The rise in on-demand digital streaming services over the past decade has changed the way people consume entertainment — for better and for worse.
The amount of original and curated content available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and numerous other platforms provides subscribers with a staggering range of selections, all accessible from the comforts of home at the literal push of a button. But the impatience of film distributors to get their products from movie theaters to living rooms has also resulted in new contracts with vastly shorter waiting windows, making it nearly impossible for second-run and repertory cinemas like Asheville Pizza & Brewing Co. to survive.
“It used to be six months or even longer sometimes, so that gave second-runs an opportunity to fill in that gap,” says company President Mike Rangel. “But now with streaming, the movie companies have their own platforms. They don’t need to discount what they’ve got by sending it to a bunch of little independent, second-run theaters.”
Without sufficient second-run titles to rely on from a financial standpoint, and with distribution contracts not allowing single-screen establishments to show a combination of repertory and first-run films, Asheville Pizza & Brewing will follow the path of many fellow second-run theaters across the U.S. and become a first-run business. The inaugural offering in this new chapter will be the latest James Bond film, No Time to Die, which opens Thursday, Oct. 7 — “At 007 p.m.,” Rangel says with a laugh, swearing he just thought of the pun.
And to say farewell to its long-running model, the theater will screen crowd favorites Mad Max: Fury Road — in its Black & Chrome (Thursday, Sept. 23, and Sunday, Sept. 26) and theatrical color editions (Friday and Saturday, Sept. 24- 25). Shaun of the Dead will also be part of the sign-off (Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 30-Oct. 3).
“We wanted to go out with a bang,” Rangel says. “Fury Road is phenomenal and should only be watched on a movie screen. And Shaun of the Dead is my personal pick. It’s October, so a zombie movie is appropriate, and I love [stars] Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.”
Instead of its usual lineup of a daytime children’s film, evening blockbuster and late-night cult/experimental fare, the theater will show one movie at a time for two to three weeks. Programming will lean toward the more popular offerings, with Denis Villeneuve’s star-studded adaptation of Dune (Oct. 21) likely following No Time to Die.
Rangel says the decrease in titles shown will make life easier on his booker, but he’ll miss the ability to program older titles for special occasions. He says the hardest thing for him and his colleagues will be not playing Elf around Christmas or Groundhog Day on the film’s namesake holiday. Rangel will also miss the opportunity to honor stars who has died by running one of their past works. Tributes to Leslie Nielsen (Airplane), Burt Reynolds (Smokey and the Bandit) and Levon Helm from The Band (The Last Waltz) rank among his most memorable nights at the theater.
New rates will also be in the mix. Tickets will go from $5 to $7 matinees and $10 evening shows. To help justify the increase, which is still several dollars lower than what Asheville’s chain theaters charge, the space has undergone multiple improvements.
The digital projector was recently serviced and outfitted with a new bulb, resulting in a crisper image. Rangel has also added more lighting and installed a door that, he says, cuts down roughly 90% of noise from the in-theater bar. By essentially soundproofing the space, he aims to all but eliminate the interruptions and potential irritants that are acceptable in bargain settings but less so when paying double-digit amounts.
“There’s a different level of expectation when you come into a $3 movie,” Rangel says of the theater’s long-running, pre-pandemic rate. “But now we understand we’re in a much, much more competitive arena. We’re up against the amazing luxury seats and the auditorium seating. So, like anything, we’re going to try to make up for it by overwhelming people with great service and being creative.”
As such, the theater’s menu will feature new items, an enhanced wine list and a focus on adult beverages, including alcoholic slushies. There will also be martini specials and a Bond-themed pizza for No Time to Die, and Rangel jokes that the staff may even dress as giant sandworms for Dune — all to provide an appealing atmosphere, especially for nearby residents who currently lack such big-screen options in the vicinity.
“If you live in North Asheville or Weaverville, it’s a pretty good drive to Biltmore Grande or the Carolina [Cinemark],” Rangel says. “We feel like as long as we’re putting out a competitive product, we’ll be set.”
The switch to first-run takes the theater into the latest chapter of its storied existence. In 1997, Rangel and his then-wife, Leigh Oder, purchased the Two Moons Brew-N-View less than a year after the Merrimon Twin theater had rebranded as a brewpub. Following significant renovations, the business reopened Jan. 1, 1998, as Asheville Pizza & Brewing, and has shown second-run and rep titles ever since.
“We kind of felt like that was our role as an independent movie theater,” Rangel says. “So, we tried to be quirky, tried to be cult, tried to be independent — tried everything. For a movie guy, it’s been the most fun, amazing thing to be involved with.”
In addition to the aforementioned tribute screenings, Rangel’s favorite moments from the theater’s rep days include showing one of his favorite films, Better Off Dead, to a sold-out crowd. Another highlight involved local musician Gary Jules performing his celebrated, stripped-down cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” from Donnie Darko before a screening of the film.
“I would like to think that we were one of the best and funnest second-run theaters anywhere. And partly what made us strong is we listened to our staff, and we listened to our guests, and we’re going to continue to do that,” Rangel says. “Now we have the challenge of being the best one-screen, independent first-run.”