I have known Morgan White for quite some time, so it’s kind of strange to be interviewing him about the release Toronto release of The Rep, which plays for two nights at The Revue on Wednesday and Thursday of this week (with yours truly doing the introduction for the Wednesday night screening) before beginning a week long run at The Big Picture Cinema starting on Friday. Almost stranger still because I’m in the film reliving some of the work I did with the now shuttered Toronto Underground Cinema.
We broke the story of the film’s unique release strategy a couple of months ago – where all profits made by the film are kept by the cinemas that screen it – and the story of the Toronto Underground Cinema has become a well documented local legend. For those who need to be brought up to speed, the now tragic arc of the Underground was something like this:
Three friends – former reparatory cinema managers Alex Woodside and Nigel Agnew and friend and first time ever employee Charlie Lawton – got wind of a movie theatre in the basement of a Chinatown condo complex and asked the owner of the building if they could run it. With a lot of spirit and high hopes, the Underground opened thunderously, but their momentum couldn’t be sustained. It’s hard to find location, no access to proper signage, lack of access to the dying medium of 35mm film prints, and a laundry list of financial problems and burned bridges led to strained relations between the friends and the eventual need to let go of the business they worked so hard to try and raise from the ground up.
White’s film actually wrapped principal photography several months prior to the Underground closing in September of last year, but the ultimate demise of the Underground isn’t entirely the point of his film. In fact, the Underground serves more as a framing device for a larger discussion about the dying art of repertory cinemas around the world. With visits to places like the Quentin Tarantino owned New Beverly in Los Angeles, New York’s Film Forum, and the Alamo Draughthouse in Austin, the film shows some of the success stories. There’s even a look at one theatre, San Francisco’s Red Vic, on its final, bittersweet evening of operation.
White spent almost as much time outside the Underground as his did inside it, travelling to different theatres and interviewing the likes of Atom Egoyan, Kevin Smith, and John Waters along the way. His initial idea of creating a comedic web-series around the guys at the Underground ended up blossoming into a full fledged look at the kinds of smaller businesses that he likes to support instead of just focusing on today’s megaplex driven system of filmgoing.
I sat down with Morgan last week over sandwiches at Sky Blue Sky to talk about things that I didn’t even know. Because the story of the Underground itself is pretty well known by this point around these parts, we talked about how the film evolved from the web series, his travels to other theatres, and how hard it was to let the film go when he stopped filming and things at the Underground started to get worse.
Dork Shelf: It seems like the first place to start would be with how the concept of your project was originally a web series. How did the series morph into a feature film?
Morgan White: I think it was twofold. I think it was about a month into shooting for the web series that I kind of realized that I was going to go bigger with it. It wasn’t that conscious of a decision. It just kind of happened. I think it was just because I realized that there was a lot more there that I could be doing. I think I was just sitting there at one point and I said, “You know what? I’m just going to make a movie out of this.” I blurted it out loud and I think I might even have some footage of that somewhere, too.
I mean, obviously you remember because you were there for some of the web series that it was kind of scripted, in a sense. We would start with a real life concept or issue and then I would throw ideas to you and whomever I was interviewing at the time. There would be something specific or I would just cull something from all the footage I had and do the interviews after the fact where I would feed lines and ideas and then figure out how to make that work. So the web series was a really different and scripted thing.
But outside of that was where the more interesting stuff, and it was so great, but it would have no place in the web series or really in any sort of serial format. There were these harsh realities of what was going on. The web series was never intended to be a downer. It was always intended to be happy and fun, but the Underground wasn’t always fun or happy. It was shitty a lot of the time, and that footage always proved to be more interesting; the realities of what was going on and the in-fights that sometimes came up. That despondence that they kind of projected at times was really interesting.
DS: Do you think a lot of the decision to make this a feature film was maybe to some degree guilt that came from you possibly scripting the web series when you knew there was a more interesting and real story going on? Because you were really close to everything and you saw that the reality was vastly different from the show you were originally shaping.
