The crazy, creative job of Alamo Drafthouse’s James Wallace

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Alamo Drafthouse creative manager James Wallace coordinates fun, community-driven events for the theater.

 

James Wallace’s office isn’t like most.

For starters, it’s in a bar, but what’s really bizarre is the giant replica robot hand that sits just 30 feet away from his workstation.

However, when you’re the creative manager at the newest location of one of the nation’s most eclectic movie theater chains, draught-ready desks and robot replicas simply come with the territory.

Even though Alamo Drafthouse Richardson has been open for only two months, the Austin-based movie theater chain’s first North Texas location has already changed the way Dallasites watch movies.

Not only does Alamo Drafthouse offer locally brewed beer and fresh cuisine to accompany its screenings, but they are also known for their community-driven programming that can include everything from “quote-a-longs” to classic films like “Ghostbusters” as well as more family-friendly fare like “Baby Day” – an afternoon refuge for mothers with young children.

As creative manager, it’s Wallace’s job to make all of this happen.

As far as stereotypes go, Wallace doesn’t exactly fit the mold of a typical Dallas 30-something.

He doesn’t wear flashy clothes. His hair isn’t a gelled mess.

If you had to pin him down, Wallace resembles an extra on the set of “Portlandia” more than anything else.

While he may not look the part, Wallace certainly has Dallas roots.

In fact, it was at the University of North Texas that Wallace decided to take his love of movies and turn it into a career.

“One of my favorite things to do was to watch a movie and then afterwards just sit around talk about it,” Wallace said while giving a tour of Alamo Drafthouse Richardson’s new digs.

“There was a group of us in college that would meet up just to talk about movies we’ve seen. In college, I really came to love the study of film.”

Upon graduation, Wallace worked a couple of odd jobs but really came into his own when he connected with Chase Whale and Rusty Gordon, two UNT grads who started the film-centric website “Gordon and the Whale.”

The site’s goal was to connect its audience with filmmakers in a technical, almost academic, way.

The site quickly became popular and developed a national audience.

One of the ways it engaged readers was through advance and promotional screenings of upcoming movies.

However, in hopes of “going out on top,” “Gordon and the Whale” posted its last piece of content Aug. 31.

By then, Wallace noticed just how tight a film-loving community “Gordon and the Whale” crafted and was determined to keep it together. Enter “iheartcinema.”

With Wallace at its mast, “iheartcinema” looked to continue “Gordon and the Whale’s” tradition of film commentary and community with multiple advanced screenings and previews on a weekly basis.

It should come as no surprise that when Alamo Drafthouse Richardson was in need of a creative manager, Wallace was mentioned as an obvious choice.

After all, building a community around film was something Wallace proved to be good at.

“When I joined the Alamo team, I was really just joining another group of movie nerds,” Wallace said.

“It’s like church filled with people who really just love movies.”

Wallace was no stranger to Drafthouse and had previously made multiple pilgrimages to Austin to attend some of its events.

“To me, (Alamo) Drafthouse always catered to real movie lovers,” Wallace said.

“It was never too pretentious, it didn’t only care about the art-house crowd, it really knew how to celebrate all types of films.”

With the presence of other theater chains like Landmark’s Magnolia and Inwood Theaters and the Angelika’s Dallas and Plano locations, one of Wallace’s first (and most important) jobs was to introduce the Richardson community and greater Dallas area to the Drafthouse brand.

To do so, Wallace brought out the big guns.

One of Alamo Drafthouse’s first events included everything from a classic car show, local craft beers and a screening of “Goonies” on a giant inflatable outdoor screen.

All was in preparation for the Richardson location’s premiere opening event, a screening of “The World’s End,” the final installment in the “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy from the British trio Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright.

The screening would include an appearance and Q&A; with the three stars afterward.

“We were really lucky to get those guys out here for such a special event” Wallace said.

“All of us were fans of the trilogy and I thought that starting things off with ‘The World’s End’ really went with the Alamo brand.”

Since then, Wallace has kept Alamo Drafthouse Richardson’s programming lineup crowded with events including a candy-filled viewing of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (complete with appearances from two of the original film’s child stars) and a toga-clad viewing of “Animal House.”

Wallace recalls the latter getting a bit “rowdy.”

Cheif Operating Officer Bill DiGaetano describes the programming experience as a “learning experience.”

“It’s getting better as we go forward, but the real problem that we had in the beginning was that we would have these great, grand ideas the week that an event was supposed to happen,” DiGaetano said. “We’re a lot better at getting the big ideas taken care of sooner now.”

With props to order, talent to coordinate, programming events is quite the undertaking for Wallace.

Sometimes, like during the theater’s “Back to School” themed lineup of programming in September, Wallace finds the job enjoyably challenging.

“When I’m forced into such a small box, that’s when I tend to really get creative,” Wallace said.

“Sometimes my plans don’t work out because we can’t get a copy of film or whatnot, but it never hurts to try. So I’m always trying to be as creative as possible.”

However, as film-heavy holidays like Halloween and Christmas come up, Wallace already has a bevy of ideas just waiting to explore.

This Halloween, Alamo Drafthouse is looking at films that happen specifically on or around the spooky holiday.

Don’t expect the lineup to be completely horror films; Wallace claims that there are “some surprises.”

“Sometimes, I still can’t believe that this is my job,” Wallace said. “It’s crazy.”

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