Landmark Change

New Dobie Manager Holden Payne
New Dobie Manager Holden Payne

photograph by Todd V. Wolfson

On May l5, Holden Payne became the Dobie Theatre's new general manager. The change followed the unexpected announcement from Scott Dinger, then manager, programmer, and owner of the campus arthouse, that he was selling the Dobie to Landmark Theatres, a national arthouse chain that boasts 55 theatres in such cities as Seattle, St. Louis, Cleveland, San Francisco, and elsewhere. Such announcements don't go over too well in Austin, a city whose residents are growing increasingly skeptical of any change at all, especially one involving one of the city's most legendary theatres. And no one knows this more than Holden Payne, who continues to calmly answer the questions, concerns, and criticisms of the movie house's many die-hard fans with the steady promise that the golden days of the Dobie Theatre are neither gone nor forgotten. Payne comes to the Dobie after working for over 10 years at two of Landmark's theatres in Seattle -- the Neptune, a grand old rococo movie house much like our own Paramount, and the Egyptian Theatre. He worked his way up the ladder shoveling popcorn, tearing tickets, and performing all the other mundane tasks of running a theatre, until he was promoted into management. But after 105 straight days of rain in that notoriously wet city last year, Payne leapt at the chance for a managerial position in a sunny city. We talked with Payne briefly about his plans and prospects for the future of the beloved Dobie -- from what it's like to replace an institution to the secrets of that all-important Dobie feature: the concession stand.

Austin Chronicle:What do you like in particular about the Dobie?

Holden Payne: I love the themes to all the auditoriums; they're all fun. That's the kind of thing that gives the Dobie the character and identity that it has. I like the Dobie's reputation and presence and hope to keep it a place for people to see movies that they love. Landmark has a commitment to theatres like the Dobie, places that have a lot of character and personality as opposed to a generic, "box" multiplex. All our theatres across the country are unique theatres.

AC:How do you feel about filling Scott's shoes?

HP: I know there are some big shoes to fill, but Scott and I like each other, and I don't see things changing that much overall. It's certainly a little intimidating and I will admit to a certain amount of trepidation when I took on this job, but I don't foresee any major changes and I think I can do right by the Dobie's moviegoing fans.

AC:Let's talk about Landmark's "calendar house" concept for the one auditorium. I saw The Third Man was one of its program choices, which is great because not many people get a chance to see that film on the big screen.

HP: Yeah, it's a new print and a European cut, a little longer with some different footage. It'll be the first run for that version of the film. We're gonna open up with a Spike & Mike animation festival; we're planning a Truffaut festival for a week; different films every day, Bedrooms and Hallways, from the director of Go Fish; Acid House, [written by Irvine Welsh], who wrote Trainspotting, it's about the late-Eighties, early-Nineties acid house scene in Britain. We're also looking at a film called Defying Gravity, a gay-oriented film specifically about gay yuppies. I mean, the whole notion of the calendar house is to do short runs of films that don't have the capital to promote themselves much; we do the publicity ourselves for them. There'll be handbills and whatnot with the schedule for the upcoming month at the calendar house and commentary on each film.

AC:I know Seattle has an equivalent of the Austin Film Society; have you been able to touch base with the AFS folks much yet?

HP: Yeah, actually I have. AFS is going to sponsor some stuff in the calendar program. In Seattle, we had a place called Wiggly World, similar to AFS, but AFS seems to have a better grasp and mission and more direction than Wiggly World did. I'm real excited about hooking up with them. I especially like AFS' commitment to the local filmmaking community, which is a lot like Wiggly World, who had their own editing facilities.

AC:Your personal tastes run toward dark comedy?

HP: Yeah, we currently have Waiting for Guffman as a midnighter; I keep hearing the rumor that there's about eight more hours of ad-lib stuff on videotape! I really like Election; I think that's one of the more clever and intelligent dark comedies to come along in a while. It's actually pretty rare for a film like that to come down the pike. I like Rushmore; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Freeway, those are all fun films ...

AC:So what do you see long-term for the Dobie? Have you been able to look that far down the road yet?

HP: Well, we've got a new popcorn popper on order.

AC:Wow!

HP: We're changing to real butter ...

AC:Hey, wait a minute, I thought the Dobie used real butter all along.

HP: No, it was Rico's Butter Flavor.

AC:Scandalous. Any other changes in store for the concession stand?

HP: Not really. Scott had cut down on the candy stock in the concession stand, and I think we'll probably not replenish it much.

AC:Well, those are kinda short-term ...

HP: I mean, really, we're looking at the same type of philosophy, taking on movies that the big companies don't want to take the chance on. We're planning on having a party for Hands on a Hard Body in a few weeks when it completes a year's run at the Dobie. We've got an exclusive on The Blair Witch Project for the first two weeks, which I think is going to do real well. That's such an inventive horror movie, made with no money, no special effects, and no explicit gore. We've got some plans in mind, but I'd like to reassure everyone that things aren't going to change radically at the Dobie. I think it's got some real strengths that we can preserve and capitalize on.

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