I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.
Preston Barta // Features Editor
Forget ‘dinner and a movie.’ Rolling Roadshow promises a movie and an experience
OUTSIDE AUSTIN — Before the Alamo Drafthouse came onto the scene, there were precious few ways to further the experience of watching a movie on the big screen. Making the screen bigger or adding a dimension and a goofy pair of glasses may have seemed meaningful, but now the Austin-based theater company is shaking things up for the better.
Why watch JAWS at home or at retro screenings in a regular theater when you can watch it on the water?
These are the kind of experiences on offer from the Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow, a signature series showcasing outdoor events beyond the cinematic walls of the theater and offering unique ways to enhance the audience’s viewing experience.
Now imagine watching a horror movie set in the woods while in the woods. Add the pitch-black darkness, some coyote howls and bending branches, and you might think your funeral is soon to follow.
I joined about 200 people Monday night at this “undisclosed location in the wilderness” outside Austin to watch the upcoming horror film IT COMES AT NIGHT, starring Joel Edgerton and directed by Trey Edward Shults (KRISHA). The experiential screening was put on through the partnership between Rolling Roadshow and A24, the studio behind titles such as the Oscar-winning MOONLIGHT and ROOM.
“We’ve been doing a lot of live screenings and promo screenings in theaters, but we thought the mood and atmosphere of this film combined with the creepiness of being outside mixed well together,” Alamo Drafthouse VP of Special Events Henri Mazza told me after the screening. “It started with the idea of what would be the most terrifying way to watch this movie [about a family trying to survive in the woods during a global epidemic].”
Attendees met at the newly opened Alamo Drafthouse Mueller to enjoy free drinks and finger foods before we were instructed by guides wearing gas masks to load into school buses. They handed us water bottles and dust masks before departing to the mysterious location.
From there, we drove about 20 minutes out of town, shortly arriving at a dirt road straight from hell. As the buses drove further down the dark, narrow road, participants began to notice the weirdos living in trailers and RVs that give Austin its famous slogan. Some were shirtless, smoking cigarettes and giving off a vibe that we would not survive the night. Branches brushed alongside the bus windows as we descended down a hill with massive dropoffs that didn’t let up on the terror.
Once we arrived to the event site, the guides escorted us to the screening area that was only illuminated by lanterns and a bonfire made to appear as if it were burning an infected body. We were told not to wander off, speak with any drifters or pet any nature-raised animals. Suddenly, a big red door appeared — one of the scariest elements taken from the film’s story.
“When we do ‘JAWS on the Water,’ we have fireworks go off when the shark explodes. But we didn’t want to do any interaction during this movie, because it’s a such a quiet, haunting film,” Mazza said. “We did want to include the red door, however, because it’s featured so iconically during the film’s trailer and can be seen on the official poster. So bringing everybody through that definitely set the eerie mood.”
After we proceeded through the red door, we quickly found our seats in front of the giant inflatable projector screen, trying to avoid the outside rows in case we were snatched away by the unknown. Once the movie started, it didn’t take long for viewers to realize they were having one of the best nights of their lives.
For all information on future screenings by Rolling Roadshow, visit drafthouse.com. And you don’t even have to live in Austin to attend one of these exclusive events, as Mazza teased big plans for the Dallas-Fort Worth area in July. So be on the lookout for that and the release of IT COMES AT NIGHT on June 9.
Featured image: Alamo Drafthouse livened up the tame old “dinner and a movie” with Rolling Roadshow, a series of movie events that take place outside of the cinema. Specially selected setting are enhance by a few theatrics — like fireworks going off in the scene where the shark explodes in ‘JAWS’ — so that your movie screening is an experience. Photo by Heather Kennedy (hlkfotos.com).