I ever made," says Kennedy, who owns and operates Alamo Drafthouse's Littleton, Colo., franchise location, which is currently under construction. (Kennedy and Martin also own Austin's Lake Creek venue; Braly cashed out his stake in the firm in late 2005.) "Tim is brilliant at the marketing side and the concepting side, and we hired a great restaurant management team in his absence. We both really respect each other's skill sets. A lot of partnerships don't."

Butts in Seats
About once every month, League and his executive staff meet at Mission Control, the nickname given to Alamo Drafthouse's offices in Austin's Hartland Plaza business park. Most top-level staffers hail from the food-service industry, and League credits their experience and expertise for galvanizing the company's growth. "I'm the only goofball in that room that comes from the cinema side," he says. "It's the restaurants that keep us profitable. We make up the three highest-volume restaurants in Austin."

Polo shirts and blue jeans are the standard Mission Control uniform, with the boyish League presiding over the proceedings in a vintage western shirt, khakis and black sneakers. There's serious stuff on the agenda, however, including plans to implement reserved seating options and customer loyalty programs. The conversation then turns to Alamo Drafthouse's Kansas City rollout: AMC spent $30 million to renovate the Mainstreet Theater just three years ago, and the venue now boasts state-of-the-art accoutrements like 4K digital projection, wall-to-wall screens and Dolby 11.1 surround sound. But the Drafthouse brand and aesthetic are relatively unknown in the Kansas City area, necessitating an aggressive promotional push. Given that the company will face the same challenges in other markets it enters, League hopes to establish a template for subsequent expansions, tweaking the basic formula for each additional launch.

Drafthouse brass examine the proposed Kansas City marketing budget, which allocates $200,000 to promote the rebirth of the Mainstreet and its interior bar, a Jazz Age-inspired joint dubbed The Chesterfield. "Forgive me, but I'm going to decimate this [budget]," League says. He recommends eliminating all outdoor marketing plans, reducing full-page newspaper ads to half-pages ("We already dominate the page," he contends) and slashing the radio advertising budget by 50 percent. The cuts trim $50,000 off the top.

"If we have 40,000 [Kansas City-area] fans on Facebook by the fall, we will scrap all of this," League concludes.

Kennedy agrees, adding, "We didn't build this company on a traditional approach."

Social networking is critical to the fan-friendly Alamo Drafthouse brand: The company is active on Facebook and Twitter and attracted national attention last summer when an in-house PSA promoting its no talking/no texting policy (strictly enforced at all nonparticipatory events) went viral on YouTube. The clip, immortalizing an uncensored voice-mail rant from a patron escorted to the parking lot for texting during a screening, even earned League an invitation to appear on Anderson Cooper's syndicated talk show.

League maintains his own social media presence and urges the chain's programmers--the core staffers largely responsible for unearthing the cult obscurities and rare archival celluloid prints so essential to the Drafthouse ethos--to nurture their own followings. "There are a lot of different micro-audiences at the Alamo. You get the hard-core fans who resent that we offer burgers and fries--they hate that it disrupts their experience. Then we have the singalong crowd, and the '80s pop culture crowd," League says. "That's why we encourage our staff to build their own voice and their own image--even their own fan base. We rely on their passion and their love for these films to market them to the audience. We put enormous faith in our curators."

After leaving Mission Control, League drives to a coffee shop to join longtime Drafthouse programmer Lars Nilsen and Lalitha Gopalan, an associate professor in the radio-television-film department at the University of Texas and author of the book Cinema of Interruptions: Action Genres in Contemporary Indian Cinema. The group is meeting to discuss the possibility of screening a series of Indian-produced crime films assembled by Gopalan under the "Bombay Noir" catchall.

The subject matter and relative obscurity of the series appeal directly to League's sensibilities. "There's a lot of sleuthing that goes into this business. When I go to [the Cannes Film Festival], I have drinks with programmers from around the world, and I'm always hitting them up for recommendations," he says en route to the meeting. "But we have no access into India. The Indian film industry has no interest in the festival circuit."

Gopalan proposes a package of eight features, screened one per week and available for a combined licensing fee of $5,000. But Nilsen expresses doubt about the commercial viability of the Bombay Noir series. "We can push our credibility, and let people know we think it's super great," he says. "But we're a for-profit company. We can't throw something up there just because it has merit. It has to sell tickets." Alamo Drafthouse has screened only a handful of Hindi-language films, including 2001's Oscar-nominated musical Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, accompanied by a menu of Indian cuisine. "Did you make money on it?" Gopalan asks. "Yeah, we made money on it," League responds.

The meeting ends without a deal in place, but League continues chewing on the Bombay Noir concept as he motors away. "Lars and I don't see 100 percent eye to eye," he admits. "I think we can sell that package and make it commercial. A series like that builds week over week."

