Through two years of persistent groundwork and slow but steady growth, Sun-Ray Cinema is finally expanding. The independent movie house is adding a second screen in a leased space next to the revamped historic theater at 1028 Park St., in 5 Points.
Owners Tim Massett and his wife, Shana David-Massett, plan to open the 1,493-square-foot space, which was most recently a gift shop and cost about $125,000 to convert, on Jan. 17 without the usual hubbub of a grand opening gala. Sun-Ray confirmed on Facebook that the theater would be finished on Jan. 17, "barring
The new, smaller room will be accessible through a door that's been installed just inside the main entrance. The couple says expanding into a twin cinema is a "huge relief." They've long admitted that having a single-screen movie theater makes for a poor business model, since they have to contend with competition from corporate multiplexes, moviegoers' expectations and demands from film studios.
"Business-wise, this makes the space much more viable," Massett says.
Since opening in December 2011, Sun-Ray has distinguished itself by offering lesser-known independent films and hosting special events with filmmakers and musicians, but doing so has proved challenging. The movie house also needs to screen big-time Hollywood hits to survive financially, Massett says — and with only one screen, juggling schedules while honoring contracts with major studios was quite difficult. With two screens, managing a mix of indie films and special events with blockbusters will be significantly easier.
Sun-Ray fans should not assume, though, that the quirky screenings they've come to love will be relegated to the new, smaller screen. Special one-night events, like those involving recent visits from "Donnie Darko" director Richard Kelly and American punk-rock pioneer Richard Hell, will still be held in the original larger theater space. On nights like those, it's the more mainstream movies you should expect in the second room.
"I just love running a movie theater," says David-Massett. (She's also a teacher in the Duval County Public Schools' gifted program.) "Now, with a second screen, it will make so much more sense. … What we've always wanted to do is provide a wide variety of content, and now we'll be able to do that even more."
The original theater was revamped before Sun-Ray opened, but more improvements are planned. Within the next couple of years, the couple wants to replace the carpeting and rebuild the bar; eventually, they'd love to install stadium seating and reopen the balcony.
Sun-Ray Cinema's expansion has not been without growing pains. Star-studded, Hollywood movies they thought would do well have bombed. Keeping kitchen staff in the theater's restaurant has been tough because the work hours increase and decrease depending on a movie's popularity. Even with social media efforts, getting the word out that the theater is open has proved surprisingly challenging. "People still walk by sometimes and say, ‘Oh,
I didn't know movies were played here,' " David-Massett says.
"People haven't thought about this location as a place to see movies in a long, long time," Massett adds. For decades, when the theater wasn't vacant, it housed a nightclub or concert venue. "We've had to try to get people to change their movie-going habits."
The couple has also made strides in helping to bring together a community of film lovers, something the city heretofore has lacked. Lots of folks who love movies actually go to theaters to see them, but there hasn't been a tight-knit group that champions and celebrates the art form, Massett says. And that's what he sees as Sun-Ray's role.
"It's slow and it's frustrating at times, but it's satisfying," Massett says. "It's all moving in the right direction."