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Interview: Tom Brandt Film Buff and Foodie (Part I of II)

Monday, April 23, 2012

I have two friends who are extremely supportive of Tinsel & Tine. Like most of my loyal, yet silent audience, these friends are not the type to write comments; instead they talk up my blog to people they meet, which is a far more valuable contribution.

One such mention, attracted a reader who contacted me to say how much he liked my concept of Film and Food, particularly the two art forms in combination - for example, The Babette's Feast post. Upon further conversation, he revealed to me that his career path has taken him from owning movie theaters, to restaurants. Immediately, I asked if I could do an interview, as I was fascinated to meet someone who combined both of my interests in a lucrative manner.

So here is Part I of my two part interview with Thomas Brandt: 
Film Buff and Foodie:

After my initial conversation with Tom, I envisioned him owning two, maybe three small, independent art house movie theaters, like Jenkintown Hiway, or Bryn Mawr Film Institute, for those familiar with Philly suburb movie houses. Turns out, Tom Brandt is part of a long tradition of theater franchising.

T & T: Tell me a bit about your movie theater origins?

TB: I was born into the theatre business 48 years ago as my family owned and operated movie theatres for 3 generations, since the 1920’s under the name of Brandt Theatres and Trans-Lux Theatres.

The first theatres were actually newsreel theatres in NYC where you could watch the news standing up in a small auditorium with rear screen projection. The chain grew at times to over 100 screens that were mainly located on the east coast with a concentration in New York City and Connecticut.

Tom in front of (Storyteller Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe, NM

TB cont: My family has also been involved with Broadway theatres in Times Square at 42nd street, dating back to the early 1940’s. My grandfather was one of the original founders and board members of the American Theatre Wing which is the organization that is best known for producing the Tony Awards.

T & T: That really is quite a legacy. How did you start in the family business?

TB: I began my career as a theatre usher, box office cashier and concessionaire (I made the best popcorn…hints of a future involved with food) and over time worked in every position possible in the theatre from operations to being involved with the booking of films through the movie studios as well as designing and building modern multiplex theatres.

T & T: Your bio mentions Storyteller Theaters?

Tom in front of Storyteller Starlight Cinema 8 plex  in Los Lunas, NM

TB: Yes. The Trans-Lux movie chain was sold in the mid 1980’s and after changing hands a few times is currently owned by Bowtie cinemas. In the early 1990’s, I helped acquire a small chain of theatres located in the desert southwest. These theatres were eventually renamed Storyteller Theatres and over time expanded into markets in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Wyoming. The total screen count was up to 70 when sold to a private equity firm based out of California. I stayed on for the next 4 years and operated as the CEO of the chain.

T & T: So, you've been an investor and CEO in this movie business, but would you consider yourself a film buff?

TB: I have always loved the art form of cinematic presentation. My favorite place to be as a child was watching a double feature with a cartoon before the show at the now demolished Tran-Lux 85th street theatre. That love of film translated into spending quite a bit of time at film festivals such as Telluride and Sundance where there is a majority of independent and foreign film product which is my true passion.

TB cont: The Theatre business has always been a great investment, but is totally subject to the quality of films being put out by Hollywood. There are good years and there are bad years, like any industry. Final answer: Film Buff!

T & T: Favorite film?

TB: Cinema Paradiso and Life is Beautiful

I asked Brandt what his strategy was for growing StoryTeller Theaters in the face of so much competition from bigger chains like Regal and AMC.

TB: While I am no longer involved with Storyteller Theatres, the answer to that question is simple. Find smaller markets with no competition where you are the only game in town. Exclusivity in a particular market is the key to the business. It is difficult to compete against the “Big Guys”, so my philosophy was to focus on smaller markets in vacation towns.

T &T: One of my reasons for starting Tinsel & Tine is because being in a movie theater is a happy place for me; however, movie prices are now daunting. In your opinion,will there ever be a cap or will we one day pay $20 a pop to see a movie?

TB: I think movie theater prices are high, but not in comparison to other forms of entertainment. The average cost of a movie is about $8 as compared to a $100 concert, sports games and dining out. As the film companies costs increase with inflation, they pass the cost onto the theaters through higher film rental %’s and in turn the theaters are forced to charge more for admission. $20 is a possibility, but not for awhile.

When asked what he'd like to see added to movie concession stands, his answer was Tacos, which ties into part II of our interview.

When asked what has been the most surprising thing he's learned about being in the movie industry?  .... Bacon and egg flavored, being the exception - It’s all about the Popcorn sales!!!!!!!

Click on button to read about Tom's move into the restaurant business, Oaxaca Kitchen, featuring traditional home style Mexican Cuisine.

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About This Blog

is about discovering what I find pleasing in screening & eating - in case you missed it, the name is a play on Tinseltown using the Tines of a Fork.

Feel free to send me info on a film or new restaurant you'd like me to highlight.

Will there ever be a cap on movie prices?

Will we one day pay $20 a pop?

Why don't we pay on a scale?

A crap movie like everything Adam Sandler has ever done should cost about $4.50.
Big action movies like"Lord of the Rings", "Iron Man," "Transformers" are worth $10.
Woody Allen movie or something like "Silver Linings Playbook" $6-$7.
A chick flick or light comedy $5.75 and most Indie Films $5.25.

You could even do it by seasons - all summer block busters from May to August - $10
Sept - November 15th $3.50 - $4
Back to $10 for Thanksgiving and Christmas etc...

Or you can do it by A Actors ($9 - $10), B Actors ($6 - $7) TV actors on the big screen ($3.50 - $4)

Surely I'm not the first person to realize this makes sense. Has it been voted on in the Motion Picture Industry and then vetoed? If so, why?
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