AMSTERDAM -- On Wednesday, in cinematic style, Woody Woodbeck will set off on a solo, cross country journey from West Hollywood to his home town in Amsterdam, hoping to get there by Christmas Eve. His missions: to take care of his disabled mother and reopen Amsterdam's shuttered movie theater.
Woodbeck has started a GoFundMe fundraiser asking for $200,000 to reopen a movie theater in Amsterdam. The Emerald Cinema closed back in February, leaving the city and town of Amsterdam without a movie theater for the first time since the 19th century.
Woodbeck is hoping to bring movies back to Amsterdam and is going to record his attempt, possibly as a documentary film.
"I'm going to tweet. I'm going to Facebook [livestream], and along the way I'm going to stop and see family, and stop and see cast members, who are going to help me raise money for the gofundme," Woodbeck said.
Woodbeck, 38, is a 1999 graduate of Amsterdam High School. He moved to San Francisco to go to film school in 2004, but quit school early to become a reality TV producer. Over the next 15 years he worked on 52 different TV shows such as MTV's "The Real World," Bravo's "The Real Housewives" franchise and "Top Chef," also on Bravo.
Actress Vivica Fox, famous for roles in movies including "Kill Bill," "Independence Day," "Booty Call" and TV shows such as HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is scheduled to appear at Woodbeck's going-away party/fundraiser on Tuesday.
"She's one of my really good friends. We just met each other at an airport, and we exchanged info and we became really good friends," Woodbeck said. "I have a lot of famous friends, and that's not a gloating thing, but when you work in the business, you meet a lot of people."
Woodbeck said he's never made much money working in TV. Essentially, he's an independent contractor going from job to job, working about 10 months of the year and looking for jobs the rest of the time. He said he's never had a year when he made $100,000, and some years he's made under $50,000.
"Any money that you're able to save, you have to use toward bills when you're not working. I'm not sitting on a nest egg," he said. "I don't drive a Mercedes-Benz. I have a roommate and a two-bedroom apartment, and in LA that's very expensive. I don't want people to think there's this rich Hollywood producer coming to save the day."
As a kid, Woodbeck worked in local radio, hosting a weekly talk show on Amsterdam's WCSS called "Teen Beat", and then appeared as a personality periodically on FLY92-FM's morning show.
Woodbeck said his interest in movies and TV also started in Amsterdam. He worked as an employee of the former Norma Jean Cinemas located at 136 Perth Road in Amsterdam when it opened as a 10-screen movieplex in 1995. He worked there on weekends and school breaks while going to college at SUNY Morrisville until 2001.
The Emerald Cinema replaced Norma Jean at the same location, leasing the building from the company that owned it.
The Emerald Cinema was owned by partners Joseph Tesiero and Bruce Wendell, who also own the nine-screen Johnstown Movieplex in the Johnstown Mall, about 11 miles away.
Tesiero told the Daily Gazette in February that while the Emerald Cinema hadn't been losing money, it had become an increasingly difficult business to operate, prompting he and his partner to consolidate to the Johnstown location.
"There's not enough movie-goers to support 19 screens between Fulton and Montgomery counties," Tesiero said. "We took it over 18 years ago, when it was failing, from the guy who built it, and we were able to keep it on an even keel for 18 years, but as movies come out closer to the [home viewing] release date, you have less and less people going to the movies.
Woodbeck returned home after his mother, Rosemary Springer, suffered a stroke in September. She had been doing rehabilitation from double knee replacement surgery when she had the stroke in front of family members who had to rush her to the hospital. Woodbeck said she's now rehabbing her language and motor skills.
"It was a nasty stroke," he said. "If they hadn't caught it, she probably would have died."
While visiting his mother a couple of months ago, Woodbeck said he realized the impact the closure of the movie theater was having on the population of Amsterdam.
"I was like 'wow,' people are really upset about this theater being closed, now there's nothing for them to do," he said.
Jenna Dodd, a special education teacher at the Greater Amsterdam School District, has been friends with Woodbeck since they were children. She has a similar story to his in that she moved to Arizona after college and decided to return to Amsterdam last year with her two sons, Brody, age 6, and Carson, age 4.
Dodd said she had been involved in planning her 20-year high school class reunion when she heard about Woodbeck's mother, and his plan to return to Amsterdam and reopen the theater.
"He just feels like he has to do this," she said. "I 100 percent support him, people in our class support him. I don't know anything about politics or real estate, but my thought is let's support him."
Dodd said she has fond memories of going to the movie theater in the former Amsterdam Mall, now called the Riverfront Center.
"Would I like it if there was a movie theater close? Yes," she said.
Woodbeck said he needs the $200,000 to purchase new equipment and reopen five of the 10 screens at the former Emerald Cinema location.
"It looks the same inside as it did in 1995," he said. "The paint is the same. The walls are the same. It needs a facelift to draw people in."
According to the National Association of Theatre Owners, the number of indoor movie theaters in the United States has shrunk over the past 20 years from 7,031 in 1999 to 5,482 in 2018, as the industry has faced challenges from home movie internet streaming and other forms of entertainment.
GoFundMe: Woody’s Hometown Tour
Woodbeck said he knows his challenge will be trying to give people a reason to go back to the movie theater. He said he wants to create a sense of community buy-in, and use events like "college nights" to get customers to reconnect with the experience of going to the movies. He said he wants to recreate the experience he remembers when the Norma Jean Cinemas first opened.
"I remember the joy when that theater opened, and what it meant to me and to the community and how there were lines and the impact, and how much fun it was," he said.