I’m trying not to use the word ‘magical’,” Liz Marsh warned me as we sat down to discuss the upcoming season of the Boulder Outdoor Cinema (BOC), which opens on Saturday, July 12.
Marsh, along with her cohort, Jeanine Fritz, are the owners of BOC, but “owner” isn’t quite the right title. Marsh’s email signature lists her as “BossPants.” Why?
“‘Owner’ sounds like it’s a real business,” she says.
And anyone who has worked in any regards in the movie business will agree that it is anything but “real.”
Located in the parking lot behind the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (BMoCA), BOC celebrated its initial season in 1995 and has been running strong since. Three years ago, Marsh and Fritz purchased the festival from Dave Riepe and Jon Hegeman and oversaw the continuation and growth of BOC. Marsh has been working at BOC for 10 years, Fritz longer, and it was Fritz who brought Marsh into the fold.
“I was a film student at CU Boulder,” Marsh recalls. “Jeanine was working there already and she was in my class and she asked, ‘Does anyone want to come work for the outdoor cinema?’ It seemed like a really fun summer job to get paid to watch movies and talk about movies, so I jumped at it.”
Marsh isn’t the only one who jumped at the opportunity.
“[BOC] is driven solely by the passionate people behind it,” Marsh told Boulder Weekly. “If we didn’t have those same seven staff members, there’s no way we could do it.”
In addition to the core seven, Marsh relies on a whole team of concessionaires, bouncers and friends who donate their time and effort for little to no compensation.
“They would make a lot more delivering pizza,” she says, referring to them as, “Our outdoor cinema angels that pop out of the woodwork every year and do an amazing amount of work for us.”
Now in its 19th season, BOC kicks off with 2013’s animated musical Frozen, which is one of the movies Marsh is most excited about.
But in truth, “I love all of them,” Marsh says, smiling. “I’m really happy with our lineup this year.”
BOC’s 2014 lineup provides a smattering of genres and contemporary classics with The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Aliens (1986), Office Space (1999), Zombieland (2009), The Princess Bride (1986), American Hustle (2013) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Frozen and The Princess Bride are family-oriented fun, but considering the nostalgia factor of Princess Bride and the wide-sweeping success of Frozen, all ages will delight in both. The Royal Tenenbaums, Office Space and Monty Python are perfect picks for the “quirky 30-year-old” asMarsh describes them, and summer is the perfect time to revisit James Cameron’s classic, Aliens. The outlier in the group is David O. Russell’s non-musical musical, American Hustle, which garnered a bevy of Oscar nominations last year.
“We always try and bring something newer,” Marsh explains. “We choose movies based on what we think other people will love, and sometimes we’ll have to take ourselves out of it. We always think we know what’s best and we’ll program something that we really love and then no one shows up to it and it’s like you threw a party and no one came to it kinda thing.”
Programming the festival is a much more complicated endeavor than one might expect. It begins with Marsh and Fritz compiling a list of movies via word of mouth and suggestions from social media. This year, they started with a list of 233 titles.
“Programing is by far the hardest part … and we’re never going to make everyone happy, but we try,” says Marsh.
How do they accomplish this?
“Jeanine and I like to take polls in bars around Boulder,” Marsh says.
Their favorite haunt is also the location that most resembles an office for the BOC: Conor O’Neill’s.
Once a list of 20 or so movies has been established, Marsh tackles the most convoluted aspect of programming: licensing, something Marsh says is “really tricky,” and “a constant kind of chess game.”
BOC, and other legally operated outdoor cinemas, deal with Swank Motion Pictures and Criterion Pictures, which own the non-theatrical licensing for most movies. Once the licenses are acquired and the movies are locked into place, BOC adds musical acts for the pre-show entertainment. This year’s line-up includes some Colorado favorites: singer/songwriter Jeff Brinkman, Danny Shafer and Chimney Choir, among many others.
As to the future of BOC, Marsh sees a lot of opportunity. BOC has been tied to BMoCA since it’s inception but Marsh is thinking the time has come to cut the umbilical cord.
“Now that we have [an] inflatable screen we have that ability to move to a park maybe, which would be awesome,” she says.
The ability to make BOC a potentially roaming cinema is exciting indeed.
“People love to sit outside and watch movies,” Marsh says. “I mean people love to be outside no matter what — it’s Colorado. As soon as it gets nice, people flock outside. Watching movies is just extra fun.”
Even with one eye to the future, Marsh remains committed to the tradition of BOC.
“We have people who are bringing their kids now who used to come when they were kids.”
BOC is, and always has been, free to all, but a suggested donation of $5 is necessary to keep the show running.
“We would rather keep it donation-based and let it be more accessible to people who have been supporting us for 20 years even though that’s not really a great business model,” Marsh explains. “The donations are vital. We have to call it a ‘suggested donation’ but it is absolutely what keeps this going. We all work regular jobs in order to keep it going. We need people to keep showing up and we need them to donate, or it will go away.”
The 19th season of the BOC opens this Saturday and runs every Saturday through July and August. Make sure to get there early and don’t forget a couple of lawn chairs and a blanket. Bands hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. and movies begin at dusk. Food trucks and classic concessions will be available on the premise. More information and a complete line-up is available on their website at www. boulderoutdoorcinema.com.
(music schedule subject to change) July 12 Frozen, music TBA, food from Cheese Louise July 19 The Royal Tenenbaums, music from Ben Hanna, food from Suburban Weiner July 26 Aliens, music from Jeff Brinkman, food from Verde August 2 Office Space, music TBA, food from Bon Appetite August 9 Zombieland, music from Radio 1190 deejays, food from Quinn Popcorn August 16 The Princess Bride, music from Danny Shafer, food from Fro-ZEN August 23 American Hustle, music from Ben Jenkins, food from Bike Blenders August 30 Monty Python & The Holy Grail, music from Chimney Choir