The Greenville News
Pair plans downtown indie-film theater.
Jan. 8, 2014
By Lyn Riddle, Staff Writer
Two Upstate residents hope to open a 300-seat movie theater in downtown Greenville by 2015.
The theater, The Film House, would specialize in independent films and classic movies, said Daryn Zongrone, who studied psychology and film at the University of South Carolina Upstate and has worked as the manager of O-Cha tea bar.
Zongrone announced the project today along with a fundraising campaign through SCcrowdfund.com. It is the first project for SCcrowdfund, said Frank Knapp, president and chief executive officer of South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.
The campaign will run until March 7.
Zongrone said she hopes to raise $30,000 through the online funding site and then will seek investors and large donors to get the $1 million needed to open. She is looking at a site on McBee Avenue. She envisions three screens with permanent seating and a bar area to serve beer, wine and appetizers.
Zongrone and Adam Renkovish, the film series director, have been staging movies weekly since Nov. 23 at Coffee Underground. The first shown was Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush.” They’ve also shown family-friendly fare such as “Hugo.” About 20 people have attended, she said.
One of the best-attended movies was “The Graduate,” which attracted a number of older people who had never seen the 1967 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, said Renkovish.
Renkovish holds talk-back sessions after the movie, and some local professors have agreed to be involved as well, Zongrone said.
“We want this to be educational as well as entertaining,” said Renkovish. “We want to encourage people to talk about how they feel about the film.”
Zongrone said she has relied on advice from the owners of similar ventures in Asheville, Columbia and Winston-Salem.
There have been previous attempts to open an indie theater downtown, but they never quite caught on.
Knapp said he believes difference in The Film House is the founders are treating it like a business.
Zongrone thinks her project, with a much larger concept than has been attempted before, will be different.
“We believe go big or go home,” she said.
To contribute: http://crowd-scsbc.missioncrowdfund.com/en/greenvillefilmhouse
Many hope downtown theater coming soon
Jan 17, 2014
By Lyn Riddle
Georgetta Ivester was 7 the first time she got on a bus a block or so from her Cleveland Forest home to go to the Saturday matinee at the Fox Theater on Main Street.
Ivester, who is 71, doesn’t remember what she saw on that long-ago day, but she does remember what it cost. Six Coca-Cola bottle caps.
“Everybody drank Coke back then — or sweet tea,” she said.
And everybody had something to choose from when it came to movies. At one time, Greenville had six movie theaters on Main Street, four of them clustered together on the blocks between Coffee and East North streets.
By the late 1970s, all the theaters had closed, victims of downtown’s decline and the construction of retail centers in the rapidly growing eastside area of Greenville County.
Now, if Daryn Zongrone has her way, downtown will once again have a movie theater.
It will be what’s called an art house, a place that is part movie theater, part gathering spot, part film education. Independent films and classic movies that might not normally make it to Greenville will be shown.
Asheville has The Fine Arts Theatre, Columbia the Nickelodeon, Charleston the Terrace.
It’s one of the missing pieces in a downtown booming with pedestrians, women’s clothing stores, bars and restaurants.
“The cinema is just one of the things you’d expect to be in a downtown,” said Greenville Mayor Knox White.
There have been many starts and stops by entrepreneurs looking to open a movie theater since White started talking about the need in the late 1990s. And for as many reasons, they didn’t open or were short-lived.
Bill West, the president of the Upstate Film Society, said Greenville is ready.
“We’d love to see it happen,” he said.
The pastJudy Bainbridge, a retired Furman University English professor who writes a column for The Greenville News about Greenville history, said the first movie shown in Greenville was at the courthouse on Main Street. It was 1904 and the movie was “The Great Train Robbery,” produced by Thomas Edison and considered the first movie that told a story. It’s a 12-minute Western.
The first actual theater, Bainbridge said, was the Unique, located at the corner of Coffee and Main where Ristorante Bergamo is now. The Unique would soon enough be renamed the Bijou.
The succeeding decades brought the Casino, the Rivoli, the Liberty, the Carolina, the Paris.
