Farmington Civic Theater monthly passes to attract moviegoers

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People don’t go to the movies as often as they used to. Scott Freeman has a solution: give them unlimited access to movies they don’t already see.

It’s actually more logical than it sounds.

For starters, many of his clients have an allegiance to a theater and not just an attraction to what might be presented there. Buy City Membership Farmington Civic Theater means supporting a Art Nouveau classic that’s so old it was about two months older than Sam Waterston.

Plus, the cost is only $15.95 a month – or $34.95 with popcorn and drinks – and if you really, really like “Top Gun: Maverick”? Or do you have no air conditioning at home? A membership might already be the best thing since Raisinets.

“If you see two movies a month, where the regular price is $8.50, you’re ahead,” Freeman noted. Even if you prefer the $5.75 matinees, all it takes is three screenings to find yourself in the dark.

A sign posted next to the concessions counter describes the Civic's membership offers, which include unlimited movies for $15.95 per month.

It might be a more striking offering in a theater with 20 screens instead of the Civic’s two. But the Civic manages to schedule four to six first-run movies each month, and it has a history and exceptionally good popcorn on its side.

Popcorn is not unloaded from a truck in giant plastic bags. It drops from a big, noisy popper doing its scented duty in full view of customers, and sometimes employees open the front door to downtown Farmington to lure passers-by with the aroma.

The story begins with the architect C.Howard Cranewhose best known and most important works include Olympia Stadium and the Fox Theater in Detroit.

The Fox opened with 5,174 seats in 1928. The Civic arrived in September 1940 with around 700, each wooden, narrow and unsuitable for modern audiences.

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Freeman arrived much later, in 2010, after the theater was divided into 273 comfortable seats on the ground floor and 132 on the old balcony.

At that time, he was showing second-run movies and losing money. As a resident of Farmington, he had offered unsolicited remedies to the town manager, who finally said, “OK, you run it.”

He already had a job, as technical director of WKBD-TV’s (Channel 50) newscasts which featured Amyre Makupson, but he took another.

“I didn’t know much about movies,” he said, “but I knew how to put on a show.”

“Leave it old fashioned”

Now he also knows the world of cinema.

He learned, for example, that streaming second-run movies stopped working once movie studios started delivering new releases directly to Netflix, or funneling them there after just a week or two. Thus, in September, a theater which opened its doors 82 years ago with a romantic comedy by Rosalind Russell entitled “hired woman” reverted to first run functionality.

That meant learning the term “clean,” which doesn’t refer to a G rating. Rather, it means he can’t show a second movie at a contracted theater with “Top Gun” or, starting Thursday , “Minions: The Rise of Gru”. And he can’t disrupt the schedule to host the Miss Farmington pageant, which graced the main stage every year.

The Civic has been both commercial and public since the longtime owners retired in 1999. The city didn’t want a prime space on Grand River Avenue to fall into disrepair, but they didn’t want a store there. to a dollar, be it.

Freeman, 60, must walk that tightrope while balancing nostalgia and modern necessities.

“My goal,” he says, “is to leave the old school where you can see it, and make it high-tech in the background.”

A massive old projector stands in a small civic theater museum on the way to the balcony, for example, but today’s films arrive on hard drives and are streamed digitally. All 158 bulbs under the Grand River Avenue marquee have been converted to LED.

A massive projector, long out of order, is among the artifacts on display at the Farmington Civic Theater.

However, anything resembling a neon or argon light is exactly that, albeit finicky and a bit expensive to maintain.

Movies may be based on illusion, but Freeman knows what’s real and he can’t be wrong.

Lifelong theater fan

Five or six dozen people have become members since the all-you-can-see program launched on June 1, Freeman said. Another benefit of running a theater that is simultaneously a municipal utility, he expects a slight increase after a promotional flyer appears in the next set of water bills.

In the meantime, he does not hesitate to spread the word.

The first patron in the main theater for Tuesday’s matinee showing “Elvis” was Sandi Guntzviller of Redford Township. “Elvis died 45 years ago,” she said, “a month after my mother.”

Freeman offered his belated condolences, then took the opportunity to promote upcoming attractions.

On July 7, he said, “‘Thor’ will replace ‘Elvis'”.

She corrected him: “You can’t replace Elvis.” But with her loyalty to the king established, she was open to discussing a monthly pass.

“I’ve been coming to this theater forever,” she said.

“How long have we been here,” he said, and if a few more subscribers sign up, the lights will still be shining when “Elvis II” arrives.

Neal Rubin is still receiving royalties for his six-word role in the 2011 political drama “Ides of March.” The last check was for $2.32. Contact him at NARubin@freepress.com, or follow him on Twitter: @nealrubin_fp.

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