avigating through tarps, boxes and paint cans, George RR Martin pauses and takes it all in. “It’s coming together well,” the Game of Thrones mastermind says of his latest venture, the reopening of the single-screen Jean Cocteau Cinema.
“That seems a perfect way to tip our hat to both of our main heritages,” the newly minted theater impresario says. Midnight screenings of comedic sci-fi flick Dark Star on Friday and Saturday complete the cinema’s maiden programming.
As for the who’s going to buy the cow? mentality, for Martin, who formally announced the purchase during a press conference in April, it’s out the window.
“The theater’s been closed for seven years, so people don’t even know we’re around,” he says. “And in those seven years, there’s considerably new people who have moved to Santa Fe who don’t even know the Jean Cocteau except for this boarded-up theater that they may have driven past once or twice on the way to Sanbusco.”
After the first week, regular admission will be $10, with discounts available to students and seniors. Attendees to the Cocteau 2.0 can expect a heightened movie experience thanks to renovations that include a new digital film projector that will not replace but work alongside the existing 35mm one, a Dolby sound system and a micro-perforated screen.
“It’s been an education,” Martin says of bringing the derelict movie theater back from the dead. “Nothing is easy. You buy things, and then it’s, ‘Oh, we can’t deliver that for six months.’”
Martin is sitting inside a small office, dressed in his trademark all-black garb and eyeing a toy ray gun that’s propped atop a desk. “Back when we started this, August 9 seemed impossibly far away,” he muses. “Now it’s only a few days away, and I’m beginning to have a heart attack.”
Stress and all, the twinkle in Martin’s eyes is ever-present, and every other sentence is laced with his signature high-pitched giggle.
Following the lead of theater manager Jon Bowman on the distribution and exhibition side, Martin says the experience has been an enlightening one. “I’ve been involved in the movie business since the late ’80s, early ’90s, but on the production side, writing screenplays and making deals,” he says.
Alongside Bowman, Martin is curating the theater’s programming with “an extremely eclectic approach” (think: Plan 9 from Outer Space and a double bill featuring Chinese 3-D martial arts movies Tai Chi Zero and Tai Chi Hero.)
“The Cocteau has a long-established reputation in this town—for people that have been here long enough to remember it—as an art house, and in that sense, we’re definitely gonna service that,” Martin assures. “We’re [also] adding things to that old mix. I come from the world of science fiction and fantasy, so we’re gonna have a steady mix.”
Martin, who fell in love with the space during its Collective Fantasy days when he first moved into town, is particularly excited about the midnight—or rather 11 pm—screenings of sci-fi, horror and pulp classics. “I expect it’s gonna take time to establish those, because Santa Fe closes up at 9 o’clock, man,” he says with a laugh.
In the next few months, he’ll also add “kiddie matinees” at noon on Saturdays with free admission for children under 12.
His promise to use the theater as mixed-use space will also come to fruition, with Stephen W Terrell and Gregg Turner busting the Cocteau’s performance cherry on Sept. 7.
That brings us to the much-hullaballooed popcorn. Bowman walks in carrying a freshly popped batch, and an impromptu tasting is staged. It’s light and fluffy—a result, Martin says, of popping it in sunflower oil. “It’s healthier than the coconut oil that all the chains use,” he explains. The cinema’s famed toppings, like chili pepper and Parmesan cheese, will also be on hand.
The boy from Bayonne, NJ’s plans seem rather utopian. And, as anyone who’s ever read the first five tomes of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series knows, moments of sublime happiness are almost always followed by utter mayhem. Could it be that, in a GoT move, Martin will make us absolutely love the new theater, only to abruptly and coldheartedly take it away?
“I certainly hope not,” he chuckles. “I hope the community loves it.”
Reflecting, he grows serious. “Like any business, it depends on how many people come to watch movies here,” he says. “I joked at the press conference that I may lose my shirt, but I have other shirts, and there’s a certain element of truth to that.”
He ends with a promise: “If this theater breaks even, it will run for the rest of my lifetime, anyway.”