“Most of these were built for both stage and screen; they had slanted floors to provide better sight lines, and they specialized in glamor,” Bainbridge wrote in a 2006 column for The News.
White said the Liberty specialized in bringing in performers, including Peg Leg Bates, the dancer.
Ivester said by the time she got to Greenville High, the Carolina was the place every girl hoped her date would take her. She would dress up in her poodle skirt, bobby socks, penny loafers and a light blue cashmere sweater that tied at the neck with strings that held a furry ball at each end.
“It was the most glamorous thing I ever owned,” she said.
She said her boyfriend would pick her up early enough for them to walk through the elegant lobby of the Ottaray Hotel, next door to the theater and the current location of the Hyatt. They would get their pennies shined, she said.
“The Carolina was the glamor theater,” Ivester posted on The Greenville News Facebook page.
“Great velvet draperies and gold silk cords, spacious aisles, and, in my view, beautiful carpets. Old Hollywood stars and the freshest ingénues graced the walls in larger-than-life posters. Subtle, mysterious lighting bounced from the elegant wall sconces and brightened from the chandeliers when the credits rolled.”
She said in a telephone interview that she remembers being seated by a flashlight-holding usher after entering from the back of the theater.
Bainbridge said the Carolina had 1,400 seats, ventilation, tinted lights and a $20,000 Wurlitzer organ.
Fire closed the Bijou in 1947, she said. Two years later, the Rivoli closed and became the Fox. The 1950s saw the closing of the Majestic and Casino and the Carolina in the 1960s, Bainbridge said.
Greenville News reader Jennie Beam-Batte said when she was a teenager, she and her friend would tell their parents they were going to the Fox or Carolina and then sneak into the Paris for the adult movies.
“So funny now as these same films are on regular TV,” she said in a Facebook post.
In 1978, the last Main Street theater standing, the Fox, closed.
“It was the end of an era,” Bainbridge wrote in her column.
The attemptsFifteen years ago, White broached the idea of downtown Greenville having a first-run theater, something along the lines of Cherrydale or Hollywood 20.
“We’ve had several close opportunities,” he said.
In 2004, Greenville developer Mark Kent proposed a theater built underground on the plot where Kimbrell’s Furniture Store was located, now Carolina Ale House. Kent wanted to tear the store building down.
The Design and Preservation Commission said no.
A chain considered Greenville for a dinner movie theater, White said, but the rules of film distributors regarding distance from existing movie theaters would prevent downtown Greenville from having a first-run theater.
“We’re right on the edge between Cherrydale and Hollywood, and then there’s the Camelot,” White said.
In the mid-2000s, Taylor and Christina Vandiver considered opening a theater much like Zongrone is planning.
The Vandivers frequently went to Asheville’s Fine Arts Theatre to see the movies not available in Greenville and thought Greenville needed something similar. They wanted a place where people could gather, talk about film, learn about film. They’d have professors in to give talks about the movies, to set them in a specific time or place. They’d have beer and wine and inventive snacks.
“A real casual hangout atmosphere,” Taylor Vandiver said.
Mrs. Vandiver quit her job as an account executive for Fuel Creative to work full-time on the concept. They worked on it for two years.
The Upstate Film Society worked closely with them to develop a business plan, he said.
They chose a building on McBee Avenue known as the Keys Building, once the home for Keys Printing. It is as close to the Church Street bridge as a building can be. In fact, an attached building had to be cut off when the bridge was built in the 1960s.
“The real challenge wasn’t the real estate — it was the upfit cost,” Vandiver said.
They estimated the cost at $750,000. Or everything they had and more.
Then the economy soured and Vandiver said, “We really can’t do this.”
A short-lived attempt at a theater came to the West End in 2009. It showed classic movies, cartoons, documentaries and newsreels in a storefront near Falls Park. The owners couldn’t be reached for comment on their experience.
West said many of the proposals were unrealistic as far as their financials and the number of customers they might attract.
“Some had narrow business plans and their locations were too expensive,” he said. “The market wasn’t ready for them. This is a very different town than it was then.”
