Lisa Clausen: Glorious Days of Hollywood in Sisters

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LisaClalusen_DSCN0478Running a movie theatre in a small town may not seem like dream come true to some but to Lisa Clausen it’s all in a glorious day’s work.  Since 2005 the vintage red barn landmark at the FivePine Campus in Sisters has been showcasing the finest offerings of Hollywood to thousands of residents and visitors.

Her personal road as a purveyor of the silver screen came one rainy, drizzly January day at her vacation home in Camp Sherman.

“I was bored out of my skull, the weather was terrible and I wanted to go see a film,” she recounted. “Anything I wanted to go see I would have had to drive nearly an hour into Bend and I wondered why Sisters didn’t have a movie theatre.  So I did some research and went from Montana to New Mexico looking at every resort community and their theatre setup.  

I found a fantastic model in Boise, Idaho and contacted the owner, Carole Skinner, who was incredibly generous with her time and energy.  It had four screens but had expanded food and beer and wine, more of a community gathering spot and a place to interact with fellow film lovers. And that’s exactly what I wanted.”  

Clausen shadowed Skinner for a couple weeks then came back to Sisters and wrote a comprehensive business plan and worked through the headaches and heartaches of the approval process necessary to achieve her goals.  She worked with local contractors Curt Kallberg and Ron Duarte on the unique Western-themed building design.  The interior was decorated with novelty touches like tractor seats embedded in the lobby seating area, a central gas fireplace and fireman’s axes for door handles.

“I knew just what I had in mind and photographed a bunch of old red barns from Eastern Oregon,” she said. “We started building in January 2005 and opened
July 2005.”

The day to day operations of a movie theatre involve a lot more than just popping some popcorn and turning on
the projector.

“I spend a lot of time programming and selecting the films, particularly in key time periods like summer and holidays,” she explained.  “You have to plan in advance to book the movies.  I also spend hours splicing and building trailers and screening films to make sure the prints are clean.  I do all the handling and managing of employees too.  We have a fantastic staff and I think having the people we do gives it that hometown environment.  We sell fun and escape here, that’s what we do.”  

“One of the challenges is being mindful of the coming attraction trailers that play with the feature. They need to have something compatible within that same genre.  There are always studio trailers attached to the main print when they arrive and I can’t touch those, and sometimes they’re somewhat jarring
and inappropriate.  

One time we screened The Bank Job”and the studios attached a trailer for a slasher horror movie called Midnight Meat Train that had a lot of customers appalled, not knowing it wasn’t my choice. That was scary.”

Sisters Movie House also hosts many benefits and special event screenings, close to once a month.   They’re also very involved with BendFilm and this fall will once again have expanded festival screenings of some amazing documentaries, shorts films and animation from the vast world of independent cinema.
“The first year was a total learning experience and we made every possible mistake known to mankind,” she joked.   “I learned about the strange workings of film distribution, discovering the community’s taste in film, which is absolutely not consistent with national tastes.  That takes about a year with lots of hits and misses.

One of Clausen’s biggest frustrations is dealing with the film distributors.  The actual procurement of films is sometimes difficult due to the limited availability of prints and the studio’s desire to deliver them to the largest urban markets, thus guaranteeing their best bang for their buck, often neglecting smaller or
regional markets.  

“They only see the census population number of Sisters and have no idea of the mass influx of tourists and surrounding areas,” said Clausen.  “It takes time to develop that track record and credibility.”

When questioned about the specific tastes of a mountain resort town, Clausen thinks for a moment and laughs.

“Well, we’re doing really well with raunchy R-rated comedies like Bridesmaids and The Hangover.  I’m not exactly sure why but the numbers support it.  Also, anything with horses, dogs and old dudes, does great in Sisters.  True Grit was our most successful film ever and I had to fight tooth and nail to get it here when it opened right before Christmas.  Films of high quality and emotional resonance work extremely well in Sisters.  Residents read about film and film reviews and are an educated audience.  

Limited release independent movies like Buck” a documentary on famed horse whisperer Buck Brannaman has been getting rave reviews and people have emailed me about getting it   There’s a lot of interaction from our customers and they’re not afraid to tell me what they like and don’t like. You don’t get that is big city multiplexes.  I really like that part.”

In addition to traditional concession stand candy and snacks, Sisters Movie House features outstanding burgers and grilled Panini sandwiches with a full selection of regional wines and local micro brew beers to enjoy while viewing your favorite films.  Clausen loves what she does, and plans on sticking with it for a long time.

“What’s not to like?  I walk over here with my dog, Ruby, the best Newfoundland on the planet,” she said. “I make my organic coffee and whether it’s snowing or rainy or sunny I get to play with movies.  My commute is a walk through the forest right outside.  Why would I ever give that up?”

Sisters Movie House is located at 720 Desperado Ct. in the FivePine Campus in Sisters.  

For film times or more information visit them at sistersmoviehouse.com or 541-549-8800.

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