MW: I don’t know that I felt guilty, persay. That’s a good question. I know I wanted to make something more and I think it was really just not so much guilt but that I became more invested in what was happening.
I’m a pretty emotional person and I was capturing a lot of what these people who I call my friends were feeling, and I saw that we were feeling a lot of the same things. I spent a lot of time with those guys, especially in the beginning. I started with this idea that I would be going maybe one or two nights a week and I ended up going five, six, or seven nights a week. I was completely neglecting everything else in my life to spend time filming the Underground guys aside from working my day job. I think being there and seeing the realities made the decision to make a feature almost for me.
I also really just got tired of doing the web series. I don’t know, but I guess that just never turned out the way I ever thought it would be. That’s not to say that I don’t like it, but I think that just wasn’t my thing. I think I just work better in true documentary form. I was having way more fun filming them in reality than I was thinking of crafting specified stories all the time.
DS: Do you think after a while because you spent so much time there that you started to feel like almost an employee and function of the Underground and that you had more of an investment in it to actually do right by the story?
MW: I think for a while I probably did. I mean, I was there A LOT. I used to find that the camera was a huge advantage for not feeling like an employee because I never really had to do any heavy lifting because I had the camera. (laughs) But I did become invested in the theatre itself. I started to care a lot about it and talk about it with my friends. I would tell them to go to it. I had become more invested in the discussions of screenings and stuff like that. I just thought it was fun and it was something I enjoyed.
But I don’t think any of that made me want to make sure I did the story “right.” The story is what it is and it unfolded exactly how you see it unfold. I never entered into the idea of making anyone look bad. Maybe there was that part of it. There might be some instances where I hold back where I should have delved more in depth, but then again that was my choice as a documentary filmmaker. That was what I wanted to do.
I think over time I became a lot more interested in what it means to actually own and operate a cinema. I started doing more research about it and reading articles about it. I was talking to other people I met online and other people that I met through the making of the film. That was sort of the final piece to get me really invested in making this into the feature that it is now.
DS: Now that the film has played in a few place already, have you noticed one particular aspect of the film that people seem to be latching onto more specifically than others? Because you have a few different things going on here with the story of the theatre itself, the personal stories behind the guys who ran it, and this sort of overarching look at the state of reparatory cinema in general.
MW: I think the thing that most people seem to take from it is that these kinds of theatres are important, and that was what I was striving for the most, anyway. They’re kind of at a point where they’re struggling and I think it’s something that a lot of people don’t realize or that they take for granted. I’ve gotten several emails from people talking about how they came to realize that. I got one from a girl who saw it in Vancouver and she said she never knew what it meant to actually run a cinema and that she was going to start going to The Rio a lot more, because that’s where it played and had its Canadian premiere. I think that’s mostly what people were taking from it.
There’s been a lot of talk over just the past year or two about the loss of 35mm and what that means for theatres and how its forcing a lot of them to close. When people hear that, generally the reaction is something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s really sad. I love that theatre. I used to go there all the time.” But the reality is that most of them don’t GO to these theatres or really participate. I think that my point in the film is that you guys should really realize what it means to do this. I hope that’s what people are taking from this because that’s really the whole point of the movie.
Talking about 35mm is also actually just a small part of the whole situation, and that’s really only mine and Alex’s viewpoint that we like it better. It doesn’t matter. Who cares if it’s 35mm or digital in these rep houses? It’s about the pastime of actually going to a cinema and having that experience. It’s about the closing of the theatres and the reality of the situation showcases the passion that these people have for doing their jobs. It was something that the Underground guys had and all the other theatres I visited did, too. They all felt a connection to the story.
DS: You wrapped the film over a year ago now, and since then not only has the Underground closed, but we’ve also lost a lot more theatres that just that one around the world at the same time. Do you feel like there’s something time sensitive about the message of the film?
