By Emilie Hornak: CNJ Correspondent
At 13, Abby Parrish started his first job working at the Varsity drive-in movie theater in Portales.
Nearly 45 years later, Parrish still enjoys the lights and nights. He’s enjoyed a career managing movie theaters, from Carlsbad to Uvalde, Texas. He’s been in Clovis since 1980, where he’s now general manager for Allen Theaters in Clovis and Portales.
“I started out cleaning a drive-in theater … I’ve moved all the way up over the years,” he said. “It was kind of one of those things that if I tried to explain why I like it you wouldn’t be able to understand. I guess it just gets in your blood. It’s been a fun journey.”
A progressive journey as well.
Technology has made pictures more clear and sounds crisper. Theaters have gone from housing one or two screens to multiplexes with dozens of screens.
At the same time, there has been the re-emergence of some classic theater traits.
“A lot of people think that stadium seating is new, but it’s not,” Parrish said. “I can remember going to the theater in the ’60s and seeing stadium seating, and that was built in the ’50s.”
But one thing that has stayed the same over the years is that theaters fill up when the shows strike a chord with audiences.
And it’s up to Parrish to attract the crowds, according to Allen Theaters General Manager Russell Allen.
“His experience in promotions has been very valuable to us,” Allen said. “He’s got different ideas on how to promote different movies.”
Allen Theater managers are allowed leeway in their promotions because they know what’s going to work within their own communities, Allen said. And that flexibility has paid off when it comes to Parrish, he said.
“Unfortunately, we only get to look at the numbers and watch how the theaters are doing. They continue to improve (at Parrish’s theaters) so we know that he’s improving business,” he said.
Some of the promotions that have paid off the most for Parrish and his crew at Allen Theaters in Clovis and Portales have been “The Passion of the Christ,” “Titanic,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the “Star Wars” movies.
“We’re a family-oriented place, so we find that comedies and action movies do well,” Parrish said. “Some of the more sophisticated don’t always do so well, but a good comedy or action movie is always a crowd pleaser.”
As for the must-see movies this summer, Parrish, 57, said he and Allen Theaters try to bring them all to eastern New Mexico.
“We attempt to play everything available to us, it all depends on how many copies of the movies are available to the smaller theaters,” he said. “But we play the majority of releases each year.”
One feature that’s popular nationally — “Fahrenheit 9/11” — may not make it to eastern New Mexico’s big screens, however.
“You’d have to talk to Michael Moore about that,” Parrish said.
Allen said the movie’s distributors have issued about 1,700 copies. That’s for 37,000 movie theaters in the United States.
“The movie came through a film company that has done some mainstream releases, but mainly focuses on art films,” Allen said. “We weren’t even able to get it in Las Cruces. Under these circumstances, all we can do is wait until the movie comes off the screens at the art houses, and then hopefully we can get it.
“There’s been an outcry from people of censorship, but the reality was we just couldn’t get a print to show,” Allen said.
Parrish said he’s doubtful Moore’s movie will ever hit the region’s movie houses.
“It’s my understanding that he (Moore) plans to release the movie to DVD immediately. If it’s released to DVD we won’t play it,” Parrish said.