The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has unveiled a new open-air movie theater in the heart of Hollywood that will begin operations June 15 with a screening of Casablanca as part of a summer series called Oscars Outdoors, running Friday and Saturday nights through Aug. 18. "I wanted to start [with screenings] seven days a week," Academy president Tom Sherak said at the May 7 news conference at the new venue, "but they wouldn't let me." City Councilman Eric Garcetti said he doubts the weekend Oscar Outdoors events will have trouble attracting the venue's capacity of 350 viewers, given the success of the city's own outdoor summer screenings elsewhere. "They are mobbed," said Garcetti. "I mean, at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, you can't get in, they sell out." Garcetti said the Academy's outdoor surround-sound system is superior to what the city's screenings can offer.
The new theater is a pleasant green oasis located on the Academy’s property at 1341 Vine St., between De Longpre and Fountain avenues and between Vine Street and Ivar Avenue, just south of the ArcLight Cinemas. It is part of a 7.5-acre site called Academy Hollywood, which also includes the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study -- home to the Academy Film Archive, the Science and Technology Council and the Linwood Dunn Theater. "We've spent in excess of $2 million so far [on the open-air theater]," said Sherak. "We're committed to spend more. What the final cost may be nobody knows right now, really." When Randy Haberkamp, the Academy's managing director of programming, education and preservation, said the series is called Oscars Outdoors, Sherak joked, "But we're open for naming [rights.]" "Yes," said Haberkamp. "It could be, 'Your Name Here!'"
The area originally had been earmarked for the development of an elaborate, $400 million movie museum, but that project was tabled in 2008 as the recession hit. Instead, the Academy announced new plans last year to join forces with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to renovate the old May Co. building on Wilshire Boulevard to house a new movie museum that could open as early as 2016.
Demolition of six existing buildings on the Hollywood site where the new theater now stands began in July. The space now features a 10,941-square-foot lawn, an adjacent 10,500-square-foot plaza, a 40-by-20-foot screen permanently affixed to a pretty red brick wall, and 63 newly planted trees, including 15 palm trees in two rows at the edge of the lawn, with lights strung between them. In addition to hosting the Oscars Outdoors screening series, the venue is expected to serve the Academy and the community as an event space for special screenings, educational programs and other functions.
The Academy will inaugurate the open-air venue May 19 with an invitation-only screening of the 1989 best picture nominee Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.
"We are very excited to expand on our innovative programming and provide the community with a new venue that will deepen our ties to Hollywood," Sherak said. "The events we are planning for the rest of the year are an ideal way to share our love of movies with a wider audience."
The Oscars Outdoors series will devote Friday nights to classics and contemporary favorites aimed at adult audiences and Saturday nights to family-friendly fare. The final Friday night presentation, on Aug. 17, will be an "Audience Choice" selection, determined by fans who cast votes at oscars.org/outdoors. Most features will be preceded by surprise animated or live-action short subjects.
Tickets for each Oscars Outdoors screening are $5 for the public, free for children 10 years and younger and $3 for Academy members and students with ID. Seating is unreserved. Tickets are available at www.oscars.org/outdoors. Gates will open at 6:30 p.m., and screenings begin at sunset. Attendees are encouraged to bring low lawn chairs, blankets and warm clothing. Popular food trucks will be on site during each screening.
The Academy, which under new CEO Dawn Hudson is in the process of raising its year-round profile, also announced events at its theaters in Los Angeles and New York as well as programs at venues in London, the San Francisco Bay area and Washington D.C. The summer-fall highlights include a centennial celebration of Universal Pictures, featuring a slate of the studio’s landmark horror films; "The Science of Superheroes"; and "The Last 70mm Film Festival," which will span six genres over six weeks. An expanded summer and fall programming calendar is available at www.oscars.org/lineup.
"These are not just screenings but events," said Haberkamp. "We’re bringing a diverse range of programs and experiences to audiences as only the Academy can."
"How do you take the present and put a piece of the past into it?" said Sherak, in an ebullient and poetical mood. "It's the closest we could come to building a drive-in." Garcetti noted that though there's plenty of parking nearby, at ArcLight and the new 500-space garage that opens this month on Vine Street, Oscars Outdoors fans don't have to drive there. "People can take the Red Line, walk two blocks, and see a movie," said Garcetti. "There's something about being with the family, being with a date, sitting in the open air," said Sherak. "Just watch a movie and forget about what's going on outside the gates."
The 2012 "Oscars Outdoors" screening schedule:
Friday, June 22: RAISING ARIZONA
Friday, June 29: A STAR IS BORN (1937)
Friday, July 13: TO BE ANNOUNCED
Friday, July 27: DREAMGIRLS
Friday, August 10: YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN
Friday, August 17: Audience Choice (vote on www.oscars.org/outdoors)