MW: Totally. I think over the course of making the movie it started to become a very big thing. It was kind of a right time/right place situation for the film, and it’s even more so now because these theatres are struggling and these theatre owners are becoming a lot more vocal about it. It’s something that’s starting to get to be a known thing that these independent cinemas are struggling. It’s right on the nose and right at the time where this needs to be discussed. It’s do-or-die right now for a lot of theatres. I think in the next ten years, I have this fear that it will have all washed over and this will be a completely new world made up of whatever cinema there is left.
DS: It’s also definitely conveying a certain economic message about the industry, too, because you touch upon in the film how much it costs just to show a movie, let alone keep the lights on, and it isn’t cheap. Do you think to some degree distributors and rep cinemas have equally priced themselves out of the market they seek to cater to? Often the people who go to these cinemas and want to have these nostalgic, independent experiences don’t have the kind of money to spend on these things. Do you think the model has just become impossible to sustain and profit from, in general?
MW: Well, there aren’t too many rep cinemas that are charging upwards of $11 a ticket, and yet somewhat paradoxically those are the ones that tend to stay open the longest.
DS: But those are often theatres like the Lightbox or Film Forum who can actually shell out to play the rarest content possible.
MW: Yeah, but I mean, I would pay $12 to see something like Creepshow at the Lightbox because I know now that it’s something that isn’t going to play anywhere else. I don’t think anyone really priced themselves out of anything. Independent costs more, but we already knew that. Go to an independent grocery store and you’re going to spend more and it’s the same thing with a movie theatre. I think that it’s tough for someone to justify the cost of going to see something on the big screen if they do own it in their collection or they have easy access to it online or from the video store, but that’s a problem that’s been in existence for decades now. The dawn of home video was really what started to kill the rep house, especially back in the late 80s and early 90s and it’s been continually having that effect as technology continues to grow. Now online you can pay $8 a month for thousands and thousands of movies, and that’s something that’s really difficult to keep up with.
DS: That ties into two things that I wanted to bring up, and the first one might seem largely unrelated, but when you talk about the ultimate fate of the Underground and what people in the city know happened to it, it’s hard not to say that it wasn’t botched somewhat from the start. You show it in the film that these guys kind of rushed into everything and they closed up after their grand opening for a couple of weeks and they didn’t really have all their programming in place. Was that a sign for you right from the beginning that something was amiss and there should have been a better model in place?
MW: I think they went into it with a lot of wide eyed hope and they definitely went in with a kind of unearned rock star mentality. I mean, you know them as well as I do. That’s the personality I think they tried to portray when they opened up, but in reality they are nothing at all like that and it was kind of a point in making the film to show that. They just took on these personas and ran with them. That was definitely a big mistake from the beginning, but I never thought when I first started doing it that it was the biggest or even one of the biggest signs that they were going to fail. It just was a stupid choice that they made at the beginning.
The Underground was just something where it felt like they were always trying to keep pace and just try to do something or anything with the hopes that it was going to stick or work. It used to feel like they were often throwing darts at a dartboard and sadly nothing stuck.
DS: The other part of my question deals with the stuff that you didn’t have in the film because it happened almost entirely after you wrapped filming, and it actually does end up getting touched upon and eerily foreshadowed by a couple of people in the film. It’s the point that the guys kind of always needed some sort of a hook to bring people in to enjoy that kind of content in a theatre. Eventually they started branching out more into doing concerts, and comedy, and wrestling shows, and those ended up being what were largely their best attended and most profitable events. What was your feeling on that as someone who was making a movie about the troubles of modern cinema ownership to see them branching out more into becoming an event space? Did you see that as a kind of betrayal of what they set out to do?
MW: Hmmmm. No one has ever really asked me that before, but I guess that’s probably because there are few people who know the history outside of Toronto or was well as you do, I guess.
It never bothered me that they were doing that. They’re kind of putting in music equipment so they can do live concerts and stuff. The Rio in Vancouver is half music venue, half theatre. There’s a lot of opportunity in that to make ends meet that you couldn’t any other way.
