Now Playing: The Movies Before the Movies

Now Playing: The Movies Before the Movies

Most of the filmgoers who seek out Yorgos Lanthimos’s awards contender “The Favourite” over the holiday break will see it at a multiplex, with the traditional before-feature presentation: copious trailers, commercials for the chain and perhaps a slick package of advertisements for upcoming releases packaged as “behind the scenes” content.

Audiences at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn will get much more. The preshow for “The Favourite” includes a selection of the director Lanthimos’s short films and commercials, plus several samples of the star Olivia Colman’s offbeat TV sketch comedy work. The theater, which has run preshow reels since its opening in June 2011, has a practical use for these inventive clip collections: food and beverage service is available at patrons’ seats, so background entertainment encourages them to show up early to order their drinks and snacks.

But the staff at Nitehawk sees the preshows as more than simple advertisements or background noise. “When our house lights fade out for showtime, we want people to feel excited for what they’re about to see, not exhausted by the theatergoing experience,” said the theater’s creative manager and associate film programmer, Kris King.

And they’re not the only ones offering up vintage trailers, shorts, newsreels, in-house bumpers, singalongs and other bonuses to engage their audiences. Here’s what some other theaters are programming.

Alamo Drafthouse

Austin, Tex. (and nationwide)

The Drafthouse preshows are perhaps the best known in the country, primarily because of their Internet-friendly “no talking” spots. But the typical Drafthouse preshow is a sprawling, oddball affair, consisting of “anything from vintage movie and TV ephemera, old trailers, public domain oddities, weirdo found footage, music videos, clips from bizarre foreign films, animation, web videos, and increasingly, supercuts and custom editorial content,” according to the chain’s video content lead, Laird Jimenez.

“We bought our first video projector about four months into operation in 1997. From that day forward, preshows were part of the show,” said the Drafthouse’s chief executive Tim League. Jimenez explained how the preshows have changed over the years: “A decade ago they were looser, longer and ‘anything goes.’ More recently, we pick a handful of target titles every month and make custom, themed compilations.” Recent highlights have included surveys of African-American horror for “Get Out”:

A history of Asian-Americans in film for “Crazy Rich Asians”:

And this mash-up for a “Star Wars” preshow, created by Zane Gordon-Bouzard:

“Ideally they serve the same purpose as the video monitors that hang over the lines at a theme park,” Jimenez said. “They entertain, they add a bit of context or humor, they set the mood, and more than anything, they get people pumped to watch the feature they came to see.”

Sun-Ray Cinema

Jacksonville, Fla.

Tim Massett and Shana David-Massett opened Sun-Ray Cinema in late 2011, and Massett knew from previous experience that preshows would be part of the package: “I formed my approach to exhibition during my time working for Tim League at the first Alamo Drafthouse [in Austin] on Colorado Street in 1997,” he said. To help create the Sun-Ray’s distinctive videos, he reached out to Nic Maier, of the online video collective Everything Is Terrible; Maier’s highlights have included a very edited version of the 1990 TV mini-series adaptation of Stephen King’s “It,” which the theater ran ahead of the 2017 big-screen version, and a weirdo wrestling video compilation for the 2014 drama “Foxcatcher.” “On occasion I’ll toss that one back in front of a feature having nothing to do with wrestling,” Massett said.

Sun-Ray has also created memorable “no talking” bumpers, including this one with Stan Lee:

“The time before a feature starts can be an excruciating experience if you are bombarded with ads or if the screen is just dark, but it can also be an opportunity to engage an audience in an unexpected way from the moment they sit down,” Massett said.

The Royal Cinema

Toronto

The Royal is an Ontario institution it opened in 1939 but its preshows are a relatively new feature, added a few years ago when the venue shifted to retrospective and one-off screenings. “There’s no hard and fast rule for the preshow creation,” said the programming director Richelle Charkot, “just as long as it’s fun and/or interesting, and appropriate.”

Charkot’s favorite preshow told a story of its own. “When I programmed the Monkees’ antiwar experimental comedy ‘Head’ a few years ago, my preshow started with early Monkees cutesy material,” she said. “Then as every clip passed I found something where they were ever so slightly more irreverent and weird, and ever so slightly more politically minded, until the very end when the band was entirely different than where it started in the preshow.” A closing clip from “The Simpsons” brought it home, with Marge’s therapist assuring her, “The Monkees weren’t about music, Marge. They were about rebellion, about political and social upheaval!”

Old Town Music Hall

El Segundo, Calif.

Originally established in 1921 as the State Theater, this venue reopened as Old Town Music Hall in 1968. “We don’t even call the preshow a preshow anymore; it’s such an integral part of the Old Town Music Hall experience,” said James Moll, a filmmaker who volunteers for the theater. “Since our first shows back in 1968, we have always started with music on the Mighty Wurlitzer, an audience singalong, and a comedy short, followed by a 15-minute intermission and then our feature presentation.”

The aim of this tradition, Moll said, is simple: “We hope that we can give audiences a small taste of what it must have been like to visit movie houses back in the classic era of cinema, especially back in the silent days when the Mighty Wurlitzer theater pipe organ was the crown jewel of so many movie palaces.”

Student Life Cinema, Florida State University

Tallahassee, Fla.

The influence of theaters like the Drafthouse and Nitehawk can already be seen in the next generation of film programmers and curators. The Student Life Cinema program began at FSU in 2000, with preshow programs for its midnight movies starting up in 2005. That series combines such mainstays as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with more recent cult fare like “The Room,” and the preshow is a compilation of related internet comedy and meme videos. “I love that my preshows encourage people to come out earlier to the theater and add excitement before the film,” said the Midnights programmer Austin Smith. “It’s not always easy to stay awake at midnight, so I always try to hype the audience as much as possible.”

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