How To Make Movie Magic

Alamo Drafthouse's James Wallace pulls back curtain on theater's future

Alamo Drafthouse's James Wallace reveals plans for theater's future

Alamo Drafthouse Richardson creative manager James Wallace
Movie lover James Wallace has found his dream job as creative manager for Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson. Photo by Annie Ray

You'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger movie fan in the Dallas area than James Wallace. He was a key contributor to the dearly departed film website Gordon and the Whale and founded his own site, I Heart Cinema. So when the soon-to-open Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson was looking for a creative manager, Wallace was an obvious choice.

Wallace is in charge of part of the programming for this branch of Alamo, or, as he says, "put[ting] Alamo in Dallas on the map as a unique Alamo experience." Since being hired in April, Wallace has already helped Alamo become a significant presence on the Dallas film scene, setting up outdoor screenings at the Wildflower Arts and Music Festival in Richardson and at a special event at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.

With the theater's opening now less than a month away, Alamo is ramping up those efforts, holding four Rolling Roadshow outdoor screenings over the next three weeks, starting with Dazed and Confused on Saturday, July 13. We sat down with Wallace to talk about those screenings, his plans for Alamo's future, and his history as part of the Dallas film scene.

CultureMap: What exactly does being the creative manager for Alamo Drafthouse entail?

James Wallace: The biggest responsibility I have is programming – creating the feel of what Alamo is in Dallas. Some of our programming will be national programming decided by the main team in Austin, but each Alamo has the opportunity to be its own unique thing. 

It’s not only choosing what we’re going to play, but also coming up with the experience around that. We’re a theater by movie lovers for movie lovers, so anything we can do to make it as much about where you’re seeing the movie as what you’re seeing, that’s the responsibility that falls on my shoulders. It’s a dream come true for somebody like me who’s been a movie nerd his whole life.

CM: You had your own movie website prior to taking this job. What was it about this job that made you take the jump?

JW: I’ve grown up in Dallas, and I know that it’s a great film community. But at the same time it’s not somewhere like Austin. To find the film scene there is very easy because you have these places to go. Before there was an Alamo here, I always wanted that.

Back with Gordon and the Whale and then with I Heart Cinema, that was my goal. When Alamo came along, I realized there’s only so much I can do as one person. The opportunity to be a part of something like Alamo that has that reputation would allow me to reach a much wider audience.

CM: How tough was it to give up I Heart Cinema since you built it up on your own?

JW: It was bittersweet, but as soon as I was offered the Alamo job, there was no second thought. Having run two different websites on my own in a five-year time span, there’s only so much you can do. To reach a wider audience, you need more funding to do things, and that’s hard to come by with an independent website.

CM: Which one of the Rolling Roadshows are you looking forward to the most?

JW: Each film (Dazed and Confused, The Lost Boys and The Goonies) is very different, but I think they will attract across the board. Most people love at least two of the three, if not all of them. The one I’m most anticipating is The Lost Boys because there’s just something about that film. I’m a huge horror fan, and to me it’s quintessential ’80s and quintessential vampire.

For Dazed and Confused, we’re doing an outdoor pinball arcade. We’re also going to have a muscle car show and a DJ spinning ’70s rock. For The Goonies, we’re going to have a Truffle Shuffle dance contest and a Baby Ruth eating contest, and we’ll have fun props that we’re giving away.

Then, of course, there’s the Blood and Ice Cream trilogy; I could not be any more excited for Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost to be coming here. If I had to make a dream list of people that represent Alamo, in terms of the type of films they make and the fans of their films, those guys would undoubtedly be at the top of the list.

CM: Are you getting a lot of good entries for The World’s End giveaway?

JW: Yeah, some of things people have come up with are blowing me away. That’s the other fun part of the job, to offer a chance to win a very exclusive ticket to a special screening of the film before it comes out, for free, when those guys are going to be here. And it’s the first thing that we ever show in the theater before we officially open.

We want to make sure that the people who get into that are diehard fans. We thought that it would fun to do it on Twitter, because I always thought that when you’re limited, it produces more creativity.

CM: Can you give us a feel as to what other kinds of events we can expect? Will you continue to do things outside of the theater?

JW: Our full intent is to keep doing roadshow events. These roadshow events are a way for all the people who are waiting for us to open to get excited, and to show people who don’t know who we are what we’re all about.

Dallas has such a rich history of movies that were shot here, and one of my big ideas is roadshows for movies that were shot in Dallas. Robert Wilonsky and the Observer did a very successful screening of Robocop in front of City Hall, so it’d be cool to do stuff like that. We have Robocop, Bottle Rocket, Logan’s Run. You could do a whole Oliver Stone series. The list is really long of great, iconic films that have been shot in Dallas.

As far as programming in the theater, the monthly programming in Austin is centered around the main releases of the month, which gives you some hints at what we may be thinking in the coming months. While we are very much a first-run theater, we are equally a repertory theater and that balance is definitely there. That gives me the chance to program some really fun stuff in those months.

CM: Richardson has a significant Indian population. Can we expect any Bollywood-themed events?

JW: We’re a movie theater for everyone, and appealing to everybody is part of the fun. That’s part of the reason we chose Richardson as our first location. It’s so diverse and there’s such a great community here. It’s very multicultural and we love that.

Bollywood being such a huge film scene and it being a huge anniversary of Bollywood (2013 is the 100th anniversary of the first film made in India), that’s definitely something that’s in the works, doing a Bollywood series.