I think it was a good choice to bring in things like wrestling shows that would bring in a couple of hundred people. The Stand-Up nights were almost always selling out. Then there’s the Underground Peep Show which was HUGE and could sell out multiple nights and created this awesome atmosphere for them.
It was great, but I was trying to talk about cinema and cinemas. That was my core interest and my spin on everything. I would go to places like Film Forum and they don’t do other things. They show movies. The Alamo Draughthouse doesn’t do much more than show movies, but they just have better hooks and resources to do crazy shit with some of their movies. Movies are always the basis at places like that.
In reality, if you think about what the Underground was doing in terms of booking lots of things that weren’t movies, it all somehow related or came back to film and their capabilities. Because that space is a cinema and it had that life about it. People felt cinematic when they went in there. That’s why Peep Show is always cinematic or TV related. Wrestling has a lot of the same showmanship. I think if I had included it that would have just been another section to the movie and it’s one that didn’t necessarily relate specifically to the entire world of rep cinema that I was trying to talk about through the Underground. I really wanted to discuss the concept of cinema, and how it’s harder now to actually open one of these places and to keep it going.
DS: What really drew you to wanting to tell the more personal stories of the Underground guys?
MW: Honestly, it was because I saw a lot of myself in them.
DS: Specifically, when you look at someone like Charlie who is making this his first job and you are making this as your first film. Do you think that outside of your obvious friendship with the guys that was something that coloured how you portray them in the film?
MW: Maybe. I never really thought of it like that. It’s an interesting way to point it. I always kind of struggled when I was making the film because I had my own stresses to deal with and I was always afraid that I could have fucked this up. I was always important to me in that same respect to never show these guys as idiots or fuck ups, because they aren’t. Things happened. Things happen to everyone and to every small business, so you can’t really fault them for all of the issues. You can fault them for some of them. Some of them you can, but that’s the reality of it and of portraying any business on the face of the planet. I just tried to be as sympathetic to these guys as possible because there is something really wonderful about what they were trying to do.
I don’t know, man. I don’t know how to think about that. I never really spent that much time thinking about the fact that it was my first movie or that I was even making a movie in the first place. I was just shooting stuff and it kind of became second nature to me. It feels weird now that I’m not doing it because I’m thinking about The Rep in different ways now. It feels strange when talking about the film that I don’t have a camera in my hands.
It feels weird that it never took on that intense feeling until I started travelling and I had a schedule of different things that I had to accomplish. I had two weeks where I had to get all of that other stuff that you see in the film done. Suddenly it set in that I was making an actual movie and this was a very real thing. But the entire time I was at the Underground I was hanging out and just shooting people that had become my friends.
I don’t know, but there’s a sympathetic quality to Charlie and his particular situation that I always gravitated towards because it’s his first job and because he was the real heart of that place. And a lot of the pressures that Charlie ends up facing is because the other guys couldn’t really deal with the pressures that were coming down on them. Maybe that was where it came from, and I definitely try to point to that in the film, because that was the reality of what happened.
It would be really easy to blame any one person there in any specific instance of something going wrong for screwing up because there was a requirement for blame because they had no one outside of the core group of people involved to blame. There wasn’t really anything external FOR any of them to blame. They couldn’t put a face on whey they were failing, so they would always put their failings onto other faces, if that makes sense. It’s hard to think about your patronage and say “Well, no one is showing up, so screw these assholes.” You just can’t do that. You’re not allowed and you should never feel that way, so they ended up channelling a lot of those frustrations into each other. Alex and Nigel fought with each other all the time and there was always shit going back and forth. These guys just really tore themselves apart on a regular basis.
DS: At what point did you finally get the inspiration to travel and start visiting other theatres to provide a contrast to the Underground?
MW: I remember the exact moment that happened. There was a beauty pageant at the Underground one night, of all things, and Alex and I were up in the projection booth and he was running the lights and audio for it. We were just talking about stuff during all the downtime and Alex just said, “You ever think about contacting the Alamo and seeing what they’re doing?” At first I just said “No. Are you kidding? They aren’t going to want to talk to me.”
