Support grows to save theater

Dec. 31 deadline to save Met Cinema with memberships

Carmen GeorgeDecember 5, 2012 

Support is growing to help save the Met Cinema in Oakhurst that closed Nov. 1.

Three young men raised in the Mountain Area -- Matt Sconce, James Nelson and Keith Walker -- have swung a deal that gives them until Dec. 31 to save the movie theater if they can get enough people to subscribe for a new Met membership plan at savethemet.com, or in the Met's lobby this month between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day.

A monthly membership costs less than the price of two movie tickets in Fresno, and allows people to watch every movie shown at the Met.

The community's response to their plan has been positive so far. Within the first two days of their campaign, launched Nov. 29, they received 15-20% of the memberships they need, although they said "we are not out of the woods yet."

"We need people to sign up for a membership and tell everyone they know for this to work," said Sconce, a filmmaker and youth leader at Sierra Pines Church in Oakhurst. "Our momentum is high and the excitement is growing. Let's keep going and save the Met."

Their magic number is 3,000 memberships -- half of the approximate 6,000 individuals that saw movies at the theater last year, they said.

"It costs too much to go down to Fresno. If it's not close, we don't see movies," said Ryan Hoagland of Ahwahnee, who lined the streets of Oakhurst with his family and 20 others Monday, encouraging others to "Be a Met Hero" while dressed as his favorite hero -- a Jedi knight. "I really enjoy watching movies with the family; it's a good bonding experience for us ... Some of my fondest memories are watching Star Wars as a kid. I think it's important, entertainment."

"If this doesn't work, we probably won't have a theater," said Sconce, adding that movie memberships have proven to work, and will be a viable model in the rural Eastern Madera County.

Memberships range from individual plans for $19.95 to larger family plans. After signing up, no one will be charged unless the theater reopens. The website was created by software engineer Walker, whose been working in the aerospace industry for more than ten years and recently won a national award from the Defense Research Projects Agency for creating advanced software.

"It's all encrypted, protected and totally safe," Sconce said of signing up at savethemet.com. "No one has access to it (your credit card information), even us."

The trio has plans to do significant upgrades on the theater if enough people sign up for memberships, including new digital projectors. They also foresee it becoming more of a "community hub," showing first-run movies as well as classic, family, foreign, and independent films, along with other opportunities -- things like a coffee bar and video game tournaments. If reopened, Sconce, Nelson and Walker would act as new owners, with the opportunity to take over the business.

"It's new blood; it's a new generation," said Sara Murphy, the Met's original owner with husband Rusty from 1986 to 2008. "It's what the Met needs."

Members will also be able to purchase tickets for guests, however, the trio said they will not be able to reopen the theater unless enough memberships can be reached by Dec. 31.

They said the landlords have helped make saving the Met more "doable," and they have also received free legal services from Oakhurst attorney Greg Chappel.

"With the Met being closed, our area is not just losing movie money. Oakhurst is now losing food money, shopping money, and gas money ... The ramifications of saving the Met are well beyond the theater. It's the whole center of town," said Yosemite High School science teacher Gary Sconce, who's been lining the streets of town with "Save the Met" signs to support his son Matt's efforts. "The Met is a spark plug for the engine of the center of town. We've only got until Dec. 31. We have one chance to save our theater in town ... Saving the Met is actually kind of like a test -- whether or not we still care about the details of our community."

For more information about the details of a membership plan, go to savethemet.com/#/faq

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