Friday, April 18, 2008

Barry Flood preserving Tryon Theater for the community

One of the landmarks of Tryon’s trade street is the Tryon Movie Theater. I’ve been there once or twice, but knew nothing about how a movie theater is run. I took some time with Barry Flood one evening before the movie to catch a quick behind the scenes tour as he made preparations for that evening’s show.

I hear you’ve been making some improvements to the theater.
You can see there’s new carpet. I added a new projector system two years ago. Until then we’d been using an old carbon projector from the 1930s. The movies come shipped as six reels that are half a mile each and now they get spliced together on the new platter system. There’s no switching the reels during the film or rewinding, they feed from one platter to another. The projector came from Wofford where it had only been used 1200 hours in fifteen years. One of the major advantages for me is being able to load the next week’s film while the current film is playing.
Over Christmas we installed a surround sound system. There are three speakers on each wall, two in the balcony and three behind the screen. The best sound is in the center downstairs, but the ones behind the screen face up toward the balcony. Now during the big action scenes you can feel the sound. Hopefully by the end of the year the theater will be able to switch to a digital sound system that uses a computer to process the film sound. Then the next project is to renovate the balcony.

It seems like money is tight for everyone right now. How have you been able to afford these upgrades?
A dollar per ticket goes into a building fund so the renovations can be done. It will take 35-50,000 to improve the ceiling, but I don’t do anything until it can be paid for out of the fund.
Five years ago we reconditioned the seats. Basically, the more people that come to the movies the more goes into the fund and things get done.

How long have you been in the movie business?
Eighteen years ago in June I started running the theater and bought it in February 1991. I thought it would be a nice project for retirement. I was a school teacher for thirty two years. I still enjoy running it. When I no longer enjoy it, then it’s time to look for something else.

What is your current movie schedule?
We started with Juno and have proceeded to show all the Oscar movies including There Will Be Blood and Atonement. The Film Society is showing No Country for Old Men and The Diving Bell & Butterfly.

What is the Film Society?
It started about twelve years ago. Members pay yearly dues and then receive a dollar off the ticket price of every movie they see. Film Society members also received three to four ballots each year to vote for the movies that are booked at the theater. Kite Runner was one of their picks, and after the Oscar films we’ll start showing their film selections.

Do you think people go to the theater less as more families get widescreen TVs?
Hopefully people realize that you should see some movies on a big screen, not just a widescreen TV. Otherwise you don’t feel the magnitude of the film. In the theater it feels like you’re a part of it.

I’ve heard you allow some of the conveniences of home in the theater.
While you still can’t get to the bathroom without missing some of the film, you can visit the concession stand and not miss anything. Upstairs in the balcony we still allow smoking. I have electrostatic precipitators, or smoke eaters, to clear the air. We serve beer upstairs too.

Has the drinking ever been a problem at the theater?
In eighteen years we’ve never had a problem with the beer drinkers bothering other patrons. I know alcohol and cigarettes offend some, so they can sit downstairs and not be bothered. Upstairs is restricted to adults, so if you want to be away from the kids you might also choose to sit upstairs.
I also require that anyone under seventeen is accompanied by an adult. Since we showed Titanic, that’s been the policy. Mostly it’s because of problems with teens using the theater as a social gathering place and talking during the movie. The theater is not a babysitting service, but if a couple of adults want to bring a group of kids or teens to see a movie that’s fine.

How did you decide to run a movie theater?
It wasn’t particularly a life long dream, but I have always wanted to be my own boss. This opportunity appeared at the right time. The movies were a brand new business for me, so I learned from the previous owner as I went. I majored in chemistry with no business experience, so either dumb luck or common sense allowed me to make good decisions.

One of the keys is to know the demographic of the cliental. Three of the top five movies last year were for children; the other two were for adults. Teen horror and action movies or off-color comedies do not do well here because of the audience. I have one evening show each day, but keep the Sunday matinee for those patrons who don’t like to drive at night.

Is the theater used for other events besides movies?
Usually just benefit concerts. If someone comes to me with an idea, we can work it out. For Super Saturday we work as a venue. The theater has a two level stage with spotlights and back lighting. The building opened in 1932 as a theater but the structure may date back to the late 1800s. There was a fire and it was rebuilt adding the balcony in 1938. Originally it was used for vaudeville and local plays in addition to film. Back then there was no TV or radio, so people came out for entertainment.

Take a moment to join your community for some quality family entertainment at the historic Tryon Movie Theater.

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