Tim League is a fascinating man. In what probably seems like a past life now, he used to be an engineer for an oil company. Then he and his wife Karrie, who was working in the bio pharmaceutical industry, threw caution to the wind and left their careers to open up a movie theater that would eventually become the Alamo Drafthouse (I’m guessing you’ve heard of it, we kind of talk about it a lot). And now that we’re just two days away from the Drafthouse’s annual, week-long Christmas in September, otherwise known as Fantastic Fest, we were afforded the opportunity to chat with League about the current state FF, the Drafthouse’s plan for expansion, and what’s going on with Drafthouse Films.
Note: Our chat opened talking about a very recent and huge title change in Tim’s life: from man to father. We’ll leave that mushy stuff out, but here’s where the movie talk kicked in.
Tim League: It’s funny, Have you seen We Need to Talk About Kevin?
Movies.com: No, I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard great things.
League: We’re going to announce it tomorrow as a late edition, but I watched two days after the girls were born. They shipped down a print and we checked it out. It’s all about Tilda Swinton holding this baby and feeling like it’s an alien form and her never connecting with it and the rationale for that developing a child serial killer. It’s an odd movie for postpartum, but I did still enjoy it.
Movies.com: How have you been able to strike the balance of what you want for the festival, what’s good for festival growth and what you feel expect from the festival? It seems like a low-key year with very few mainstream films.
League: We have a few mainstream things. Not that We Need to Talk About Kevin is a gigantic movie, but it’ll get an art house release at least. We have a few things like that that will pop out later in the fest, but we don’t have Zombieland, we don’t have the big Paramount screenings. Partially that was just not responding to things we did see. There were some movies we were offered that just didn’t work for us and ended up passing on. There are a couple things we couldn’t get, either. I really wanted to get Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for example, and that just wouldn’t happen.
What’s important to me is the discovery aspect of the festival– the international things you’re just not going to see anywhere else. That’s where my priorities lie personally and thats where I think the priority lies in building an audience. It’s pretty well aligned this year.
There are people that have come to the festival in the past who will only go to the big Paramount screenings or will only go to something if there’s a celebrity in attendance and I don’t really care about that. That’s what the core of the festival is about to me and even though it’s a really low-key year in terms of stars, it’s a very strong year in terms of programming. The core people for the festival are going to like it.
Movies.com: So it was a very deliberate path to go without a Zombieland or a Vampire’s Assistant, like in year’s past? There’s no need to fit in the Hollywood stuff because there’s already too many great movies from around the world to fit in.
League: I mean, Vampire’s Assistant was okay, but if you really want to see it, it’ll be out in a few weeks. Those movies are on a different set of priorities. They’re on the publicity trail, so we’re providing publicity for the studies and that’s one arena why it would play a festival, but the more important arena is the discovery.
Movies.com: So what is a gem this year you’re most excited about?
League: There’s several. A movie I do really like that I hope a lot of people respond to is called Bullhead. It’s a Belgian, I guess, drama/thriller, but it’s set in the cattle industry in Belgium and it’s a thriller based around espionage involving legal hormones and steroids for cattle. But it has a really strong central character. In the very first part of the film his testicles are smashed with a brick by a neighboring farmer kid, and it obviously decimates his personality and so he grows up and becomes addicted to testosterone and steroids himself and has is this roid rage guy, but he’s all very sensitive about his lack of testicular masculinity. It’s a crazy plot line.
Movies.com: Moving on from Fantastic Fest to the Drafthouse in more general terms. Congratulations on this morning’s announcement about the Colorado expansion.
League: Thank you, I’m excited about that one.
Movies.com: Do you guys have an expansion road map of New York, LA, Colorado, West Virginia, wherever? Is there a guiding goal for future Drafthouses?
League: There is, though we’re still a little loose. I went out [to New York and LA] to scout locations and hopefully we be announcing some things soon. Those are really pivotal for me because of what we’re trying to do on the distribution side of things and the brand side of things. There are key towns we think will work really well for us; towns that have some similarities in Austin, in a way. We want to be in places where there is a cool, engaged, entertainment-driven audience. We don’t have hard numbers, but we’re not going to explode and open 100 theaters at once. We have to very carefully build this thing and make sure we have the right people doing programming and the right people overseeing operations, and do it at a smart pace.
Movies.com: And as for Drafthouse Films, you guys are moving on your first in-house Drafthouse production with ABCs of Death. Is that something you want to explore more of, or will you stick with acquiring instead of producing.
League: I think we’ll be more in the mode of acquiring. We’ve hired on Evan Husney, who is the head of Drafthouse Films now. He’s charged with, starting in 2012, we want to release 6 repertoire titles and 5 or 6 other titles per year. That’s going to be our path. We don’t want to make any sacrifices, we want to make sure we’re the right tone for the film and it’s the right tone for us. We may even look at some films that are at Fantastic Fest.
The interesting thing though… there are a couple of films at Fantastic Fest we want to be involved with, but we also realize that there are a lot of buyers that are coming to Fantastic Fest and we’re not going to get into a position where we see stuff and then lock it up before the festival. That’s not really fair to the filmmakers. It’s only fair if it works for us and the filmmakers. Plus, buyers will stop coming if there’s no films available.
Movies.com: I feel like this year will be a great year for buyers because there are so many – and I haven’t cross checked on IMDb or anything – but it seems like there are a lot of undistributed titles playing in Texas, if not North America, for the first time.
League: I think about half of he films are without U.S. distribution right now, and I think that’s a pretty good ratio.