A number of series such as the International Film Festival and a biannual series by the Upstate Film Society have been held through the years. The Upstate Film Society was established in 1998 and since 2003 has held film festivals each spring and fall. The group started at Coffee Underground, moved to Carmike (now Camelot) and now work with Cherrydale.
The Peace Center, too, sponsored indie films in 2010-11. Eric Kershner, the programming associate for the series, said it was well attended and, in fact, sometimes had to change the location from a meeting room to the Gunter Theatre. He regularly brought in lecturers to talk about the films, including professors to talk about the Holocaust and a Bob Jones professor to talk about religious art.
The ideaZongrone grew up in Spartanburg. Her father is local jazz musician Daniel Z, her mother a massage therapist whose passion is painting. Zongrone, 23, studied psychology at the University of South Carolina Upstate and manages O-Cha tea bar in Greenville.
Her youth and inexperience might make people wonder whether she could actually pull off an undertaking as big as a $1 million art house. But those who have worked with her, including Vandiver and West, say she is a quick study who has done the research she needs to do.
West said she has a sound business plan.
“She is incredibly hardworking and is not looking at it from 40,000 feet,” West said. “She’s building a following.”
Christina Vandiver has given Zongrone her research and business plan and has worked with her closely. They got together because Vandiver worked at O-Cha during the time she was planning the theater. Then when Zongrone went to work there, the O-Cha owner put her in touch with Vandiver.
Andy Smith, executive director at the Nickelodeon in Columbia, also has been working with Zongrone.
He said his theater has moved into a $3 million renovated movie theater on Main Street and is planning to add another screen. It has succeeded, he said, because they have brought together a community of people who love film.
It’s about the experience, the feeling of sitting in a darkened theater with other people enjoying the laughs, the tears, and talking about it afterwards.
The key is listening to what the community wants and providing all sorts of additional programming to bring in revenue, he said. A movie house, unlike a symphony or museum, can offer several kinds of movies in a single day, kids movies in the morning, adult fare in the evening and late night for younger people, he said.
Zongrone has identified the Keys Building, at 307 E. McBee, as her first choice. It is a large brick building with a vaulted ceiling that would accommodate three theaters, each with 100 seats, and a bar at the front.
Ben Geer Keys, the fourth generation of his family to be in the printing business, said the business started in 1869 and the building on McBee was built in 1940. The business moved to Congaree Road, now named Keys Drive, in 1973, and the building has been empty since.
Doug Harper, one of the owners of the building, said several people are looking at the building now, so it’s not certain it will be available by the time Zongrone gets her financing together. She is doing an initial crowdsourcing fundraiser through sccrowdfund.com and afterward will pursue investors for the largest amount she needs to reach $1 million.
West said he has asked Zongrone to speak to the Upstate Film Society board, which can help find several locations as well as investors.
Harper said a number of people have proposed uses for the building in recent years and he and Steven Navarro, the other owner, have turned them down.
A bar and an office have been proposed, he said.
But the office would have covered up the brick walls in a building he considers a hidden gem.
“We are patient local investors,” Harper said. “We want something cool.”
TOWN Magazine (pg. 41)
Eat Local, Talk Local, and Now at The Film House, Watch Local
By Rachel McAlister
We’re all familiar with Cherrydale Cinemas just down the road, with its overpriced and oily popcorn, blockbusters, and sticky floors. But just imagine a Coffee Underground of the cinema world. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Something akin to that is Daryn Zongrone’s new project in downtown Greenville, The Film House, which aims to create a center of independent, local, and classic films and an outlet for students interested in film production and critique to showcase their work.
A typical indie film, which is usually eclectic in content and style, is produced outside the structure of major studios and operates on a lower budget and with leaner advertising. Some make it big such as “Instructions Not Included” and “12 Years a Slave,” which grossed high in 2013, bringing in $44,467,206 and $37,951,371 respectively. These films have a limited release and rely heavily on independent theaters such as The Film House to showcase them.
Then we have the classics, the foundation of modern film.