Up in the air: A jet-packer takes flight at a pre-screening of Iron Man at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.
Up in the air: A jet-packer takes flight at a pre-screening of Iron Man at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar.
Photo courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse

The Alamo Drafthouse's future does not hinge solely on the success or failure of offbeat fare like Bombay Noir. Though the brand is renowned for its eclectic tastes and over-the-top events, League acknowledges that screenings of conventional first-run releases generate about 90 percent of total ticket sales. Moreover, Alamo Drafthouse is enjoying a bump from Hollywood's recent commercial resurgence: After several years of declining box-office revenues, the 2012 release slate is righting the ship. As of July 1, Marvel's The Avengers had raked in an extraordinary $606 million in domestic receipts; by comparison, the top-grossing film of 2011, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, brought in $381 million.

Revivals of classic films and screenings of underground favorites can be highly profitable, because those films are relatively cheap to license. That's not true of the latest big-budget blockbusters. "The biggest expense on the films is the distributor cut. We want to minimize that," League says, explaining that if a ticket is priced at $10, distributors claim as much as 70 percent of the cut during the film's opening week, a share that slides to 60 percent in week two and hovers around 50 percent for the remainder of the run.

"If you can increase the number of older movies and independent movies, then you're less reliant on movies like Prometheus, which take a big bite out of the box office," League says. "But it's a lot easier to get people to see Prometheus because they spent [an estimated] $40 million promoting it. We still make money on the tickets, but we make more money on the food and the drink."

Walking the fine line between commercial interests and cult idiosyncrasies presents a constant challenge, League notes over cocktails at Midnight Cowboy, the speak-easy-like bar--a former brothel--he purchased last year.

"Alamo theaters are a destination that mean so many different things to so many different people," he says. "We try to keep a balance and not be too lopsided. We want the cinephiles and the singalong audience. We're known for our gimmicks, but some people are purists, so we can't go too much into the interactive experiences. We need to be a destination for people who like watching movies just for the sake of watching movies."

Count actor Elijah Wood among Alamo Drafthouse's celebrity fans. "Tim is like the Willy Wonka or the P.T. Barnum of the cinema world--he's passionate, accessible and filled with an extraordinary amount of integrity," says Wood, best known for his work in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. "Alamo Drafthouse is an incredible place to enjoy movies. I've never experienced anything like it."

Art Attack
It's the weekend of the annual Republic of Texas Biker Rally, and motorcyclists roar down Austin's venerable Sixth Street. The hirsute, leather-clad bikers contrast sharply with the Alamo Drafthouse faithful lined up through the lobby and around the block: Pop-culture die-hards in T-shirts, cargo shorts and hipster glasses, they're here not only to see E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but also to purchase the limited-edition E.T. poster designed by artist Dan McCarthy.

Most Summer of 1982 screenings--and many other Drafthouse events--are accompanied by an original poster, and these silk-screen prints, typically priced from $40 to $75, have emerged as sought-after collector's items, with some hard-to-find early efforts commanding upward of $3,000 on the secondary market.

The posters are commissioned and produced under the auspices of Mondo, Alamo Drafthouse's merchandising division, and sold via the web as well as the new Mondo Gallery, a brick-and-mortar space opened in Austin in March. Mondo's philosophy is simple. "We just want to make things we think should be made," says Justin Ishmael, the company's burly, bearded creative director.

The wild bunch: The lobby at Alamo's Slaughter Lane location in Austin, Texas.
The wild bunch: The lobby at Alamo's Slaughter Lane location in Austin, Texas.
Photo© Nick Simonite

Mondo began its existence as MondoTees, an iron-on T-shirt shop that operated out of the original Alamo Drafthouse's 25-square-foot ticket booth. Mondo first started producing posters in association with Fantastic Fest and Rolling Roadshow, an ongoing series of outdoor screenings staged at locations central to the film in question; e.g., a revival of North by Northwest presented at Mount Rushmore, or Deliverance hosted on the banks of Georgia's Chattooga River (where the film was shot), complemented by servings of slow-roasted pig on a spit.

"The posters were an afterthought for me--just a local, homespun thing," League says. "When Justin got involved, he wrangled it and turned it into what it is now."

What it is now is a cottage industry responsible for vaulting gifted but unheralded artists like Tyler Stout, Martin Ansin and Jay Shaw to the attention of the international cinephile community. Posters for films ranging from King Kong to Jurassic Park routinely sell out within seconds of going on sale, and collector enthusiasm has forced Mondo to routinely upgrade its website to keep up with skyrocketing demand.

"With Mondo, it always has been and always will be art first," says Shaw, whose work for the company includes Don't Go Out Tonight, a solo show comprising 17 posters celebrating the films of cult video label Blue Underground. "Mondo posters are not there to bring people into the theater. They're a love letter to movies of the past--films that the artists have seen a million times and love. People respond to that. If it pays proper tribute to the soul of the film, it's a good poster."

Mondo is now working closely with Hollywood studios and producers to create original, officially licensed posters inspired by properties like Star Wars, Star Trek, Walt Disney and the Universal Monsters. "It really got big with Star Wars," Ishmael says. "There was a huge influx of fans coming in that weren't specifically poster guys. Star Wars and Disney are the two biggest properties to get."

