Darren Goldsmith manages the four-screen theater at Latchis
By Gordon Hayward
Latchis Arts Board President
Note: This blog post first appeared in the Brattleboro Reformer on April 17, 2017
Darren Goldsmith, manager of The Latchis Theatre, can date his love of films and his three decades of work in movie theaters to May 25, 1977. That was the day his parents, Carolyn and Hugh Goldsmith, both local teachers, drove their eight year old son from their home in Dummerston to The First Cinema in Brattleboro to see the very first screening of “Star Wars.” Forty years have passed since that day and Goldsmith is still in a movie theater.
Having worked part-time starting at age 14 in The First Cinema, Goldsmith graduated from Brattleboro Union High School in 1987. He attended UVM as a political science major, during which he worked part time at the Nickelodeon Theater in Burlington, but he knew he wanted to be a theater manager. Halfway through his third year at UVM, he saw an ad in a trade magazine for just such a position in Easton, Penn. He applied and was hired as one of six managers in a 75-employee multiplex. When the chain was sold, he took a similar position within the new company, but this time at their historic three-screen Colony Theatre in Livingston, N.J. not far from Newark.
In 1997, twenty years after seeing his first “Star Wars,” Goldsmith returned to Brattleboro. First he took a job managing the six-screen Kipling Theatre on Putney Road. In 2004 he returned to The Latchis and has been there ever since.
Spero Latchis and his wife Elizabeth had sold the Latchis in 2003 to the Brattleboro Arts Initiative and both had agreed to stay on for one year to help with the transition. Spero had known Goldsmith for years, given he had worked part time at the Latchis between 1990 and 1995, so Spero and his father Jim coached and guided him. Of Jim, Goldsmith said, “He was my mentor. He was grooming me for this position. He was my coach, even a bit of a father figure. And was he ever meticulous!”
Goldsmith was quick to point out that he grew up “pre-internet” and thus had only watched films on the big screen, a fact central to his love of movies.
“People are coming to see movies on the big screen predisposed to having a good time,” he said. “I love helping people enjoy themselves, and I guess that’s why I love managing this theater and greeting people as they step up to the ticket booth.”
While it’s difficult for Goldsmith to see all the movies he chooses – in large part because five nights a week he is managing the theater and staff, greeting moviegoers, selling tickets and keeping records of the evening’s sales — he does get to see movies, “but I gotta have my popcorn and Goobers.” (And he’s not alone. On the opening weekend of a blockbuster movie, the concession stand typically pops between 100-150 pounds of popcorn seed to satisfy moviegoers.)
As the manager of the four-screen Latchis Theatre, Goldsmith chooses roughly eighty films a year for screening out of the 400-500 films released yearly. “I have to keep the major studios happy by screening first-run films and blockbusters the day they open and they have to stay up on the screen, sometimes for as much as four weeks,” he noted.
Goldsmith is quick to point out that it is to the advantage of The Latchis as well as the studios. “A few years back studios shifted from 35 mm film to a digital format,” he recalled. The Latchis Corporation, the board that oversees the management of the theater and hotel, had to borrow $280,000 to install state-of-the-art digital projectors in all four projection booths.
“Knowing small theaters might not be able to afford that steep cost, distributors set up a system. If small theaters screened new major movies on opening night, the distributors would pay a $750 reimbursement fee for each film screened. With that fee, the nearly $300,000 debt will be paid off in three years.”
Goldsmith is keenly aware of the historical “art house” slant that an important segment of the moviegoers look for, but, he pointed out, “We simply can’t screen movies the way they do in Amherst. We have a population of 43,000 in Windham County whereas nearby Hampshire County, Mass. has a population of 161,000 plus 30,000 students at UMass at Amherst along with 1,300 in their instructional staff.”
Every week Goldsmith performs a balancing act to bring art-house films to Brattleboro. His “Off the Beaten Path” series is part of that along with special 4 p.m. screenings on weekends as well as simulcasts.
“The Latchis Arts Movies for Kids Series screens film for kids attracting 75 to 90 viewers, well over half being children, on Sunday mornings,” he said. “We’re also screening films for teenagers and well as families.” For several years now, Goldsmith’s choices have resulted in the purchase of around 62,000 movie tickets annually.
“For the last twenty years The Latchis Theatres have shown a mix of commercial, art-house, and independent films,” Goldsmith explained. “During the summer months and holiday periods we adjust the mix of films to lean more heavily on mainstream commercial movies. As fall rolls around, we shift as heavily as we can to art-house offerings and films we expect to garner awards during the winter awards season. We rely on summer blockbusters and holiday fare to subsidize less lucrative independent films that don’t have massive advertising campaigns behind them. We may show somewhat less arthouse offerings during these periods but never abandon them totally. We welcome our whole diverse community through our doors.”
Executive Director Jon Potter adds, “In addition to our contractual commitments to the film studios, and to make money so The Latchis Corporation can pay their bills, we need to factor in our mission, to make our theaters available for special community events, including those sponsored by our local arts community.”
Seven evenings a week, 365 days a year, Goldsmith sees to the screening of four movies on four screens twice a night. That takes a lot of planning, and Goldsmith loves every minute of it. He also has one very long-term goal: “I want to keep everyone happy for the next twenty years and then retire on the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Latchis — that is, late September, 2038.”