Hollywood ending makes movie history in Oakhurst

January 1, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A trio of thirtysomethings have breathed new life into the only movie theater in the Madera County mountains.

When The Hobbit opened as the most popular movie in America, nobody saw it in Oakhurst. The doors closed at the Met Cinema in November, so residents in the mountains and foothills had to drive more than 40 miles to north Fresno and the Edwards Theater at River Park.

But director Matt Sconce, engineer Keith Walker, and ideas man James Nelson refused to let the credits roll on the Met. "The theater closed Nov. 1, but as of last night, we saved it," Sconce said to would-be moviegoers who came to the door Tuesday, just hours after the team managed to reel in more than 3,000 "Met Heroes" to save the theater.

Each hero signed up for a Netflix-style membership to pay a monthly fee so they can see every movie that comes to town. The idea came from Nelson, and it's making Hollywood history.

"I've never seen that done with a movie theater before," an Action News reporter told Nelson. "Had you seen that done before?"

"No," he said. "I hadn't. I've always been a bit of an out of the box thinker. I've actually been bringing ideas to them for years."

So now they'll be able to turn the movies back on. At first, they'll be using the old film technology still left over at the theater. These spools will still be in use for a little while, but pretty soon, they'll have to turn it all over to a digital format now used by most of the studios in Hollywood. It's a costly transformation that was a big reason the theater's previous owners got out of the business.

The membership business model solves a lot of those financial issues, but it took right up to the eleventh hour to get all 3,000 memberships in a city of only 2,860 and a community of about 20,000.

"There was lots of cheering," Sconce said. "We were jumping around and then we realized, 'You know what? Now the work begins.'"

They don't know yet which movie will be the first they play. Part of the upcoming work is signing the studio deals that will determine that. But at least one of them is hoping it'll be The Hobbit -- a precious start to the new venture.

Even though you don't need a membership to see a movie, you can still sign up to be a Met Hero at www.savethemet.com. The team plans to re-open the theater on February 1, but they'll open it earlier if they can.