Sitting behind a desk in his office, Terrace Theater owner Paul Brown grins, "I think you'll like this." Hearing a sentence like that, a movie nerd's hyperactive mind tends to wander. Is it a Return of the Jedi poster? A Crimes and Misdemeanors script autographed by Woody Allen? Alas, what Brown had was neither of these things but equally as cool to someone who adores the passive/active act of watching a flickering screen with complete strangers. From the crowded, cluttered desk, Brown unveils a shoebox filled with memories in the form of photos, paperwork, and newspaper clippings related to the history of the Terrace. Needless to say, it was enough to give a dork happy flashbacks to an earlier time.
Picture this — it was September, 1997. We were coming off the high of seeing the bat-nipples of Batman and Robin and we were three and a half months away from seeing Jack Dawson draw Kate Winslet like one of his French girls in Titanic. In other Lowcountry megaplexes, Kevin Kline's closeted character was dancing to "I Will Survive" in Frank Oz's In and Out, while Steven Seagal and The Band's Levon Helm were busy fighting a Fire Down Below. Meanwhile, tucked away in a newly renovated Terrace Plaza, a theater was quietly showing films making their own waves on the indie/art/foreign circuit. Films like Love Serenade, an Australian comedy about odd-couple sisters and their wacky misadventures as roommates, and Kiss Me Guido, the indie comedy about a gay-straight odd couple and their wacky misadventures as roommates, were playing at the freshly opened Terrace Theater. It was a gutsy move for then-owner Marcie Marzluff to open up a first-run indie theater back then. Almost a mile away was the South Windemere, once a first-run theater then a second-run then first run with a focus on major studio-backed indie films like Victor Nunez's feel-good familial dysfunction drama Ulee's Gold and David Cronenberg's feel-good psychodrama Crash. Marzluff's other theater, The Roxy, was the downtown go-to for films like Muriel's Wedding and that movie where Johnny Depp does a lot of blow ... Blow, I think.
- The then newly opened Terrace Theater was gutsy with first-run indie flicks like Love Serenade (below) and Kiss Me Guido (above)
When not showing films, the Terrace would play host to performances by the Charleston Guerilla Theatre Company and occasional live shows by musical acts like Telegram, The Hayloft Saints, and a gang of others. By 2007, the South Windermere had shut its doors and The Roxy had become an Earthling Day Spa. Marzluff soon sold the Terrace to Michael Furlinger. Over the next three years, Furlinger, a New York native who formerly managed the Cineplex Odeon theater chain in Manhattan and Brooklyn, brought an animated, hands-on enthusiasm to the theater. That enthusiasm was infectious. It was rare that Furlinger wasn't in the lobby chatting with customers about the films showing, sharing that exuberance. After three years, Furlinger concluded his tenure by handing off the reins to Brown, an independent film and TV producer and exhibitor looking to relocate from his cold confines in Canada. Explaining what attracted him to the theater, Brown said, "I was looking for a theater that successfully played films like my own, though I could rarely get my own films into any wide releases."
Brown's love for film is pretty much etched in his DNA. His great grandfather owned the first movie theater in Toronto, the Mary Pickford Theater (named after the Canadian-American film actress and producer). His grandmother used to play the piano alongside the silent movies. "Gramma would play us themes as kids and we would love it. I was hooked from then on," says Brown.
While in college, he would watch everything he didn't see in film class thanks in large part to his father's co-ownership of a video store. Since those movie-fueled school days, he has produced over a dozen films, had six films in the Toronto film festival, three in Sundance, and two at Cannes. All these factors were ample evidence that Brown would match the enthusiasm and passion that Furlinger and Marzluff had previously brought to the Terrace.
- "Love Seranade"
As he settled in, Brown saw some changes he wanted to make that would help the Terrace grow — not bigger, but smarter. "I wanted to add more choice, more screens, more showtimes, earlier showtimes, and raise the bar with all that is audio and visual," says Brown. "The best picture and sound with the most comfortable experience. Art house/independent should not mean hard seats and dusty theaters."
Brown is highly proactive in the films he brings to the Terrace. "I follow the festivals and the trades. I am a big supporter of directors and follow which film is coming next. I traveled to dozens of festivals around the world and got to experience many different types of theaters," says Brown. "Even last year, my wife, Robin, and I went to the movies in Iceland — always gathering up ideas for the Terrace. Good stories are not relegated to only an independent or a studio."
Brown continues to invest in a better experience for not only the fickle cineastes but for the community overall. The Terrace, now a theater housing five screens and a successful annual film festival, the Terrace Charleston Film Festival, has reached its goals. But Brown is most proud of the community and charity events, like last year's One80 Place fundraiser. "That is what I like the best. It is always my goal that I have a device through which I can raise a lot of awareness, money, and charity. The festival we run every year allows for this also," he says.
Twenty years later, the Terrace Theater's consistent business has warranted an extra parking lot in the Terrace Plaza. As of this writing, Pennywise is scaring kids crapless on one screen while Reese Witherspoon does the rom-com juggle on another. To celebrate the theater's 20th anniversary, Brown will have discount festivities on Tues. Sept. 26, rolling back prices to 1997 rates.
Along with the monthly screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show, the annual Family Film Series, and a host of other events, this will be one of many more memories for the shoebox.