Only two hundred yards, a large hill and several decades separate the location of West El Paso’s first theater – the Fiesta Drive-In – and the newest: Alamo Drafthouse El Paso.
On Thursday, members of the media and invited guests were granted access to the nearly-completed structure for an update on what’s sure to be the most talked-about addition to the city’s cinema scene.
From the very first conversion of a classic movie theater in Austin, to the on-going construction in El Paso and other locations, Alamo looks to make sure the guest is served with out interfering with the enjoyment of the films.
The eight screen movie house is going up just across Mesa Street from the Venue at Monticillo, the somewhat new apartments and retail complex completed a couple years back.
With cement trucks, graders and construction workers swarming the worksite, the state-of-the-art facility dominates the lot, nestled in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains.
Robert Saucedo, Programming Director for Alamo Drafthouse El Paso, says the construction phase has gone quicker than expected. “It’s been really smooth, really quick thanks to the crews we have here…we’ve been able to move right on schedule…it’s great.”
Marketing and Brand Manager Dustin McMillian says that the excitement and anticipation of the theater opening has been unique, with interested residents not only bombarding their website and Facebook page with question, but seemingly everywhere else as well.
McMillian says “People are very excited about us opening…we get stopped at the hotel check in, the trailer office out front…everywhere…and they are asking when we’ll open.” While the crew cannot give a specific date, McMillan shares they are shooting for early May – right in time for the Summer Blockbuster season.
As we walked through the projection bays – all interconnected and stretching the length of the upper floor of the theater, Saucedo says the technology inside the theaters is only the start of the differences between Alamo and other theaters.
“Here we have everything from 35mm reel-to-reel projectors, to 4k digital and even old-school VHS-compatible projectors that allow us to play the widest selection of movies, allowing us to cater to the movie fans of any genre and format.”
As we walk through the massive open space, the only other structure on the floor is the server room, where the beating heart of the complex will be located.
Amid scaffolding and bare walls, Oscar Garza – the theater’s Creative Associate – can already see the movies and what Borderland movie buffs are getting at his theater; his excitement rising above the din of the hammers and saws.
“Sharing the movies we love,” Garza states with a wide smile, “that and the great experience – a different experience for movie fans here in El Paso.”
Aside from the Hollywood blockbusters and limited run screenings, Saucedo says the events that Alamo builds around specific genres and films will also elevate the normal, movie-going experience.
“For example, one of the first events we’re going to be hosting is the ‘Big Trouble in Little China‘ Party…it’s a movie everyone loves and knows and quotes, and we take it and make it an interactive, fun event,” Saucedo says.
Saucedo add that fans of the film will be handed small capguns to participate in the shootouts, as well as glowsticks and rings to imitate the villains in the film; all adding to the experience. From screenings of the Japanese anime classic ‘Akira‘ to the 30th Anniversary of ‘Aliens‘ the Drafthouse will cater to the entire spectrum of movie lovers.
As we made our way to the main floor where the auditoriums are housed, McMillian and Saucedo point out the unique features of the Drafthouse. From craft beers and in-theater ordering and delivery of snacks and meals, each theater is designed with the movie viewer in mind.
“We’re hiring over 200 people for our theater, so we can start with a full staff and then some,” McMillian shares, “it’s all to makes sure that they all get the proper, complete training and so our guests have the best experience from day one.”
And the experience is the key for enjoying the films; the smallest of the auditoriums holds 30 people, the largest 140. While those numbers may seem small when compared to the “normal” theaters, both the feel and the experience are premium.
McMillian says, “While most megaplexes hold 400 to 600 people, the idea of serving a full meal in 20 minutes…it’s just not possible….what we’ve done here – keeping our largest theater at 140 seats – enhances our guest’s enjoyment of the movies and the meals.
In addition to the delivery of the food to the seats, movie goers will also enjoy the films thanks to Alamo’s movie viewing rules. The chain strictly enforces the ‘no talking during the movie rule’ as well as the ‘no cell phone use’ rule. Saucedo says they are not above stopping the film until the offenders leave the theater.
“We’re very strict with our rules, and most people know that coming in,” Saucedo says, “if people want to use their phones and talk during the movie, we’re not the theater for them.”
The chain also does not allow unaccompanied children into the movies, nor do they allow babies – except during specific “baby day” screenings.
Overall, Saucedo and his crew are just as excited as the scores of El Pasoans who have made their way to the nearly-completed complex. And opening day cannot come soon enough.
“Summer’s a great time to open…(because) there’s all movies memories that are waiting to be made…and we’re just excited to be part of helping El Pasoans make those memories.”