The picture of Martha’s Vineyard’s cinematic near future painted by Richard Paradise, the driving force behind the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society, is appealing.
On almost any given night, in season or out, Islanders could nip down to the Tisbury Marketplace for an intelligent film. A foreign language one, perhaps, or a documentary, or something art-housey, or maybe a classic.
And they could watch from comfortable stadium seating, with a crystal-clear picture that doesn’t unpredictably freeze up or go out of focus, and in surround sound. They might meet friends in a salubrious foyer before or after, and perhaps nibble on some snacks formulated for adult palates. They might get to discuss the work with its maker, standing on stage before the big screen.
Maybe, Mr. Paradise dares to hope, this scenario could be reality in a little over a year.
For some months, it turns out, he has been planning, in conjunction with the architect and developer of the marketplace, Reid (Sam) Dunn to make a permanent home for the film society, with a plush, 200-seat cinema, or as he likes to call it, a film screening center.
It sounds, well, sophisticated; quite unlike any previous Island movie experience.
It’s not as though Islanders have not before had the chance to see movies other than standard box office fare. That has been possible since 1999, when Mr. Paradise and some other film buffs began showing classics at the Grange Hall.
But to do it, they had to be prepared to sit on folding chairs and tolerate substantially less than state-of-the art presentation. And they had to be content, for all but a couple of weeks each year, with one or maybe two showings per week.
Come the end of next summer, though, it could be two showings a night, five or more nights each week.
The only obstacle is finding several hundred thousand dollars to make it reality.
Still, Mr. Paradise is optimistic, and very eager to end his life as something of a gypsy cinephile.
“As things stand now,” he said yesterday, “I have to set up the equipment every time I go to a different venue.
“And that hasn’t allowed us the type of equipment we would want, that allows crystal clear high definition image and to get the best possible sound.”
Indeed, only in the past year or so has his technology advanced from standard DVD to Blue Ray. And his sound system, even now is “basically a small amplifier and two speakers.”
Surround sound it ain’t.
“The audience over the years has been very tolerant,” he said.
But now he envisions so much more.
The plan is for Mr. Dunn and his business partners to build a new building at the Tisbury Marketplace, on the last vacant lot in the existing development in the corner next to Rocco’s Pizza. The plan has 140 parking spaces, and by the time the cinema opens — from 7 until 11 p.m. — most other businesses in the development will be closed for the day. Those that are serve food, and might be expected to gain patronage.
The building will be purpose-designed as a movie theatre, with the drawings done by Mr. Dunn himself, although they will be fine-tuned by an expert consultant in the design of movie houses.
Mr. Dunn would own the building, but would not operate the theater. The Film Society would take a long-term lease and pay rent and also be responsible for the fit out.
“The projector, sound system, the servers, screen seating will be up to us,” said Mr. Paradise. We plan to do stadium seating, which is a configuration people overwhelmingly prefer these days. You get the optimum sight lines that way.
“Then there’s lighting, carpeting, screen. It’s a long laundry list of items you have to buy to create a film screening center.
“I’ve done some initial quotations from companies that do turnkey cinema operations, and the cost varies widely depending on what type of equipment you buy, what projector, what speakers and so on.
“But compared with what it would cost if I had to buy the land, design the building, do all the permitting — you’re talking millions,” he said, adding: “I am totally grateful to Sam. We have worked together before. I’ve done special events at his [Saltwater] restaurant, he’s come to see movies at Katharine Cornell and the film festival. It could be a great private/nonprofit collaboration.”
But first, Mr. Paradise is looking at a year-long fund-raising effort. “First and foremost we will go to our existing membership and donors,” he said. “We have just over 500 memberships, some of them being couples.”
After that, he hopes for some help from Island philanthropists.
“We will have a pledge drive. There will be naming opportunities. And we will seek corporate sponsors just like they are involved with the film festival. I think we will do some special events too, with a direct focus on raising money,” he said.
That will be the big hurdle. After that, Mr. Paradise believes, meeting the ongoing costs of operation should not be hard.
“We now have about 12,000 admissions every year. With an operating theatre five to seven days a week, that should triple,” he said.
Likewise he expects society membership, which costs $30 for standard membership, $50 for dual membership and $20 for seniors, to expand greatly.
And that is important. Membership secures a 30 per cent discount on ticket prices, but it adds more than that to the society’s bottom line, because the film distributors take 35 to 45 per cent of the box office receipts, but get no cut from membership dues.
“One of my advisors is George Cooper, a seasonal resident of Chilmark, who also is treasurer of the Key West Film Society,” Mr. Paradise said. “Eight years ago, they did the exact same type of project and went from being a film society renting space and screening movies once a week to having their own cinema, the Tropic Cinema. They run it as a nonprofit. Their membership went from about 800 to 3,000.”
One thing he particularly looks forward to is bringing back classic movies.
“I haven’t been able to do that for the past four or five years. But that’s how this all started at the Grange Hall in 1999. We did that for eight summers, but the rent got too high.
“But with our own place I can do that one night a week.”
One thing he will not be doing is going into competition with the other Island theaters, the ones who show more standard fare.
“We’re going to stay with our limited art films and documentaries, foreign language films, classics,” Mr. Paradise said.
He said he also would continue to collaborate with other Island nonprofits for special events.
“We’re not about trying to maximize profit. It’s always been about the community. This will provide a better space, a better product.”
This story has been changed from the original to reflect that the plan has yet to come before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.