Craig Hammill’s just a boy with a few rolls of film, standing in front of a theater, asking you to love his favorite movies.
A USC film school grad, Hammill’s a movie buff who has started the arduous journey of making his first feature on 35mm. His love for the format led him to wonder if any other movie nerds would want to see the classics on celluloid, so he got in contact with Victor Martinez, the Vista Theater's projectionist (whom you may have recently seen donning a retro Ghostbusters jumpsuit for the reboot's opening). The Vista happened to have a 35mm projector and free time at midnight, and the 35mm Movie Club was formed.
“This may sound a little silly, but my grandfather sold Nutro dog food, and he’d shake hands and go into pet food stores, and I took that to heart, so I have a little desk I set up in front of the Vista, and I shake people’s hands and get to know them and grow the email list,” Hammill says. “It’s word-of-mouth, and they recommend people. This last time was the first time people started coming dressed as characters. Someone actually came dressed as Robert Shaw. I didn’t think Jaws was the kind of movie that would warrant people coming in costume, but …”
So far, the informal, secret-but-not-so-secret gathering has shown Raiders of the Lost Ark, Aliens, The Thing and Jaws. This isn’t like a midnight movie at Nuart or Cinefamily with professional programmers. It’s a club, where film nerds donate a little something at screenings just to cover the costs, and those who donate get to help decide what films they’ll watch.
“I’m picking movies that I love, for sure,” Hammill says. “But I go up in front of the audience at midnight and ask what they want to see next time. I had Blues Brothers and Enter the Dragon on my list, and I’m thinking that’s what we’re going to do, and for whatever reason, people went crazy for John Carpenter and The Thing, so that’s what I try to get. This next one, it was between De Palma’s Scarface and Goodfellas — Goodfellas won out.”
When he gets the requests, Hammill will reach out to whichever studio owns the rights and hunt down the 35mm. He doesn’t have the luxury of a homegrown Tarantino collection like the New Beverly Cinema, so it’s a matter of trial and error. And sometimes the prints just aren’t the quality he thought, so Hammill’s learned to ask to screen them before he gets the one-time screening rights and the film.
“I did a lot of research on Aliens, talked to Phil Blankenship at the New Beverly, and he told me it’s hard to get a good print of that one,” Hammill says. “There were scenes where frames were missing, and I wait in the lobby afterward to ask what people think, and people said, ‘It’s really great, it’s like listening to a record on vinyl.’ But I’m not sure I believed them.”
Despite his perfectionism, Hammill doesn’t have plans to do this professionally, but he wants to continue growing the club to fill the 400-seat theater every month. And for people who’ve been dying to do a midnight showing but don’t want to make the trek across Melrose or the 10, it’s a nice little offering, where like-minded souls can gather 'round the screen in a beautiful movie palace to enjoy the classics and chat.
Goodfellas plays at midnight at the Vista on Aug. 13.