Monday, June 25, 2007

Coffee and Cigarettes at the Alamo

I've had many wonderful and entertaining experiences throughout the last ten years at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, but one event in particular stands out. In addition to being a traditional moviegoer, I've had the good fortune to work the front lines at major South by Southwest premieres over the last several years. As a member and crew chief of the Special Venues crew, we are responsible for crowd control and line management at major music venues and special premieres. My ultimate experience was at a TBA screening in March 2004, which turned out to be Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes".

I arrived at the Alamo Downtown with some of our volunteers to help Wayne, the SXSW theater manager for the night. Wayne had the lines going, people seating, and was waiting to get the last VIPs into their reserved seating. The theater was near capacity, and the screening was about to start.

That's when John Stamos showed up, with an entourage of over a dozen people that he wanted to bring in. He was graciously turned away, as there was no way they'd be able to get the whole party in. (John *may* have made it in with only his date, I can't recall). As Wayne delivered the news, Louis Black, SXSW founder, walked up with a gentleman and said, "Debbie, I'd like you to meet my friend, Jonathan Demme".

I was caught off-guard so much that I lost my reserve as I shook his hand and said, "I'm a BIG fan of yours!"

To which Mr. Demme replied:
"Thank you - I'm a big fan of YOURS as well!"

Once the screening started, I sat down and enjoyed the show. The crowd reaction was great, as each of the vignettes played out with familiar faces. As the show ended, Wayne asked if I would help - it seemed that Jim and some of his guests had dinner reservations, and he wanted to make a smooth exit. Rick Linklater had been smart and exited the employees door. Jim chatted with a few of the fans before being escorted out. As I patiently waited next to him, I heard someone call my name - It was a fellow SXSW crew chief, John Koller, who had his camera. "Let me get your picture with Jim", he said. I was reluctant as part of my responsibilities involves not infringing on filmmakers and actors and assist with making their experience as stress-free as possible. However, with John standing twenty feet away I wasn't quite able to refuse, so he took my first "on-duty" pic of me with a filmmaker.

I thought that was the icing on the cake. Not so - Jim turned to me and said, "Debbie? Could you help Crispin down through the crowd so he can join us for dinner?" I looked up to see Crispin Glover dressed in a three piece suit, politely trying to make his way through the crowd. I took his outstretched hand and pulled him through the last few steps and out of the theater. Quite a surreal moment.

What struck me most about that night was how pleasant and humble everyone was, but I really shouldn't have been surprised. Throughout the decade filmmakers such as Rick Linklater and Quentin Tarentino have been known to treat the Alamo Downtown like their own screening room. I can't help but think this is due to the hospitable, relaxed atmosphere that fills the Original Alamo Downtown, and adds to the magic and legend.

P.S. This photo has even more sentimental value for me now, as John Koller passed away April 30, 2007, as a result of a brain tumor. John was a beloved friend and devoted volunteer, and will be deeply missed.


Anonymous said...

What a cool story Debbie. I loved Coffee and Cigarettes.

I want to be a volunteer at the SXSW film festival.

snax said...

Thanks! This was my contribution to the Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon held in honor of the original Alamo which closed in June 2007. Thank goodness Tim and Karrie were able to open the new location at the Ritz, but it's still not the same!