COOS BAY — It’s no secret that the movie theater no longer holds the same sway it did over audiences in years past.
But even as national and worldwide attendance trends downward, experiencing a film for the first time in a public space will always be unique.
At least, that’s what Kara Long, 47, the Egyptian Theater’s executive manager, believes and she wears the philosophy on her sleeve.
“There’s this specific moment in certain movies: it can be funny, sad or scary but everyone watches and shares that collective ‘om’ moment,” she said.
It’s those moments, Long argues, when the audience reacts in silence, tears or fits of laughter, that makes the movie-going experience so worthwhile.
“It’s those 'pin-drop' moments like that when I really love my job,” she said.
Since taking the helm of the Egyptian in May 2014 — three weeks before the theater reopened — Long has tried to place her particular stamp on the small-town cinema, based off her lifetime in the business.
“I’ve seen every transition the movie industry has been through except sound,” she said, adding that she got her start when she was just 15-years-old.
“It was 1985. ‘Back to the Future’ had just come out and my cousin needed help ushering,” she explained. “Now this theater had probably close to 600 people and to be honest I had no idea what to do but she just drug my (sic) in there and stood me in the theater to make sure people didn’t talk.”
From there, Long became a staple at the locale.
Moving quickly from ushering, concessions and ticket sales, she eventually found her way into the projector room.
“It was like ‘Cinema Paradiso’ — where the little boy learns everything about the theater — and before I knew it, I was putting film together and doing change overs,” she said. “I still have scars on my fingers from putting ‘Gone with the Wind’ together: It was like a knife. It was on the pulley and there was like 6,000 feet of film coming off a 2,000 foot reel — so it’s just flying — and I had pieces of film in (her hand) and I’m digging it out all night.”
Eventually, Long made her way into management, working as an executive director for The Strand Theatre in her hometown of Delaware, Ohio.
“I was at The Strand from 1986-91,” she said. “Then I tried to lead a normal life: I got married, a banking job and tried to be normal but it didn’t work. Then Strand came up for sale, Ohio Wesleyan (University) bought the theater and installed me as chief operating officer.”
Long held the position for 12 years, in that time growing business by 250 percent.
By then, she admitted to growing tired of the first-run theater world, which was one of her motivations for taking the job at the Egyptian.
Now her focus is cultivating a local audience with an appetite for film.
“I want to be the Hollywood Theater when I grow up,” she said, adding that the Portland cinema was a perfect model to base the Egyptian. “I love the mix of stuff that they do and I’m directly starting to copy the stuff and program ideas.”
One idea that is already growing in popularity: beer night.
“We partner with 7 Devils (Brewing) and it’s 15 bucks at the door for the movie and three beer tickets,” Long said. “It’s a huge deal; people love it.”
Ideally, Long would like to see The Egyptian show a blend of classic and blockbuster films, with short film collections peppered in and all entrenched within the Art-House Convergence philosophy, which is strongly steeped in engaging community.
The Art-House Convergence, a collection of exhibitors first brought together by the Sundance Film Festival, stated goal is to “increase the quantity and quality of Art House cinemas in North America,” according to its website.
Since taking over the Egyptian, Long has attended The Convergence’s annual conference in Midway, Utah.
It was at the last conference that she was able to obtain rights to show the Oscar Nominated Shorts that ran the past two weekends.
And while the Egyptian barely breaks even with ticket sales on nights featuring short films — foreign or domestic — Long said she sees a bright future for the theater.
“It’s a delicate balance, finding the right programming (to turn a profit),” she said. “But it takes time to build a program and create awareness.”