Owner hopes to move, expand Brunswick indie movie theater
BRUNSWICK — The owner of the independent Eveningstar theater hopes bigger is better.
So after a year and a half at the helm of the cinema, owner Barry Norman is hoping to open a larger theater somewhere downtown – something he said is necessary both for his economic and physical health.
Norman, who stands 6 foot 5 inches tall, spends most days working in the projector room of the theater, where the ceilings are only 5 feet 6 inches high. He's having back problems, and rather than renovate the projector room, is trying to throw his energy into construction of a new, four-screen cineplex – ideally at Brunswick Station.
Norman said there are other reasons to consider expansion, too.
The theater's small size has proved to be more of a financial obstacle than he initially expected. The Eveningstar's single screen was one reason Norman was initially drawn to the cinema, but he now believes it may be one of its major weaknesses.
"I thought one theater will be so much easier to manage," he said, but he has now realized that "having more than one screen is mandatory if you're going to survive."
Having only one screen makes it hard for Norman to book the most popular independent films, because many distributors will only allow Norman to show their films if he agrees to play them for two months.
"That doesn't work for a single screen," he said, because the time period is just too long to continually show one film. Also, if the movie isn't popular, there are no other options for viewers and he's stuck with a money-loser.
Another drawback of the Eveningstar is its location at the rear of the Tontine Mall.
While frequent movie-goers may appreciate the theater's cozy, unassuming feel, Norman said it's not obvious to many people that the Eveningstar is there at all.
So Norman said he is talking with local developers about the possibility of building a free-standing, Art Deco-style theater with a marquee at Brunswick Station.
He imagines a four-screen cinema with one large 150-seat theater and three smaller 100-seaters, which is about the size of the Eveningstar now. The big screen would allow him to draw more crowds to new releases and could double as a concert venue or conference hall.
More theaters will also allow Norman to give his customers a more reliable estimate of when a new movie will arrive. He now bases that decision on the popularity of the current film.
For example, showings of the current feature, the thriller "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," have been more well-attended than he expected, so he's pushing back the start date of his next film.
But with more screens, Norman could rotate a current release to a smaller theater and bring in new films more regularly – something that he believes will be better both for business and for movie buffs.
"The customers that love this place will have a better chance of seeing the movies they want to see," he said.
Mike Lyne, of JHR Development, the developer of Brunswick Station, confirmed that he and Norman have spoken, and said a former owner of the Eveningstar has also expressed interest in opening a theater at Brunswick Station.
But Lyne said there is still a lot of work to be done, and said JHR generally doesn't comment "on things like this at this stage so as not to get people's hopes up or down."
Still, Norman has hope that a new theater could be constructed in the next couple of years. He has already started working with an architect to design the theater, a move he admits may be "putting the cart before the horse."
But he's very excited about the new Eveningstar's appearance.
"The look of this theater, both inside and out, is going to be extremely important," he said. "The Art Deco movie house is just a thing of magic. ... You know exactly what it is when you see it."
If the dream of a new Eveningstar isn't enough, Norman has set his sights even higher. He said one day hopes to launch an international film festival, based in the new theater and perhaps also including other local venues like Frontier Cafe.
"This is the perfect town for a film festival," he said. "And it's one more way to get people to town."
No matter how glitzy the new theater, Norman said he plans to hang on to a beloved relic of the current Eveningstar: the front-row couches.
"That was a great idea from the previous owner," he said. "I will always have couches."