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Rachel Walker talks programming for Drafthouse LA and what makes her a FANGRRL
Rachel Walker has a gig that most movie fans may not even know exists — but it involves a lot of detective work, a little creativity, and a love of all things genre.
As head of creative programming for the brand-new Alamo Drafthouse location in Los Angeles, Walker oversees all of the theater's special programming and events. However, before she assumed that role, she'd been working in the film industry for more than a decade, holding key positions in public relations with the Sundance and Los Angeles Film Festivals, and also worked on an initiative to bring genre film and television content to both San Diego and New York Comic Con. In addition to her job at Drafthouse LA, Walker is a film producer. Her latest horror short, Deep Tissue, debuted at this year's SXSW and has been playing the festival circuit ever since.
SYFY FANGRRLS caught up with Walker via phone to chat about what her job entails, what sets LA Drafthouse apart from the other locations, why she loves the horror genre, and what she's currently FANGRRLing over.
You work in a side of the industry that I think a lot of people aren't familiar with, or maybe even have no idea exists at all. What's a typical day like for you as head of programming and creative for Drafthouse LA?
Since we opened officially pretty recently, the current day-to-day [for me] isn't ultimately what it's going to be, but I think I can talk about what, eventually — when things even out — what it will look like. It'll be a lot of going to festivals, going to screenings, really trying to stay on the pulse of what's out there, trying to make sure that I really have an understanding of the films that are out and how things are playing on the festival circuit. I start putting our specialty programming together two months ahead of time, and a big part of that is looking at what the anniversaries might be that month. Are there birthdays that would be fun to celebrate? There are all sorts of things to consider when coming up with what that specialty program is going to look like.
What sets the LA Drafthouse from the other locations?
With this location especially, being in Los Angeles, there are a lot of opportunities to bring in different types of events. We just had our first live podcast, Unspooled, and we're hoping to do that monthly, because that was really cool.
We're just so close to everything [in L.A.] that we've had talent in the building four or five times a week for repertory Q&As, or a Q&A for a new film, or having local filmmakers in to host screenings of movies they love. There are a lot of people who write to me talking about how much they'd love to introduce one of their favorite films. And I love that. I think that people like hearing a filmmaker they admire talk about how certain older films have inspired them.
Because our audience is so diverse, there's a lot of freedom to play titles that could be riskier, like art-house documentaries and foreign films. In L.A., there's usually an audience somewhere for everything. And that's something I really strive to do: have something for everybody at the theater.
Drafthouse is partly known for the special screenings that they put on, like the all-women screenings for Wonder Woman, and the all-clown screenings for It. Do the ideas for these come naturally based on the movies that are being shown, or are you always looking for new and creative ways to screen movies for select groups?
On a local level and on a national level, everyone always has an eye toward it. How can we event-ize this film? How do we make it special, how do we make it different? So it's not only the clowns-only screenings, but it's seeing the movie and thinking, "OK, what would be a really fun thing for all the servers to drop at all the tables during hour one, minute 53?" This thing happens in the movie, so we're going to drop something off at everyone's table that's in-world. What are things we can do in the lobby so that when people come out of the theater, they feel like they're still in that world? That's something that's always on everyone's mind: how to take the experience to the next level. And then having food and drink, drop menus, and menu takeovers, that's another way. I think it's completely plausible that maybe it's changing the conversation in general towards event-izing screenings more and basically coming up with ways for people to get out and see movies in a theater as opposed to just watching at home.
I will say that I desperately want to do a cats-only screening for Cats, and I don't know what that means yet. We're going to figure it out.
I think I can speak for everybody at SYFY FANGRRLS when I say that we think the idea of a cats-only screening is amazing. What's an example of a movie that you thought was going to be difficult to get but was actually surprisingly easy? And on the flip side, is there an instance of a movie that you wanted to try and program, but maybe has been a little bit tougher to get?
A big part of this process is booking the films themselves. So it's figuring out who owns the actual rights, and then figuring out who that contact is, writing to them to book the film. Something that's been really interesting in this process is learning that not every film has a DCP available, or a film print available. It's why, for programming, two months is the standard, or even more. There's a movie I'm dying to play right now, for one of our Weird Wednesdays, that only exists, as far as we can tell, in DVD form. It turns out that it's not just me trying to find this print. Everyone's been trying to find this print. And it doesn't appear to exist, but it maybe does somewhere. It might exist overseas somewhere. If you don't know anything about exhibition, it's not something that you think of as part of the job, but it's a lot of investigative work, in a way.
Because we opened with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in our 35mm house, I haven't been able to show a lot of repertory on 35mm yet. But at the end of this month, all of the markets are doing a Stephen King sidebar, and ours is at the end of the summer. We're showing Cujo on 35mm, and that's a collector's print.
I want to switch gears a little bit to talk about your producing work and Deep Tissue, which is such a fascinating blend of horror and romance. From a producing standpoint, do you find yourself drawn to horror specifically in terms of projects that you want to be a part of, or are there other factors that hook you?
Genre is where my heart is. It's what I was raised on. Science fiction, fantasy, horror have always been my favorite genres, but then also romantic comedies. What's going on right now with horror, and what's been happening with horror for the past seven or eight years, I'm really loving, and I think Deep Tissue is really in that vein. The writer/director, Meredith Alloway, she just really wrote something that captured a story that I wanted to tell and be a part of. We started working on that two and a half years ago, and it's doing the festival circuit now, so it's completely unrelated to this new job I have with Drafthouse. But it's still out there on the circuit and amazing things are happening for Meredith, which is something that I was really hoping would happen, because she's so talented.
What are you currently FANGRRLing over that you want to tell people about?
Part of the irony of working in film full-time is that I haven't been able to watch as much television and see as many movies and read as much. Right now, basically, every spare moment I have, I'm watching Season 4 of Veronica Mars. I'll tell you what I'm dying to watch. I'm dying to watch Fleabag Season 2, Dead to Me, The Boys. I have such a long list of things. Oh, the new season of GLOW. I haven't seen that yet, and then Mindhunter just started.
I love The Magicians. That's actually probably one of my favorite shows that exists right now, and I'm actually 100% caught up on it. A big thing for me right now is being excited to dive back into all the content that I love, because I get a little bit more inspired and excited every time I see a great piece of art and a great piece of entertainment, and there's so much of it out there.
There are a couple of indie films that are coming out later this year that I'm totally obsessed with. One is called Villains, that Bill Skarsgard is in. I actually saw it twice at SXSW. I've never gone to see a movie twice at a film festival ever, that's how much I loved it. It's funny, it's scary. I cried. It's one of those. It encompasses everything, and that's opening later this month. And then this movie Greener Grass is opening in October. It's this surreal absurdist film that must be seen to be believed. It's wonderful and hilarious.
Right now, any free time I have is pretty much exclusively dedicated to escape rooms, tabletop RPGs, and board games. Currently I have Dungeons & Dragons and Blades in the Dark campaigns going. When it comes to board games, on the strategy side, I’m partial to Rising Sun, Terraforming Mars, and Betrayal Legacy at the moment; on the party game side, I'm playing a lot of Pitchstorm, Cinephile, and Blockbuster. I also have board game shelves and a gaming table both from two different Kickstarter campaigns!
Oh, and one more thing! Because I have long car rides, I listen to How Did This Get Made. I listen to a lot of episodes of that podcast.
This interview has been edited and condensed.