In 2015, Celebration! Cinema and Founders Brewing Company teamed up for a unique movie and beer pairing event. Since then, the Founders Film Series has expanded to six Celebration! Cinema locations across the state.
The fall 2018 lineup of this frothy film series runs from Sept. 5 to Nov. 7. The 10-week series kicks off with the 1993 coming-of-age film, “The Sandlot,” paired with Founders Solid Gold, a premium lager brew.
Eric Kuiper, chief creative officer for Studio C! (the parent company to Celebration! Cinema), spoke about how the series got its start. The theater company had shown classic films for a number of years, but that had faded out.
“There was always a desire to bring it back, and people wanted us to bring something back,” Kuiper said. “But we wanted to be really intentional about how we did that. We didn’t want to just sort of randomly pick old movies and put them on screen. We wanted to create more of an experience around the movies that really celebrated how great they were and made it feel more like an event.”
In discussions, the idea of pairing a beverage with the flicks came up, and given Grand Rapids’ Beer City title, it made perfect sense. The Grand Rapids-based theater company tapped into a fruitful partnership with fellow Grand Rapids homegrown business, Founders Brewing Company.
The lineups feature older movies, many of which attendees have never seen on the big screen before, providing an unrivaled experience.
“Obviously, these are movies you could probably watch lots of different ways, so in that process, we thought about what would be a fun way to interact and add another layer to seeing these movies in the theater,” Kuiper said.
Previous film series have included comedy classics like “Old School,” with PC Pils, “Young Frankenstein” with Harvest Ale, and “Happy Gilmore,” paired with Dirty Bastard. Comedy films are a sweet spot for the series and often bring the biggest turnout, according to Kuiper.
“A comedy is a lot more fun to watch in a packed auditorium than it is sitting on your couch at home, or with a couple of people,” he said. “The jokes are funnier when 200 people are laughing along with you. We definitely think about that when we’re programming it—what are these really great classic movies that should be seen communally; not by yourself.”
The community of Founders has been integral in the film series, as both companies have similar cultures and missions of bringing people together in their respective crafts.
“In working with Founders, it really is a reflection of their company and their brand as well,” Kuiper said. “They are as involved, or more involved, in picking some of the movies as we are. These are the movies that their brewers, their staff and their taproom bartenders are excited about.”
Jessica Chandler, Founders event coordinator, gets emails from excited Founders employees weeks ahead of announcing the lineup. Armed with suggestions from employees and attendees, Chandler assisted with picking this fall’s familiar flicks.
“We took a little bit of a different approach this time around,” Chandler said. “In the past, we’ve been putting a lot of focus on movies that paired really well with our beers and trying to find something unique that made them go together.”
Chandler said the attention to detail was impressive—in pairing the flicks and brews—but often overlooked. For its Green Zebra beer, organizers looked for tiny, minute details, like finding a movie where someone was holding a watermelon.
“We were getting down to that small level of detail,” Chandler said. “And in the end, it seemed like we were picking movies that people didn’t really care as much to see.”
For Founders, the event is all about giving back to the Grand Rapids community.
“We are a company showing that we very much appreciate Grand Rapids, it’s our home city, and we want to make sure we’re providing fun experiences for people in the city,” she said.
The series provides an affordable night out, at $2 per movie, or $30 for a season pass, which gains admission into all 10 films, and one beer per movie.
Kuiper said the low prices were important from the beginning stages of planning. He said the series was never created as a means of making revenue on a Wednesday night, which is typically not a busy evening.
“We were just excited about creating a series that was going to invite people into the theater for a really fun, memorable time,” Kuiper said. “Where they got to engage with these stories that maybe have been told 20 or 30 times before—but to interact with them in a new way.”
Kuiper added, “The corporate mantra for Studio C! is we exist to create space where story happens. I think the Founders Film Series is a good example of one of the ways that plays itself out. We think about these classic movies people love as stories that are really important to them.”
Sometimes the event becomes more about the people who you see these stories with, more so than the films themselves. Reliving those moments, those laughs and those stories is a powerful experience, an experience that isn’t the same on smaller screens, according to Kuiper.
“The experience of taking that visual story in on a gigantic screen, as opposed to your T.V., or laptop, or your phone—you just can’t take it all in,” he said.
The fall 2018 Founders Film Series runs from Wednesday, Sept. 5- Nov. 7. Movies show every Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. at the following locations: Celebration! Cinema North in Grand Rapids, Celebration! Cinema Crossroads, Celebration! Mt. Pleasant, Cinema Carousel Muskegon, Studio! C Okemos, and Celebration! Cinema Benton Harbor. See all of the films and beer pairings here.