Then I went home and I wondered what would happen if I did that. So the next day I asked Peter (Kuplowsky, programmer for Toronto After Dark among other local film pursuits) and then I emailed them. Two days later I got an email back from Zack Carlson and he was super receptive. He said to come on down and that he would love to do this. Then it took me about another six or seven months to ultimately make the decision that I was going to be able to do that. Then I talked to my work and got help funding a portion of the film because I never would have been able to do that myself. Then I just went.
It’s funny how that was never really a conscious decision, either. This whole film was made up of on the fly thoughts, until obviously the end of the film where I had to really think hard about what I was doing. (laughs) The big decisions or things that people would think of as big decisions were really just things that happened. Alex got the ball rolling and several months later it changed the direction of what I was doing once again.
So I thought that if I was going to go to the Alamo and all the way to Austin, I might as well go to L.A. and contact the New Beverly. I got ahold of Mike, who runs the place, and he said “Sure! I’m terrible on camera, but if you want me I can totally do it.” (laughs) Then the idea kept going that I was going to spend all this money travelling to these two biggest paragons of reparatory cinema that I would end up going to some of the smaller neighbourhood theatres like the Bijou.
I asked Zack if he had any ideas of place I should contact, and he sent me this list of theatres I should get in touch with, and I was shocked and delighted that every single one of them got back and said yes. I don’t think anyone had ever contacted them before to do something like this. We planned it and it took me a few weeks to figure out all the timing.
The hardest part is that I had really no time to possibly do all of this. I only had two weeks off from work because that was all I could take off. I somehow managed to coordinate it so I was able to get everyone I wanted to talk to within those two weeks and along a predetermined itinerary that I had set.
We drove a lot of the way, and I didn’t budget any room whatsoever for error or delay. (laughs) The car wasn’t going to break down. The gear would always be fine. Nothing would ever break. There wouldn’t be any delayed flights. Lo and behold, everything went perfectly! (laughs) I remember talking to some production people at work, because I work for a production company in Toronto, and they were flabbergasted that I was able to do that and it just worked.
That stuff was really the easiest of all the stuff I had to do on the film. Contacting people was really easy. Even the celebrities weren’t hard to get. A lot of them were connected through or to the Underground in some way, so that made them easier to get, but getting people on board was always easy. People were always really cool about doing it, and the whole thing really just fell into place. The whole film just fell into place. I just always thought that if something was interesting to talk about I would go for it and my feelings came out.
I’m going to reveal something to you that I don’t think most people know. Before making this, I never gave a shit about film. I never cared about the love for 35mm film that I have now. It didn’t mean anything to me because I never felt like I had any real direct connection to it. I didn’t care if it was a print or digital or the quality of something or where the print came from or how much it cost to show it. I never once cared about any of that or even remotely thought about it. Now I care about it so much that it has become ridiculous and almost bothersome to myself and the people around me. (laughs) I know I irritate them a bit. Everything I know about film now and my love of it came from just being at the Underground and seeing the work that goes into it. That was all from Alex’s obsession with 35mm and his emotions about that were something that I really took to heart and really influenced me. I was always applying those emotions that I felt or that these guys felt to the film. It all spawned from circumstance and I rolled for it.
I shot for a long time. In reality we can say it was a year, but I shot for way more than that by the time it was done. There’s even footage in here that dates back to even before the Underground that makes it into the movie because I had originally shot a lot of stuff at the Bloor prior to this. That’s kind of the interesting thing to me.
DS: One of the things in your travels that I thought was interesting and kind of intimidating was when you went and filmed the final night that San Francisco’s Red Vic was open. That seems like a really intimate time to be there, especially when you have to go back to Toronto and keep shooting at a theatre that’s experiencing it’s own problems. What was that experience like as an outsider going to this beloved landmark for locals that you had never been to before and looking inside of it?
