What happened behind the scenes of Quentin Tarantino’s Vista Theatre deal? The owner explains

The front of a red old-school moviehouse at dusk
The Vista Theatre in Los Angeles closed and left the message “To Be Continued...” on its marquee during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Even as many local theaters reopened, it has been a tumultuous few months for fans of filmgoing in Los Angeles, especially with the closing of the ArcLight chain and the uncertain future of the historic Cinerama Dome. Then on Monday came the news, announced via a podcast, that Quentin Tarantino has purchased the yet-to-reopen Vista Theatre in Los Feliz, adding to his portfolio of local venues alongside the New Beverly Cinema.

The Vista has been owned by Lance Alspaugh since 1997 as part of his Vintage Cinemas group, which also includes the Los Feliz 3 and Village Theatres in Coronado. In a phone call with The Times on Monday afternoon, Alspaugh confirmed the sale to Tarantino.

“We’re pretty excited and happy about it,” Alspaugh said. “It seems like a good match. We’re looking forward to helping him bring his vision, helping him with that for an extended period of time. We’ll be there to try to participate and assist with that. It’s a win-win deal for everybody.”

As Tarantino trumpeted that his vision of the Vista would feature projection only on physical film, Alspaugh noted how the single-screen theater had already had successful runs of movies projected on film with titles such as “Phantom Thread,” “Joker,” and Tarantino’s own “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood.”


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Among the many features of the Vista that have captured the hearts of local audiences is house manager Victor Martinez, who often dressed in costumes themed to the movie playing.

“I’ve got good news for you,” Alspaugh said. “Victor Martinez, the epic manager, as we crowned him, is slated to return. We’re going to be renovating the theater with Quentin and his team, and once the renovation is completed, it’ll reopen and, yes, Victor will retake his place there as the epic manager with Quentin.”

Alspaugh will also maintain his other theaters. Beginning in late July or early August, depending on when renovations are finished, the American Cinematheque will begin programming the main auditorium at the Los Feliz 3 while the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is also being renovated. He said the Village Theatres is set to reopen by Labor Day.

I would not have handed the keys to the Vista over to just anybody.

— Lance Alspaugh, on the sale of the Vista Theatre to Quentin Tarantino

Though he declined to give details on the deal with Tarantino, Alspaugh did allow, “You have to know when there’s a good opportunity.

“I just felt that the time was right for this transaction,” said Alspaugh. “I would not have handed the keys to the Vista over to just anybody.

“Over the years, I’ve had other people that have been interested, they’ve wanted to buy it,” said Alspaugh. “There was a company that wanted to turn it into a brewery, believe it or not, they had offered a fairly large sum of money to buy it and I didn’t want to do that. So I think that with Quentin’s background, his own love of film, I just think it’s a good deal for both parties. I think everybody’s happy about it.


“I think it was a deal that all parties were happy with. And it was, it was certainly the right thing to do in my opinion, not only for the parties, but for the life and long-term sustenance of the Vista. This is an iconic movie theater in Hollywood, on the outskirts of Hollywood, and you have an iconic filmmaker like Mr. Tarantino that has the keys now. And I just think it’s a perfect match.”

In the interview where he announced the purchase of the Vista, Tarantino also spoke about his thoughts for the future of theatrical exhibition.

“I do think boutique cinemas will actually thrive in this time,” Tarantino said, while downplaying amenities such as luxury seating and food service that many chains have been touting to entice audiences out to the movies. “I got a living room. I want to go to a movie theater.”

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Alspaugh agreed with Tarantino’s comments, while adding that he thinks the era of the megaplexes in on the wane.

“You’re not going to need 20, 25, 30 screens anymore. It will be difficult, I think, to sustain with that many screens,” Alspaugh said. “So in this case less is more. And I agree with him, the boutique-style theaters, especially these classic theaters that have a history where they’re kind of locked in time, I think that maybe they become a little bit more in vogue.”


Alspaugh, 62, added, “Let me put it this way, if I was 10 years younger, I would have just kept rolling along and maybe, who knows if I would’ve done the deal. But we’re here now, we’re here today. And Quentin Tarantino is an Academy Award-winning film director. He has a relationship with film, film itself, celluloid, and there’s not many folks out there that think that way, that are film-committed the way he is. And that was really important to me. It was really important to try to keep the Vista as what I call a real movie theater experience. And I think Quentin’s going to ensure that continues.”