I moved to Los Angeles in September of 2001, fresh from college and brimming with excitement for the new digs I would be sharing with my best friend Marion Kerr, my new city, and the chance to finally fulfill my dreams of becoming a movie star. Somehow, within two weeks of moving here I came across a New Beverly Cinema calendar, and upon seeing it, I announced “I want to work here.” Just looking at that piece of paper solidified it for me. My first double feature was The Goonies and Gremlins, and I remember there were some crazed Corey Feldman fans in the house who would scream every time he appeared on-screen. A theater where people loved Corey Feldman? I was home.
The New Beverly Cinema is the place I had always dreamed of finding. Family owned and operated, small and cozy, not worried about being the biggest or best, not concerned with uniforms or up selling or socking it to you at the concession stand. A place solely for true lovers of film who were coming to share the experience with a like-minded audience. With the invention of VHS and DVD, most films are available to watch at home, but I fully believe that watching a film as it is originally meant to be seen – in a theater, with an audience – cannot be surpassed. And the fact that the New Bev also caters almost exclusively to the most hardcore of film geeks? It was love at first sight. I asked the owner Sherman Torgan for a job that very first day, and would continue to do so every time I came for the next five years.
Marion (who is also my current co-worker at the New Bev!) and I were so overwhelmed by our first visit to the New Beverly that we wrote Sherman a letter telling him how much we loved the place. The next time we visited, we asked if he had received it. Sherman’s eyes glazed over with affection; “Did you girls write this? ” – he pulled it out of his shirt pocket -“Thank you so much.” He let us in for free that day and we felt like movie stars.
We very quickly adopted a routine. We would stop for a cheap pizza on the way to the theater and bribe Sherman with a couple of slices for letting us bring it in. My persistence was relentless, and I constantly hounded Sherman for a job. He was always sweet about it, but would firmly let me know that there simply weren’t any shifts available.
Some memories of the New Bev before I worked there: A first date with a gentleman who made me fifteen minutes late to see The Stunt Man – I told him that missing the beginning of a film was completely unacceptable to me and I never went out with him again. A first date with a gentleman who, upon seeing Orson Welles slap Rita Hayworth across the face in The Lady From Shanghai trailer, asked me if I would hit him like that – I never went out with him again. The first time Sherman let me see the projection booth. I was in complete awe. I didn’t think I could love the theater any more, and then that just increased it tenfold.
Sherman finally caved in after five years of begging in May of 2006, and gave up one of his shifts for me. I was completely over the moon, and would jump around every day when I got to work. After about a month, Sherman asked me “Why didn’t I hire you five years ago?”. Sigh. Why indeed? I was unbelieving of my luck. Getting paid to work at my favorite place in the entire world, and watching movies for free! I began recognizing the clientiel, and was thrilled when I began to be addressed by name, instead of just “that chick who works here”. I felt like i had to prove myself, being the only girl working there – was I a true film geek? Did I earn my position? I’d like to think over the years I have proved my enthusiasm not only for the theater, but also for cinema itself.
In July of 2007, I attended a double feature of Errol Flynn pirate movies. Sherman was there, hanging out on the steps with his son, Michael. As I left, I called “Hey, Sherman! See you tomorrow!” he smiled and waved and called out jocularly, “Absolutely!”. I never saw him again. Sherman’s sudden death was a blow to all of us. To have someone you’re used to seeing every day suddenly disappear is jarring and devastating. I was really thrown for a terrible existential loop after his death, not being able to comprehend how someone so good and so young could be taken away. I didn’t know how to cope, especially since it seemed his death was going to mark the end of the New Beverly as well. Our ex-landlord sold the property on the day that Sherman died to two young upstarts who – no joke – wanted to change the space into a Chipotle and a Supercuts. I was furious. Not only was my favorite place going to be taken away from me, but it was going to fall victim to corporate consumerism – everything it stood against. I couldn’t bear it. But I felt helpless – what could I do to save it? I frantically called the Historical Preservation society to see if we could have it proclaimed a landmark, anything, anything to save it.
And then – a miracle . Michael found the original contract that Sherman had first signed with the ex-landlord. He had the right of first refusal when selling the theater. Quentin Tarantino, a man who I consider one of my personal heroes, stepped in and bought the building. Not only did he buy the building, but he renovated us completely . He promised publicly that as long as he was alive the New Beverly would be too. He saved us. And why? Because Quentin sees in the New Beverly everything I see and he couldn’t bear to see it disappear either. I feel forever indebted to him, and think he’s probably the coolest landlord I will ever have. With a bit of an employee change, and help from our friends, the New Bev reopened, with Michael as our owner.
It was right after this chaotic time that we played a double feature of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Edgar Wright called us and asked if he could come to the theater and introduce the films. He asked us! We of course said yes, and the show was a sell out smash. I was sitting on the side of the stage, giddy, watching Edgar talk and feeling the excitement from the crowd – it was completely palpable. And that’s when the idea came to me. Why not ask Edgar to program some of the movies that he loves? Have him talk about the films that inspire him, films that make him feel the way that the audience feel about his films? So I brought it up to him and he immediately gave me a hearty yes. The New Beverly guest programming series was born.
I don’t know how well you know Edgar – I’ve gotten to know him pretty well over the last three years – but he is a genius. Yes, he’s a great filmmaker, but he’s also smart, eloquent, funny, compassionate, incredible at organization, at self promotion, at being accessible to his fans and a complete walking encyclopedia of cinema. The first Wright Stuff festival took place in December of 2007 and it totally and completely blew everyone’s mind. The films! The guests! The Q&A’s! It was like nothing I had ever seen. I was so happy to see the New Beverly really and truly back on its feet, swarming with happy patrons greedily eating up all the cinema they could. And to look at all of it and know that I had put it together – along with infinite help from all of the New Bev staff and Edgar of course – was beyond my comprehension. I was so very proud – and I knew Sherman would be too.
Edgar really got the ball rolling as well. After his series, more guest programmers followed fast and furious – Eli Roth, Joe Dante, Diablo Cody, Seth Green, Patton Oswalt, Rian Johnson, Peter Bogdanovich, Stuart Gordon…. For me, an absolute dream list of filmmakers – and to watch them geek out over films just like I do – revelatory. Not to mention of course, the countless guests who have come to introduce films out of the goodness of their hearts over the years. To help facilitate an ongoing series that, in my mind, has changed the New Beverly from a great repertory house into the foremost revival theater in the world, well, it leaves me speechless.
And now, in January 2011, we’ve come full circle. Edgar Wright has returned to the New Beverly to program the Wright Stuff II. And the same excitement is there! Every screening that I introduce Edgar to the crowd and stand at the edge of the theater watching him talk about the films, I just smile. I love to watch him share his enthusiasm about cinema with the crowd, and I love watching the audience return it. An audience just happy to be watching a movie with a group of people who love film as much as they do. And that makes me so ecstatic. Because that’s what the New Beverly Cinema is about, at its core. Film lovers.
I hope, of course, that the New Beverly will be around for a very very long time. I hope we continue to have guest programmers come and share their favorite films. I hope I will always be involved with the theater in some way. I am so incredibly lucky not only to have a job that I absolutely adore, but one that gives happiness to so many people. To be even a small part of that is astounding. And even if I never make it as a movie star, well, being a star at the New Beverly Cinema ain’t a bad back up plan.