“In order for people to understand and appreciate film today, it is completely necessary for them to understand and appreciate the earliest films that were made,” Zongrone said, arguing for the value of the silent era films that will likely be in the lineup for the theater.
Finally, there are local films that stimulate the kind of involvement and conversation needed for any flourishing creative community. Unless you know the producer yourself, these rarely make it to the public eye.
Already, there are numerous organizations, informal groups, and enclaves of artists in Greenville promoting the arts. But as Zongrone pointed out, the film culture in Greenville is scattered. Consolidating a scattered film culture is not about homogenization but rather diversification and communication. Sharing and discussing unique or unfamiliar ideas and experiences is something that films do in a visceral way. And isn’t that what the artistic endeavor is about?
“We want to create a place where local and national independent cinema can be showcased in Greenville,” she said.
In addition to films, the Film House will also have a pizzeria and microbrewery featuring local ingredients. Aside from entertainment, a large part of the project will be educational; they plan to host a film lecture series in which a film professor or filmmaker will choose a film and offer a lecture before it’s screened, presenting a great opportunity for Furman Film Studies students.
So far, the project has been greeted with enthusiasm and support in the Greenville community. The project is far from its goal, but the audience is growing and the development trajectory is promising. They’ve just reached about 30 percent of their current goal of $5,000 through their crowdfunding site. This method of fundraising exemplifies the kind of support needed for the success of a project like this, supported by demand from the bottom up, not the top down.
Construction on the 300-seat theater’s potential home, The Keys Building on 307 E. McBee Ave. in downtown Greenville, is slated for 2015. Despite that, there are still plenty of ways to get involved. Individuals can visit their SCcrowdfund.com site and donate in support of their film series, talk to the Creative Director (MJ@Greenvillefilmhouse.com) and become a Street Team member, or attend one of their free film screenings on Thursdays at 7 p.m. at Coffee Underground. The group has been showing films in the little dark room in Coffee Underground’s lower level since Nov. 23 of last year. And you won’t be a loner: Furman students have already found their way there. Now Furman students can add “watch local” to Greenville’s burgeoning local movement.
Greenville Journal (pg. 35)
Upstate Business Journal
Effort for Downtown Theatre Receives Boost
By Joe Toppe
Published January 16, 2014
The addition of an independent movie theatre to downtown Greenville is one step closer to becoming a reality after capturing the attention of a statewide business organization.
The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce has selected The Film House as the initial project for its online donation portal calledSCcrowdfund.com.
The portal was designed to provide access to capital for small businesses, and The Film House is an exciting first project, said Frank Knapp Jr., president of the Small Business Chamber.
“This theatre will help drive the economic development of downtown Greenville and we are thrilled to provide a fundraising portal for the supporters of this project to make their donations,” he said.
The Film House founder Daryn Zongrone has identified the Keys Building on McBee Avenue as a tentative location. Plans call for three theatres totaling 300 seats, plus a concession stand and bar serving beer and wine. Zongrone believes the city of Greenville is primed for such an establishment.
“The Film House will also serve as a showcase for independent and foreign films, classic and limited-release films as well as local films and artists,” she said.
Fundraising to date has produced $5,000 of the necessary $1 million required to open, she said.
City Councilwoman Jil Littlejohn said garnering community support is vital to the theatre’s long-term success.
“By getting the interest of a statewide organization like the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, the theatre project is on the right avenue for creating public awareness. The support of the community is crucial for this theater to make it,” Littlejohn said.
Greenville film buffs push for art theater
By Ashley Boncimino
Published Dec. 4, 2013
Local film enthusiasts have organized a crowd funding campaign to set up a local independent art theater, The Film House. While Greenville is making economic strides, it deserves a local independent theater to showcase local artists and be a hub for film enthusiasts in the immediate area, according to the organizers.
Where the group’s Indiegogo campaign targets $5,000 in crowd funding, organizers are aiming to raise $30,000 in the short term to secure a downtown location, begin renovating space and buy a digital projector. The group hopes to make The Film House a must-see destination in the Upstate as well as a community artist hub.
