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The Big Picture? Combine theater with conference center presentations,
some movies shown in all-digital format.

Redmond Reporter
Published August 10, 2005

The Big Picture Mark Stern has been in the movie-theater business since he was a child, but the grown man is still fascinated with the hightech equipment that brings films to life on the big screen. While giving a tour of his Big Picture facility in Redmond on a recent afternoon, Stern suddenly broke into a jog and shot up the ramp that leads to a booth containing something magical in his eyes: a digital projector.

After tinkering with it for a few seconds, an Eagles rock concert flashed onto the screen and the band launched into its hit, "Hotel California." The digitally filmed gig is of such crisp quality that someone watching it might feel as if they’re in the front row, just feet away from singer Don Henley. And accompanied with a killer sound system — six 18-inch sub-woofers and eight surround-sound speakers — Big Picture is giving people’s ears a workout as well.

Although Big Picture shows all of its art-house movies in 35-millimeter film nowadays, Stern is hoping that Hollywood will soon go all-digital so he can put his projector into action full time. Big Picture, which doubles as a gathering place for company meetings and social events, allows clients to show films or give PowerPoint presentations in the digital format.

"My mantra is death to film. I want to see film in the Smithsonian ... It doesn’t have a place in modern screening rooms," said Stern, a Chicago native who was an usher at his father’s movie theater in his younger days and ran three theaters of his own as an adult.

"You know, George Lucas agrees with me. He filmed (the latest) 'Star Wars’ in digital. And I recently got a call from 'Star Wars’ producer Rick McCollum at the Skywalker Ranch. He said, 'I heard you’re building digital theaters out there. I’m going to put you on 20th Century Fox’s radar screen.' "That was one hell of a phone call," Stern added with pride.

Stern and his wife, Katie, opened their first Big Picture in Seattle’s Belltown area six years ago and moved into their Redmond Town Center digs four months ago. Since then, the couple has amassed hundreds of clients — including The Boeing Co. and Microsoft Corp. — who have used the facilities for moralebuilding meetings, to celebrate big moments in a company’s history or to host high-school reunions.

The Sterns said they’ve experienced so much success that they’re planning on opening a Big Picture in Los Angeles in the near future. In Redmond, the 5,500- square-foot Big Picture features 140 Tempur-Pedic theater seats and a large lobby/meeting area, which includes a full bar, plush couches and drapes and swags hanging from the walls and ceiling.

The boutique/old- Hollywood-style lobby is often used by companies for break-out meeting sessions, but Stern said that the main feature takes place in the theater.

"We think of (the meetings) as PowerPoint on steroids," he said of Big Picture’s digital features and booming sound system. "We say that business meetings are like a Broadway play. There’s a star (CEO or president) who’s going to perform, and there’s a live audience who’s going to listen and be engaged ... be excited."

Stern, whose grandfather owned a Chicago silent-movie theater in the 1920s, isn’t too thrilled with the big-budget action movies coming out of Hollywood these days. And that’s exactly why he focuses on art-house movies, which are driven by dialogue — not action — and feature strong lead and supporting characters who are in conflict with each other.

Stern noted that his favorite art-house films are 2002’s "About Schmidt" starring Jack Nicholson and 2004’s "Sideways" starring Paul Giamatti and Virginia Madsen.

If there was a movie titled "About the Sterns," it would focus on the husband-and-wife team moving from Chicago to Seattle eight years ago and making their mark in what they feel is a cutting-edge city.

They then set their sights on Redmond because they wanted to turn Eastside people on to art-house movies and cater to the big local businesses that needed a hip place to meet with their employees.

"We spent an obscene amount of money to make the most glamorous space they’ve have ever been to," Stern said as two people dropped by Big Picture and asked the owner if they could have a look around. "To start out where we did in Belltown and move into a major mall ... It’s mindboggling."

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