In June 2011, Austin's Alamo Drafthouse theater chain boldly transformed a customer complaint into a provocative piece of advertising. The ad in question became one of the no talking-no texting PSAs the chain runs before movies, and it features a profanity-laden rant from a female customer who was asked to leave for using her cell phone to find her seat in the dark. "So EXCUSE ME for using MY phone in USA MAGNITED STATES OF AMERICA!" she says, verbatim, according to the text accompanying the ad's audio.
The short video made headlines when it appeared two years ago, and it drew enthusiastic applause and cheering when it played before July 25th's special Blood and Ice Cream event. There weren't any cell phone violators in the crowd that night (not any that I saw, anyway), but chances are, eventually, some unlucky Dallas moviegoer is going to find him or herself in the same situation as the woman in the ad -- at least, without a heads-up like this first.
Alamo's cell phone policy may sound a bit harsh to those unfamiliar with the Alamo way, but it's not about being a killjoy; they simply want every customer to have the best possible experience, and that means not having to tolerate distractions.
"Most of the time people are very apologetic and just leave," said Bill DiGaetano, Alamo DFW's COO at a July press event. "We have made some patrons angry," he conceded, "but those are not patrons we want in our theater. We have never tried to be everything to everybody."
So, what happens if an Alamo manager approaches you about your distracting behavior? After one warning, you're asked to leave. Moviegoers can lodge complaints against their neighbor discreetly, with just a short note to their server -- exactly what you'd do for anything else you need during the show, like, say, a refill on your Coke. That ensures that patrons never miss any of the movie they've paid for, and they can remain anonymous.
"The fact that someone can have a movie theater where they don't have to worry about that -- where the money they've spent and the experience they're going to get is worth it -- that's what it's all about," said James Wallace, Alamo DFW's creative manager.
"It's common courtesy," DiGaetano added, nodding in agreement.
The Richardson theater's grand opening is scheduled for August 9, with a soft opening the day before on August 8. Because of the area's mid-century modern design and the close proximity of technology companies like Texas Instruments, they've looked to the sci-fi genre for their programming. Titles include Forbidden Planet, Robocop, Iron Giant, Logan's Run, Metropolis, and more, with discounted food and ticket prices. Customers are encouraged to come at least 20 minutes before showtime to enjoy the ad-free pre-show entertainment. But do us a favor and turn off your cell phone first.
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