MW: It’s so hard to explain. There was such a feeling of sadness, like, just pure melancholy. Everyone is happy to be there and so happy to share in that experience, but everyone is just so sad about the fact that it’s the last experience. It’s tough to watch.
I contacted them on the suggestion of Zack, and he didn’t know they were closing, but right after I sent the email they said that the documentary sounded interesting, but they didn’t think they would be of any use to me because they were closing. I was like, “No, no, no, no. You guys are the greatest gift to me imaginable.” As horrible as that sounds I knew that I had to interview these people. It was really hard to do because they were a collective of multiple people who ran it. I would talk to one person who said they would bring it up in a meeting and initially they said the answer was no. I sat there and that was when the director and producer in me kicked in and I decided I wasn’t going to take no for an answer. If I had to I would have just bought a ticket and gone in with a handicam and just film it and they wouldn’t be the wiser. And that’s the worst thing you can do as a filmmaker. No one should ever do that. (laughs)
I talked to another person and on the third try and I talked to Sam, who you see in the movie, and he said “Yes! We have to do this. The Red Vic has to be a part of this film.” He told me he was just going to tell everyone else that I was coming and to just show up. He wanted me to call him when I got to San Francisco and he would meet up and do the interview, and then he told me to come to the screening. By the time I got there everyone knew I was coming and they were fine with the situation.
Sam was amazing. I did a lot of emotional interviews during the process of making the film with the guys and it’s hard to discuss the emotional impact of cinema because it’s such a connective response that you get. That passion is infection. But when people talk about things in a sad and melancholic way, you also get kind of sad about it. The way Sam was talking with such emotion and eloquence – and I still say he gives one of if not the best interview in the whole movie – that really sums up the entire cinema going experience. When he was talking I began to really tear up and then he started tearing up and Kris Kadas, who was helping me film and who was sitting next to me, just started to almost cry. It was just such an emotional experience.
It was really cool to be there, and Sam said that the way it comes across in the film was how it felt to really be there that night. I hope that people can really get in touch with that feeling. It was really intense to be there. They showed Harold and Maude as their last movie, and I watched it again not that long ago, and now I can’t watch it without having that same feeling for now and for the rest of my life. Harold and Maude is no longer just Harold and Maude. It was always one of my favourite movies, but now it’s also taking on this extra level of appreciation. And I was only there for five or six hours in total. By the time we were done it felt like I had gotten to know these people. I chatted with the other members of the collective and there was this real sense of family. People from the past had flown in that had previously left the collective just to be back for this moment. I remember just standing in the back and hearing them talk, and cry, and laugh together in a theatre full of people watching this movie all experiencing the same emotions because a lot of those patrons that were there had been going there for a long time. The second the doors closed they knew there would be no more screenings at the Red Vic. That was it. It was done. And you could feel what these people were feeling.
In the film you can see a guy stand up and clap when the film ends, and when that happened someone in the back just absolutely lost their shit and started bawling and you could feel every bit of that emotion being in that room. You could feel that in there. It’s unexplainable and I am totally rambling now, but it was really something to hear and see that, but if anyone reading this was at the Underground the night it close it was that same kind of intense feeling.
Whenever I listen to The Last Waltz or I watch the film, it will always mean the closing of the Underground. People are singing and dancing and clapping, and the one of their friends Eric (long pause)… I haven’t thought about this in a long time. (starts tearing up) When he was in the screening and he said “Let’s hear it for the boys.”… That was really intense. (pauses) I haven’t cried about this in a long time.
I never made you cry in an interview you asshole. (laughs)
DS: (laughs) You’re lucky I’m not filming this.
MW: (laughs) But this is the kind of emotion that you lose when watching something at home. Those two specific experiences were so much more heightened than the normal moviegoing experience, and I totally get that, but seeing any movie is really a connective thing in a theatre. People will now watch Harold and Maude that were at the Red Vic that night and those feelings are forever engrained in them. I hope that’s the way, at least, because that’s how I feel about it.