The Film House Founder Daryn Zongrone said the goal is to finish fundraising by January 2015 and establish the theater in the Keys Building at 307 E. McBee St. The space would include a pizzeria and would serve beer and wine.
The closest independent theater is over an hour away, too far for many people in the community, according to the Indiegogo campaign. The projected theater would show locally produced and current independent and foreign films and would host film history and education events.
“When I was graduating, I realized I wasn’t going to be able to take any more classes on film, so I started looking around for other opportunities in the community, and there were none,” said Zongrone. A 15-year native of the Upstate, Zongrone said she has been working with small business advising organization Score to develop a business plan and funding options for the startup.
“When I finally started a Facebook page and a website, it was amazing the amount of support I received from that, and we just started in September,” said Zongrone, who added that local businesses such as The Warehouse Theater and Coffee Underground have already voiced their support. “It’s been amazing.”
Reach Ashley Boncimino at 864-235-5677, ext. 103 or @ashleyboncimino.
Greenville film house the 1st campaign for S.C. crowd funding website
By Ashley Boncimino
Published Jan. 9, 2014
South Carolina’s first state-exclusive crowd funding website SCCrowdfund.com locked in its first campaign, rallying around local entrepreneur Daryn Zongrone and her business plan for Greenville’s first indie-movie theater, The Film House.
SCCrowdFund.com is a portal that gives businesses and nonprofits access to capital through crowd funding from their immediate geographic communities. Launched in late 2013, the project is a partnership between the S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce, The American Sustainable Business Council and Mission Markets Inc., a New York-based securities firm.
Zongrone hopes to raise $30,000 through the crowd funding site and raise the rest of the $1 million required to open through investors and large donors. The campaign goes live on March 7.
The Film House has been Zongrone’s dream since she graduated from USC Upstate, where she studied film. After graduating, she realized there was no community outlet to continue to learn and share her passion. “I wanted to create a space where people could come and learn about old films,” she said.
Set tentatively for the Keys building at 307 E. McBee Ave., plans for The Film House include three theaters with around 300 seats total, a ticket counter, a concession stand, and a bar serving beer and wine, as well as open space with tabletops where people can discuss the films. Zongrone and the business’s film series director Adam Renkovish have already screened weekly movies at Coffee Underground in downtown Greenville since Nov. 23, including Hugo and the Charlie Chaplin classic Gold Rush.
“We want to make it into a nice big operation, bringing more money into the Upstate, bringing more people into the seats, make it an attraction, a destination for people to come to,” said Zongrone, who added they would base movie selection on online community surveys. She plans to avoid pitfalls of earlier indie-theater attempts by looking to the community for support and advice, focusing on advertising and avoiding the nonprofit route. “It’s very much centered around film education, but we also want to bring those current indie films to people who want to see them.”
Zongrone had previously used a national crowd funding site Indiegogo, but found that those who supported the concept online were mostly locals, according to S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Frank Knapp. “You’re really not going to get someone from California funding your (local) campaign.”
The portal will host campaigns by local entrepreneurs, businesses and nonprofits with business ventures that community members can monetarily support through donations. The site also facilitates financing through private placements, which involves high-income individuals investing in a business for an equity position.
Knapp hopes to include a third financing option by May or June that would allow community members to also invest in an equity position regardless of income. Combining the three options into one state-centric site would be the first of its kind in the country, said Knapp.
The difference with SCCrowdfund.com is that it encourages communities to take control and support their own local economies more directly, said Knapp.
“We’re really serving a great need for small businesses and nonprofits that are trying to raise capital but cannot get it through traditional markets,” he said. “This is an alternative for them.”
According to Knapp, the S.C. portal would also charge lower fees than national crowd funding sites. “We have the resources. We have the money. We have the ingenuity. We have the talent. We have the leadership,” said Knapp. “We don’t need to be looking outside our area.”
Zongrone’s Film House project is the first campaign funded by the portal and will be followed by campaigns in Columbia and Charleston soon, according to Knapp.
Reach Ashley Boncimino at 864-235-5677, ext. 103 or @ashleyboncimino.