Around Town

Arlington Drafthouse to Add Art-House Films

Arlington Cinema and DrafthouseThe Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse (2903 Columbia Pike) will shift to an art-house movie model and away from showing mainstream films several months after their initial release.

The change will be formally announced in an email to customers this afternoon, Drafthouse owner Greg Godbout said.

The announcement comes three weeks after the Drafthouse began surveying customers on proposed changes to the theater’s business model, floating the idea of showing first-run movies during the summer, at a time when live comedy audiences — the Drafthouse’s bread and butter — are down.

Otherwise, when comedy acts and special events are not booked, the Drafthouse has been showing “sub-run” movies, which are movies that have been playing at the multiplexes for several months and which are, typically, close to being released to home viewers via Video on Demand.

Earlier VOD release dates have been cutting into the audience for sub-run movies, Godbout said, so he was thinking of showing blockbuster movies for a week at a time over the summer — a model many other single-screen theaters adopt (studio rules prohibit showing multiple first-run films on the same screen).

The feedback from customers, however, pointed him to indie and art-house style films rather than the typical big-budget mainstream popcorn flick.

Starting with certain movies in January, until the change is complete in May, the Drafthouse will begin showing sub-run art-house films in winter, spring and fall, while the Drafthouse continues to focus on hosting big-name national comedy acts on weekends. Then, in the summer, the Drafthouse will switch to a three week cycle of two weeks of first-run art-house and indie films and one week of older art-house films or film festivals.

The theater will continue to offer family-friendly movies and entertainment, particularly during matinee times, but the $2 discount movies on Monday and Tuesday nights will either go away completely or the price will be raised, said Godbout.

Another change in the works: the replacement of the Drafthouse’s aging seats with new office chairs.

At the Drafthouse’s new D.C. location, meanwhile, more changes: local and national standup comedy acts will continue to perform, but there will be a new focus on hosting Esports competitions — live videogame tournaments, which are gaining in popularity.

The full letter from Godbout, after the jump.

Dear Drafthouse Family,

I am following up based on the overwhelmingly positive response to our survey about a new directions for Movies at the Arlington Drafthouse. Your enthusiasm and responses were incredibly helpful and have significantly influenced the direction of our community business. Thank you so much for being the best customer base ever. In this letter I will first explain the new direction and then detail some of the findings from the Survey.

Art-House Model
As my last letter detailed, the sub-run top box office model has been in decline and a change is necessary. A common theme in your responses was a desire for the Drafthouse to remain eclectic and unique. A first run summer season with top box office movies, would have not been unique enough. Our new theme of booking will be art-house/independent films. We will continue with the plan to do first release movies during the summer and sub-run movies in the Fall, Winter, and Spring – under the new art-house genre.

Flexible Booking
The studios that book art-house /independent films are more flexible in their terms, requiring only a week play. This allows us to do a couple weeks of a different first release movie each week and blend in a comedy weekend here and there during the summer.

Art-House Films

  • Summer Season – We will bring in newly released first run art-house films for two out of three weeks. On the third week we will bring in older art-house films or film festivals that would allow us to do comedy and family films periodically throughout the summer.
  • Fall, Winter, Spring Season – We will book sub-run art-house films that allow us to do a diversity of entertainment including comedy and family films each week. In winter we will continue to focus on Oscar watch films blended with art-house films.

Family Films

  • Summer Season – we will rotate through weeks that allow for us to do family friendly movies on some weekend.
  • Fall, Winter, Spring Season – We will continue to bring in family friendly top box office sub-run films as matinees.

Live Comedy

  • Summer Season – Top national comics will be available every third weekend, in order to keep programming available for comedy fans in Arlington.
  • Fall, Winter, Spring Season – Every weekend will feature top national comics for 4-5 shows.

Discount Mondays and Tuesdays

  • Summer Season – We will not be able to offer discount Mondays and Tuesdays as the terms of our deals with the studios would prevent it.
  • Fall, Winter, Spring Season – We might be able to offer a discount, but not as deep as $2. We will learn more as we get closer to the Fall of 2017.

Movie Pricing

  • Summer Season – I expect our movie pricing to be about $8.50 for primetime and $7 for matinee/discount. We will know more as we get closer to the Summer launch.
  • Fall, Winter, Spring Season – I expect our movie pricing to about $8.50 for primetime and $7 for matinee/discount. We will know more as we get closer to the Summer launch.

DC Location

  • Comedy – We will continue to book live comedy year-round at this location with 4-5 national comic shows each week and 2-3 local comic shows each week.
  • Esports – Starting in January 2017, the DC location will dedicate Saturday during the day, all of Sunday, and week nights to building an Esports line of business. We will start with 16 tournaments per year and expect to grow to offer 50 tournaments per year as we work with promoters in the Esports industry.

Changes to movie programming in Arlington will begin in January 2017 leading up to an official switch to art-house programming in May of 2017. In January we will start booking more independent films to begin the transition. In May we will begin the first release art-house films for the Summer. In May our contracts with studios will change, which will allow us access to more films earlier – but less control of the pricing. Discount $2 Mondays and Tuesday will end starting in May of 2017. The new discount price will be around $7.

We have begun the process to bring in new seats. Over 120 have been replaced. More to come throughout the winter.

The Results of the Survey
The survey was very helpful to inform this decision. We so appreciate your time and dedication to this…

  • Over 2,100 people responded. With over 60% providing comments
  • The audience base was split. Mainly because 50% of the group, looks to us primarily for live comedy entertainment and the other 50% look to us primarily for movie entertainment. This underscores the importance of remaining eclectic with our entertainment, making sure we have a variety.
  • The vast majority of the comments included well wishes and a commitment to support us no matter what path we took. Thank you all so much!
  • A number of responses were concerned about losing the discount films on Monday and Tuesday. We unfortunately, cannot improve our movie offering to get more people out – and keep with the highly discounted evenings.
  • 60% of the responses said they would see a first release film at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse over the same film playing in a local nearby theater. That response was much higher when the film genre preference was art-house/independent films.
  • 46% of the responses said they would like to see arthouse/independent films at the Drafthouse. This is high, considering how specialized these films are with their target audience.
  • 69% of the responses said they would like to see comedy films at the Drafthouse. When booking films we will take this in to consideration and lean towards comedy films.
  • 60% of the responses said they would like to see action and adventure films at the Drafthouse.
  • Horror was the lowest genre at only 9% of the responses being interested in seeing those films at the Drafthouse.

Thank you again for your time and dedication to this process.By switching to a more exclusive and unique programming of art-house films, we can keep the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse relevant in the DC area movie scene. Many details have to be worked out, and we thank you for your support while we transition to the new model.

In order to better understand the art-house/independent movie industry, we will be joining an association of similar single-screen art-house theaters and looking to bring on a curator to select the films. We are so excited for the opportunity to serve you.


Greg Godbout