Although demand for Mondo posters is helping extend awareness of the Alamo Drafthouse brand outside of cities the theaters currently serve, League says the aesthetic virtues of the prints will always trump their value as a marketing tool. "There's this weird emotional tie that people have with properties that are important to them," he says. "Putting Mondo in a gallery space shows people that cult movies and popular movies are great subject material for high-concept art. I want to make sure it's profitable, but I don't have any doubts whatsoever about the quality and integrity."

Screen Grabs
No one is ever going to accuse the fiercely independent League of going Hollywood, but this past February, he walked the red carpet outside of Los Angeles' Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak) on his way into the 84th annual Academy Awards ceremony. Bullhead, a Belgian feature acquired for U.S. distribution by the fledgling Drafthouse Films unit, was one of five Oscar nominees in the best foreign language film category. (It lost the award to the Iranian drama A Separation.)

"The Oscars was awesome," League says. "It was a really tired, boring show, but standing next to Gwyneth Paltrow at the bar while she orders her own drink is a unique experience."

Drafthouse Films scooped up rights to Bullhead shortly after the movie made its North American debut at Fantastic Fest 2011. "Premiering Bullhead at Fantastic Fest was the best thing that could have happened for us," says Michael Roskam, the film's director and screenwriter. "It's the hottest cult film festival in the U.S.--it's still young, but it's already established as a trendsetting, cool, fun festival. It's the moment where the buzz started. Tim told me, 'I made an offer to your sales agent. I want to distribute your movie.' I told my agent, 'If this is a good offer, don't hesitate--I want to be connected to these guys.'"

Drafthouse Films plays a pivotal role in League's plans to expand the Alamo Drafthouse chain nationwide. "The mission of the label is to share movies we love with as many people as possible--we want to build a catalog where people say, 'I know what this label is all about, and I know they're never going to screw me over,'" he says. "But it's really, really, really hard to open up your movies in New York and L.A. It's very expensive--it's money wasted, but you have to do it because the concentration of press around movies is in New York and L.A. If we want to be a national brand, we need to plant some flags in the center of movieland."

While the Alamo Drafthouse brand is a direct reflection of Austin's wild, woolly spirit, League is confident its appeal will translate to other markets. The company will rely on embedded teams to help build excitement around its entrance into new locales. The search is still on for a Los Angeles location, but League plans to open his first New York theater, Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers, this holiday season. The company is also in the process of renovating the Metro Theater on the Upper West Side; that location is slated to open in mid-2013.

League believes if Alamo Drafthouse can make it there, it can make it anywhere. "There are not enough screens in New York," he says. "It's really hard to find the right property and really expensive to open, so … there's not enough. As long as we don't screw up, we should be fine."

His partner Kennedy shares League's unwavering belief in the company's value proposition. "Tim has two guiding principles: The customer experience is always most important, and the growth will follow after that," he says. "There's tough competition wherever you are, and those principles hold true wherever you go. What we deliver has universal appeal. Sure, customers in New York City and San Francisco are more sophisticated, maybe even jaded. But they're going to love what we offer them."

League admits to some reservations about going national. "I spend a lot of time in my venues here--I know the staff here, and they know what's important to me," he says. "Being able to deliver our message to the New York staff without me being there on a regular basis and without the ability to check up on it day to day is something that concerns me. But if the customers and employees are happy, and we're making money, it should be good."

League empties his glass, but his evening is far from over. Next up: A private midnight screening of Boneboys, a low-budget horror film seeking admission to the Fantastic Fest 2012 exhibition lineup. League knows almost nothing about the movie or its creators, but he's optimistic.

"I'm always on the hunt for brand-new talent," he says. "I just want to show things that are great. Hollywood has a tendency to be greedy and be safe, and put out too many remakes and rehashes. But that side of it is beyond my control. We try to buffer it by saying, 'Maybe the movie will suck, but you'll have a cold beer and you'll see a crazy pre-show--and hopefully, before the movie even starts, you'll have a good time.'"

Rapid Expansion
With its Drafthouse Films distribution unit, Mondo poster gallery and Fantastic Fest film festival, Alamo Drafthouse is covering all areas of filmdom. But at the heart of the operation are the theaters. Here's a list of the company's venues, both old favorites and coming attractions.

Texas
Austin:
Village (four screens, opened July 2001)
Lake Creek (seven screens, opened May 2003)
South Lamar (six screens, opened March 2005)
The Ritz (two screens, opened November 2007)
Slaughter Lane (eight screens, opened March 2012)

Houston:
Midtown (under construction)
Vintage Park (under construction)

Katy:
Mason Park (seven screens, opened February 2006)
San Antonio: Westlakes (nine screens, opened August 2004)
Park North (six screens, opened November 2009)
Stone Oak (six screens, opened November 2010)

California
San Francisco: New Mission Theater (under renovation)

Colorado
Littleton:Aspen Grove (under construction)

Missouri
Kansas City: Mainstreet (six screens; assumed operations from AMC Theatres in June 2012)

New York
Manhattan: The Metro (five screens, under renovation)

Yonkers:
Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers (six screens, under renovation)

Virginia
Ashburn: Alamo Drafthouse DC (under construction)

Winchester:
Alamo Drafthouse Winchester (eight screens, opened October 2009)