By Greg Little
Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
When it comes to lucky numbers, Sarah Lehr seems to have found one in “16.”
The general manager at Janesville’s Wildwood Theater/Movies 16 is currently celebrating her 16th anniversary with the company. And in 2016, the former Sarah Blazkowski married her husband, Steve, bought her first home and graduated with her MBA from UW-Platteville.
But it’s not all luck for Lehr. Aside from her duties at the theater, she maintains a heavy workload that includes managing her husband’s construction company, instructing classes at Punch KettleBell Gym in Janesville and running her own planning/design company, Beyond the Décor. In addition, she has sons Mason, 11, and Jaxson, 8—not to mention golden retriever Bailey—to try to keep up with.
For the latest movie listings and what’s going on at Wildwood Theater/Movies 16, visit Wildwood Theatres.com.
1. Where is the best place to sit in a movie theater? I feel the best place to sit in a movie theater is in stadium seating, front and center. If stadium seating is not available, sit two-thirds back from the screen in the middle. That is where audio engineers sit to calibrate the sound of movies, and the distance from the screen gives customers a perfect view.
2. Theaters still seem to be thriving in the age of Blu-Ray and on-demand services. To what do you credit that? There isn’t a typical TV screen, smartphone, speakers, or the newest releases that one can experience like they can at the movies. The theater experience pulls you in by the incredible sound system and exceptional quality of our projectors in a way that you do not experience when you’re sitting on a couch at home. Going to the movies also provides an escape for people, even if it’s just for a few hours, and it gives family and friends a memorable experience that will last a lifetime. People remember their first movies, getting dropped off for first dates, or recalling the rush they felt when the lights dimmed and the energy seized the crowd when a much-anticipated movie was viewed for the first time. Did I mention the popcorn?
3. In your opinion, how has the theater experience changed in the past 10 years? Theaters have changed in a few ways. Customers can purchase tickets online, fill their own popcorn bags and soda with self-serve machines, and kick their feet up in oversized recliners.
4. What was your first job? My very first job was at Rock Theatres here in Janesville. I started when I was 15 as a vendor and box office attendant. My friend informed me she filled out an application and before I knew it, I was called in for an interview. Sixteen years later, after starting at the bottom, I made it to the top.
5. What is the greatest expense movie theaters face? It might sound odd, but a movie. Movie theaters pay distributors to receive a print of a movie, and they continue paying it for as long as the film is leased. Additional expenses come from payroll and inventory. When popular movies are released, these expenses increase to prepare for popular movies—all while most of the income from ticket sales goes to film studios. Sometimes, movie theaters profit as little as 5 percent of ticket sales.
6. How much popcorn does Movies 16 go through in a given month? In February, for example, with our combos (large, medium and a small popcorn, and free refills on all sizes), we averaged about 10 bags of seed that weigh 35 pounds apiece.
7. Do you run special events, such as movie marathons? Yes, we have marathons and midnight showings, and they have been a big hit over the years. One of the first popular midnight showings was the release of, you guessed it, “Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace.” We had a line that started at the front doors and continued past Home Depot. The second wave of midnight showings and marathons was the “Harry Potter” series, which starting in 2001 was huge. We had customers lining up before operating hours, and by 11 p.m. there was a line that curved by the military recruiting center and ended at TJ Maxx. That continued for all the “Harry Potter” series and “Twilight” sagas.
8. Do you watch movies on TV, or do you prefer to do something else as an escape? I do watch movies on TV, especially during Christmas. But I prefer spending time at an event or outdoors with my family.
9. Share something people would be surprised to find out about you. Although I love my labels and can be high-maintenance, there are a few things people might be surprised to find out. I enjoy roaming the woods in northern Wisconsin, spending time at a shooting range, fishing, and throwing on a pair of gloves to work with my husband on our next big project.
10. When are your slowest and busiest times of the year? Our busiest time of year is the holidays. In the 16 years I have been with the company, we usually have more than 1,000 customers on Thanksgiving, 2,000 on Christmas Day, and at least 3,000 the day after Christmas. This is usually due to highly anticipated new releases, entertaining children during Christmas break, finding something to do with visiting family, and movie theaters being one of the only forms of entertainment open to the public 365 days a year. Our slowest times are in January and February because everyone is back to their normal schedules at work and school, and the wonderful winters in Wisconsin tend to keep people indoors.
11. What has been the single biggest draw at Movies 16 this past year? The biggest draw in 2017 was “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” So far for 2018, it has been “Black Panther.”
12. Are there more improvements on the horizon at Movies 16? Improvements are always in the future for Movies 16. We recently upgraded to an 80-inch LED TV above our box offices so patrons can view current movies and showtimes. We will also be purchasing an additional flat-screen TV to hang above our vending counter for customers to preview upcoming movies while they wait for their concessions. As for additional future improvements, stay tuned.
13. What type of movies tend to do best in Janesville? Horror, drama, comedy, children’s, art house, etc. The movies that do the best here are rated G or PG because those movies promote happiness and speak to all generations. The lovable characters show the importance of close relationships and encourage bravery, kindness and loyalty. This category of movies also embraces humor for all ages. You can always catch the laughter of adults with the discreet humor you appreciate as an older viewer.
14. At the grocery store, which item always goes into your cart whether you need it or not? Cookies. My husband rolls his eyes every time he unloads the groceries knowing they will be gone in two days … or less.
15. How many total seats are available at Movies 16? 1,792.
16. As a theater manager, do you get to see movies before the general public? Yes. Movies are ingested on Thursdays, so employees can view them before the general public. This gives employees knowledge of new releases and makes them competent to answer any questions customers might have about the film.
17. Name the one item you could not live without. My SUV. With two growing boys, sports equipment, a 74-pound retriever, cargo capacity, Wisconsin winters, and getting from Point A to Point B, there’s barely a day I could go without it.
18. Does working at a movie theater deter you from going to the movies in your free time? I hate to say it, but it does. One of the main reasons is due to being at the theater more than I am at home, and I can’t help but think if I have time to sit and watch a movie, I have time to get at least one or two things done on my to-do list.
19. What is your favorite film, and your favorite actor or actress? One of my favorite films—it’s difficult to choose from thousands of them—would have to be “Sex and The City.” My favorite actor is Johnny Depp.
20. Have you ever been to a movie so bad that you walked out before it was over? Is there one you wish you would have? Thankfully, no. If I have the slightest feeling that I won’t enjoy a movie, I don’t even bother.