Sunday Los Angeles Times Calendar - Page 10 - May 1st, 2005
LIFE OF HOLLYWOOD
For rent: the screening room of his dreams
Projecting his passion, Michael Hall is out to create the ultimate
By Mary McNamara, Times Staff Writer
What would it be like, after all, to have your own private screening room? The
sudden velvety silence, the big screen, the few rows of seats, the five deep
plush chairs in the back row. Here is the magical echo of entitlement and
expectation. Without the popcorn and Skittles and cellphone-chattering classes,
surely the film you are about to see will be special somehow, extraordinary, no
matter that many past experiences would almost guarantee the contrary.
The Wilshire Screening Room is right next to a doctor's office in the
generically marble-floored, shiny lobby of a brown-granite modern office
building on Wilshire Boulevard and it is not very well marked.
But open the correct door — the one next to the security office and up a few
steps — and you enter one of the industry rabbit holes, a place of limitless
"Wait, wait," says a voice, and a man appears, fluffing the cushions
of the plush chairs, pushing them fastidiously back to their original
positions. He is small, neatly dressed, with perfectly combed hair and a small,
precise mustache. He offers a jar of candy — Tootsie Rolls and peppermint drops
— while informing you with a smile that no other food or drinks are allowed in
the screening room.
If you are five or 10 minutes early, he is likely to fill the time with a brief
history of the place — the building once belonged to Italian producer Dino De
Laurentiis and this was his personal screening room. It is, the man says
proudly, the best small screening room in town as per Variety, and is available
for rent for all manner of screenings, even those that might require a small
party or reception afterward — for which Audis Husar Fine Art, the next door
gallery, is quite lovely and available.
The man is Michael Hall, 39, a third-generation union projectionist — he
stresses the union — who for the last two years has leased and run the
Wilshire Screening Room.
When he moved to Los Angeles from Orange County five years ago, Hall was simply
looking to find projectionist work that was higher quality and paid better.
Instead, he found a small and quiet kingdom.
When the building changed owners three years ago, he was hired to upgrade the
room. Less than a year later, the building changed hands again, and although he
didn't have a contract, Hall continued to improve the equipment, putting
$50,000 of his own money into the room. In January 2003, he signed the lease
and began his quest to become, as his business card extols, "the best
little room in town."
A screen apart
Normal people see movies in theaters.
The rest — those who need to see movies before they are released or even quite
finished (critics, industry types, festival organizers, members of the press)
often see them in screening rooms, which are scattered across Los Angeles. Some
studios have their own screening rooms — the big ones on their lots, the
smaller ones in sometimes-unexpected buildings in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and West L.A.
Mainstream theaters are used for big media screenings and premieres — the
ArcLight and the Grove are very hot right now — but they are more expensive to
rent. Fine if you want an event, full of assistant editors and the film crew's
family members, but not sensible if you're showing it to a handful of
journalists in hopes they'll want to do profiles of the leads or the director.
For acquisition screenings, small indie premieres, event screenings and
prefestival viewings, publicists and filmmakers turn to the smaller rooms, at
the Aidikoff and the Clarity in Beverly Hills, the Sunset Screening Room in West Hollywood and the Wilshire. And since he
took over the Wilshire, Hall has worked pretty much 24/7 trying to push it to
the top of everyone's list.
He still works as a projectionist around town, including in the private
screening rooms of the rich and famous, but every cent, he says, goes back into
the Wilshire room. Because he wants it to be perfect — "state of the
art," he says repeatedly, with an oddly moving mixture of resolve and wistfulness.
"The standards of film quality in some of the big theaters is just
horrible," he says, adding in a tone of true shock: "The owners just
don't care about quality."
Hall cares about quality and hopes to make other people care too. He envisions running
a half-dozen screening rooms around Los Angeles with Wilshire as a model.
"It will take some time," he says with a small smile, "but I'm
It's time to run the movie and he disappears into the projection room, leaving
in his wake the achingly familiar and seemingly borderless power of hope that
fuels the entertainment industry, as powerful as that of the winsome and
resolute young actress stepping off the bus. The last movie Hall saw, he
thinks, was "Spider-Man 2." He can't really watch the films from the
projection room and with two cellphones and two pagers, he has very little free
time. The main title rolls, and here on the screen is the culmination of many
people's work and hopes, another shot at fame and fortune.
But in the projection room, Michael Hall is living the dream too. No deals, no
paparazzi, no high-profile paycheck. Just Hollywood, pure and simple.