Tastemaker Profile: John Wyatt
As with many cinema aficionados, “The Godfather” is John Wyatt’s favorite film. The Los Angeles native praised the 1972 Best Picture winner for its layers of intrigue, strategy, and manipulation, and remarks that Michael Corleone’s transformation from “college guy into mafia overlord is one of the cinema’s greatest achievements.” Wyatt underwent a transformation similar to Michael Corleone's when he started Cinespia, except with far fewer murders and horse decapitations.
“I was a DJ and threw parties for years and that experience helped me create something fun and movie-centric in one package,” Wyatt said, back when he was working in Hollywood art departments his Cinespia wasn’t yet on the to-do list of every movie and picnic enthusiast in Los Angeles. “Fifteen years ago I started screening [movies] at the cemetery as a way to show films in a beautiful setting with a fun social side to it … by taking the movies out of the art house theaters and creating a party around them made the experience new again.”
That cemetery Wyatt is talking about is the Hollywood Forever, home to the remains of showbiz icons like Douglas Fairbanks, Mickey Rooney, and Judy Garland. Cinespia’s Saturday screenings at Hollywood Forever have become as synonymous with summer in Los Angeles as Friday night concerts Hollywood Bowl or Sunday afternoon baseball games at Dodger Stadium. While a movie can be enjoyed in any environment, Wyatt believes that Hollywood Forever’s ambiance and rich history is naturally conducive to sparking the magic behind its screenings.
“The ‘magic’ comes from the ‘lost in time’ settings, where we step into a different era and exist in the past for a moment. The social aspect of everything we do adds more magic, getting together with friends physically in real life is so important, and let’s face it, one of the best things you can do.”
“Singin’ In the Rain,” “Top Gun” and “The Goonies” have all found themselves as part of Cinespia’s lineup throughout the years. “We do a lot of films from the 30s through the 70s. A great story and great storytellers are timeless; it’s why an 80-year-old movie can entertain the pants off twenty-somethings in 2017.” Cinespia doesn’t play movies two years in a row and isn’, with the goal to add more titles to the “classic” movie canon. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was considered just as much a classic film ten years ago as it is today. But for a movie like “Mean Girls,” while certainly appreciated by fans and critics when released in 2004, the movie was still far too young in 2007 to be considered a “classic” film like it is now in 2017. No film is too old or too fetch to be included in Cinespia’s schedule. The most important thing is that it can entertain a modern audience.
Programming is just one piece of the Cinespia puzzle, the other is production. And Cinespia is very much a pop-up operation. “That means we come in and build an entire movie theater for 4,000 people. Everything we bring, the popcorn and concessions stand, the Photo Booth, the sound system the projectors, the restrooms, the DJ booth, all of that is created in a day before thousands of people show up,” Wyatt said, with more extras continuously being added to the mix to keep the magic alive and healthy.
Other outdoor screening series like Street Food Cinema and Eat/See/Hear have sprung up in recent years, offering experiences similar to those gained at Cinespia, with food trucks, music and a hearty program of “classic” films. Unlike the Hollywood Forever screenings, these other movie-going events aren’t beholden to any one location, giving attendees the opportunity to watch a film on the beach in Santa Monica or in front of Pasadena City Hall. Still, Cinespia enjoys a robust popularity, having sold out every show for years now.
“In the last few years, we have had a lot of imitators around town, as projectors became smaller and cheaper. I haven’t been to any of them, personally, but they haven’t made a dent in our attendance. We must be doing something right!”
Classic movies are still their mainstay, but Cinespia has expanded beyond showing cherished Hollywood films. In 2013, the cast and crew from the popular TV show “Breaking Bad” were on deck as the series finale was screened at Hollywood Forever. And Amazon Studios has also premiered some of their films through the group. In addition to Hollywood Forever, Cinespia hosts events at historic venues in downtown Los Angeles.
“At our recent screening of “The Shining” we transformed the Los Angeles Theatre into the Overlook Hotel, we had actors and sets on every floor, musicians, performers, DJs, with the audience dressed up fancy. It was liking traveling back in time.”
Cinespia’s next screening is “Godfather II” at The Los Angeles Theatre on April 29th.
Written By: Justin Sedgwick
Photographed By: Daniel Mansson