June 12--We've all heard people say that the previews are the best part of going to the movies.
But what about the stuff before the previews? At most theaters, patrons are a captive audience for advertisements for nearby businesses, movie trivia questions and photos of snacks meant to lure them to the concession stand.
That's not the case at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.
While waiters take orders, audience members can feast on a hodgepodge of clips -- both foreign and domestic -- from music videos, TV shows, commercials and animation, all related in some skewed way to the upcoming feature.
The opening sequence of the early '90s puppet sitcom "Dinosaurs," for instance, was in the pre-show package for the re-release of "Jurassic Park," and the clips screened before "Star Trek Into Darkness" included parodies from "Saturday Night Live" and "The Wonder Years" and William Shatner's TV commercial for Commodore VIC-20 home computer.
"From the early days of Alamo we created clip shows to run before the movie started," said Tommy Swenson, who put together the company's pre-show packages out of the Austin corporate office until last month.
The job now belongs to his former assistant, Laird Jimenez.
"We never wanted ads," Swenson said. "We wanted fun stuff to watch to enrich the experience.
"My background is in video stores, so it's intuitive for me. I'm able to put on my recall mode and remember stuff I've seen 10 years ago. It's all there in the dark, weird halls of my brain."
For the pre-show package for "Man of Steel," opening Friday, Swenson dug through old Superman cartoons, "Super Friends" episodes and even found "Super Pup," a show from the 1950s that was never picked up for television.
Jimenez pieced together a music video to "I Am Superman" by the Clique that shows different international versions of the last son of Krypton in action.
When it comes to finding clips, there's some Googling and asking around involved, Jimenez said, but it isn't a free-for-all.
"We try to be careful and stick to the obscure and things in the public domain as much as we can," he said. "It gets sticky. It's not something we're charging for. Our mission is fun and entertainment. The issue will probably come up more as locations continue to open. If it ever comes up that we have to change how we do things, we'll gladly comply."
Jimenez, who worked for 13 years in video stores in Seattle, also relies on his institutional knowledge to think of clips to go with various movies.
Older material is put through an "ingestion station," where a VCR and DVD player are hooked up to a computer that translates the analog format into a digital one that he can use.
"We try to stay at least three weeks ahead of new releases," Jimenez said. "For something like 'Man of Steel' and 'Star Trek,' I spent two full workdays cutting things together. For other stuff, it might just take three or four hours. It really varies by project and on how far I want to go down that rabbit hole."
Several hours of content are edited down to a 30-minute package. The biggest challenge, Swenson said, is setting the right tone.
"The one that I liked the most was for 'The Master,'" he said. "I got a bunch of old L. Ron Hubbard scientology stuff, plus all this other crackpot New Age self-help cult stuff. My idea was to sort of indoctrinate people in this collage of New Age cults."
Jimenez, a self-proclaimed "Star Wars" nerd, said that creating a package for "Return of the Jedi" felt personal.
"I used a bunch of clips of people talking about 'Star Wars,'" he said. "I felt like I could express how I feel about it through them."
"What I go for is immersing people into the world of the movie," Swenson said. "It's part of the experience to build the anticipation and draw (the audience) into the magic of it."
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