For many, losing the Met Cinema in Oakhurst Nov. 1 went far beyond just losing a place to watch a movie.
The now vacant building in the center of town, with large, blank signs that once announced new films, has become a constant reminder of what has been lost.
Three young men, raised in the Mountain Area, couldn't ignore the emotional hole left in the heart of town from the Met's closing. They've formulated a plan to get the Met's doors back open -- for good.
Now they need the community's support to make the plan work, and time is of the essence.
The trio spearheading the rescue are childhood friends grown into talented young men: Keith Walker, now an engineering physicist/software engineer in the Bay Area whose been recruited by the CIA; Matt Sconce, a filmmaker and youth leader at Sierra Pines Church in Oakhurst; and James Nelson, a creative solutions expert who got the idea to save the Met from a financial seminar he recently attended.
They pooled their talents and set up a corporation -- appropriately named Movie Heroes Inc. -- to save the Met.
They have developed a monthly membership plan that enables people to watch unlimited movies at the Met for less than the cost of two movie tickets in Fresno.
With Walker's computer software prowess, they designed and launched a website -- savethemet.com -- where residents can learn more and sign-up for a membership to be a "Met hero."
"The deal we've set up gives us until Dec. 31 to try this, and it's only going to work if the community explodes the information like a wildfire," Sconce said. "We need it to go viral, and that usually takes a couple months to get to everyone. We need to accelerate that, with everyone emailing and facebooking and telling their friends. If we don't accelerate it, then a month won't be enough time ...
"The bottom line is if people wait to see if this is going to work, it's never going to happen. We need them to subscribe and be a Met hero and if they do, it's going to have an awesome future ahead ... According to everybody we talked to, the landlords included, this is the only way ... this is the last chance basically. If this doesn't work, we probably won't have a theater."
They are eager to get the bulk subscriptions within the next couple weeks to reopen the theater in January, with many more improvements already planned.
"The landlords (of the property) believe in the idea and have taken some very gracious steps to make this the best chance to work possible," Sconce said.
The trio also received the support of Oakhurst lawyer Greg Chappel with the Law Offices of Jamison & Chappel, who's donated his legal services to help them with the membership plan.
"When I was growing up, one of the strongest aspects of my relationship with my dad centered around going to the movies together at the Met and talking about them afterwards," Nelson said. "This is my hometown and I think probably what my motivation to save the Met comes from is it's something the community wanted and I knew a way -- it just felt like my responsibility."
"If we lose the theater, we are going to lose a giant sense of our community," Sconce said. "We are already fractured and separated, and I think the Met is something that binds us together. I want our children to feel like, 'Yes, we came from here. This is where we live.' The Met is an important part of that."
"We made the process to sign up at savethemet.com very, very easy and quick," Sconce said. "People won't be charged until the doors open, and they don't have to worry about their credit card information sitting around somewhere for someone to steal, because it's all encrypted, protected and totally safe. No one has access to it, even us."
Walker, who designed the site, recently won a national competition -- put on by the Defense Research Projects Agency -- for creating advanced software earlier this year while working for Lockheed Martin. Walker's also worked on space satellites and creating nuclear energy that emulates the power of the sun.
Filmmaker Sconce's most recent film, "Firefall," will play in theaters in 14 cities across the state in January. Nelson won a national award from Coca-Cola for a video gaming concept.
The trio has pooled their skills before -- creating circuit boards as high schoolers for a science project that went to the state competition. The circuit boards worked so well the judges disqualified them because they thought they couldn't have built them.
"Having these young men come along who are so technologically advanced with new ideas to do something -- it's exciting," said Sara Murphy, the Met's original owner with husband Rusty from 1986 until 2008. "It's new blood. It's a new generation. It's what the Met needs."
"If we reopen, we're still going to have first-run movies, but we'll also have the opportunity to show old John Wayne movies and have Xbox 360 tournaments, things outside the regular movie theater model, making it more of a community entertainment hub," Sconce said.
While tickets will still be available, residents will get a much better value by becoming a member -- and reopening the Met relies solely on reaching a quota of memberships Dec. 31.
"Movie membership plans have been successful before," Sconce said. "There is a thing called MoviePass and that has worked -- and our monthly price is significantly better.
"I just really want to convey that we believe in this community -- we wouldn't be doing this if we didn't. We grew up here, we know their worth, we know their quality. We hope they join us."