DS: Since you had the Vic closing in there, was it hard not to go back after you finished shooting to not go back and include footage of the Underground closing in the final cut?
MW: Yeah, of course. The Underground closed in September and the film had actually been locked for a few months before that. It was funny because when the film debuted at the Austin Film Festival the person who programmed it didn’t know at first that the Underground had closed.
There was always temptation since while I was cutting the film, that was when things were just starting to get really sour for the Underground. I could have kept filming, but I chose not to. I don’t know why I didn’t do it, to be perfectly honest. I just didn’t. I did film the closing night on 16mm, but I haven’t seen the footage yet since I haven’t even had it processed yet. I never thought to ever include it in the film because I think the film stands for itself. It still has a pretty hard hitting ending without it. I think the ending of this one is much more impactful than just watching the Underground guys crying as they lock the doors. I don’t know if that even really matters that much to see Alex, Nigel, and Charlie leave for the last time. It’s a nice, sentimental thought and image, but I always had the intention to end the film on a lighter note or at least have the potential to be open ended.
No one really knew what was going to happen, I mean, we all had it in our heads that it was probably going to close, but we really didn’t know until August of that year, and everything was done and locked and it was already sent out to a bunch of festivals by that point, and I wasn’t going to change what it was. It was done. The film was done in my mind.
DS: Now that the film is locked and in release, there has been a lot in the media that’s come about with regard to how the Underground came to an end. How do you think that colours the film now?
MW: That is, in fact, my biggest worry because of how people will perceive it in Toronto. I’ve always thought about that wasn’t really a problem with the film, but the situation as a whole. I think people are more connected to it here. All of what happened with Sedwick (Hill, owner of the Underground) really happened after. Even more came out after the theatre closed, and the guys found out a lot more way after the end. Sedwick spent a lot of time telling the guys that everything was going to be okay, and he even tried telling me that everything was going to be okay. I asked him really hard questions, and he was always very sure that everything was going to work out. We all went along with this kind of false sense of security. Then we all found out what really happened.
Now, there are a lot of people who try to say and spread rumours that the theatre was a part of this Ponzi scheme and there was all this stuff, but that was never true. Things just happened, and I’ve told this to many people, but there were very specific circumstances that befell the Underground that resulted in its closure. It still would have closed, ultimately. Everything that I discuss in the film was what effected things directly and was a part of the reason why it closed. Low patronage was a huge part of it, and that befalls all cinemas. The inability to get films befalls all cinemas. Digital conversion is a huge thing that impacts all of these cinemas. There’s no way the Underground even if it was solvent would have been able to afford $150,000 right off the bat to go digital for even as little as a 2K projector. It just had other things going against it. Every cinema has its own specific hardships going against it. To me, I never thought that had to be in the movie because it ultimately didn’t speak to what I was trying to say about cinema as a whole. This place would have closed anyway. Maybe not. Maybe I’m just being pessimistic because it’s impossible for me to think about it any other way.
DS: Well the biggest thing that I think we can both agree on and that ties into what people are saying now is that the Underground just never had the money to operate to begin with.
MW: Yes. Absolutely. 100%. And I talk about that in the movie. There were always budgetary constraints. A lot of the times they weren’t even getting paid because there just wasn’t any money. All of the money that came in went back into the theatre in an effort to keep the lights on, the films, running, and the doors open. There was never any proper operating budget. There was always the idea and the hope that there would be. There was constant discussion of it, and you see that in the film, but they never had anything in place. In that respect, they were doomed to fail, but if they had patrons who came into the theatre on a regular basis and the ability to access and pay for content to bring these people in, it probably would have done better and these issues wouldn’t have been a bigger problem. The cards were stacked against them from the beginning, but they could have turned it around. It’s just hard enough to run an independent cinema under the best circumstances. They were running it in fair to eventually poor circumstances.
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