Netflix Rolling Roadshow: Return to Alcatraz

Jennifer Young August 30, 2006

You ever see a movie and think, “I wanna go there?” Last year, the visionaries at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas (named by Entertainment Weekly as “the best theater in the country”), thought, Hey, let’s all go there while the movie’s still playing! Dubbed the Rolling Roadshow, the tour screened 11 classic films, including “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “North by Northwest,” in the locations they made famous, with the help of a mobile outdoor projection unit and a 50-foot inflatable screen. This year Bay Area e-giant Netflix hopped onto the bandwagon and brought the show to both coasts and some fascinating places in between: “Clerks” at Red Bank, NJ, “The Searchers” in Monument Valley, UT, “Jaws” at Martha’s Vineyard, “Poseidon Adventure” at Long Beach.

“Basically, we wanted to deliver movies to people across the country, and we had never actually done a marketing initiative in the communities before. We were looking for ways to make a big impact as opposed to doing a bunch of small things,” Netflix Director of Public Relations Bronagh Hanley told me on site at Alcatraz last Saturday during their finale event, an “Escape from Alcatraz” screening on the rock.

Most of the screenings across the country were free and accessible to anyone who wanted to go, but because of the limited space in the prison chapel on Alcatraz Island only contest winners from radio shows and local newspaper drawings were allowed into this one. “We never wanted to charge for this; we always wanted it to be free,” said Bonagh. “And there’s been a range from the few hundred here at Alcatraz to Estes Park where there were about 1,700 people for ‘The Shining’ to [the Dyersville, IA, location where we screened] “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner and had about 5,000 people.”

Winners, (some flown in from all over the country), were treated to a ferry boat ride, the Alcatraz Island tour, a catered party, boxes of popcorn and the film, screening complete with period trailers. Twenty of the luckiest were chosen to spend the night in Cell Block D, the maximum security wing of the prison, where Al Capone and “The Birdman of Alcatraz” were once locked up.

Asked by Netflix to be the Roadshow host, musician Lisa Loeb told me she decided to join the tour because she loves movies so much. “It’s what I do for fun. I am a member of Netflix and I just thought it would be such a cool way to spend August.” Before the Alcatraz screening Loeb told the audience that all the events on the tour were unique, but this one was particularly special: “The creepiest, but with the most delicious food.”

A special shoutout from Loeb went to the Humboldt county mother and son pair, Agnes and Cheb Patak, who traveled to three of the ten roadshow events. Aspiring teen filmmaker Cheb even placed third in “The Shining” horror story writing contest. Agnes told me she thought he got picked because he was the only one smart enough to actually use Netflix as part of his story.