Amid the turmoil of the movie theater industry, Laemmle Theatres is undertaking an expansion program striking a booking deal with a Palm Springs theater, opening a six-screen art-film house in Hollywood, and even checking out properties being divested by major chains.

Greg Laemmle, vice president of the Los Angeles-based company, said despite the woes plaguing exhibitors across the country, there is an opportunity in Laemmle's stock-in-trade: foreign and independent films.

To that end, the company has just completed a booking agreement with the Festival of Arts Cinemas in Palm Springs to supply the small independent theater with films for two of its three screens.

In exchange for an undisclosed piece of its box office on the Laemmle-booked films, Festival of Arts will be able to leverage the power of the larger exhibitor to book films it might not otherwise get.

Nancy Dolensek, artistic director for the Festival of Arts Cinemas, said the new booking arrangement would mean a better and wider choice of foreign films in the Coachella Valley.

"Clearly, this arrangement will put us in a better bargaining position to attract better films," said Dolensek. "We won't have to deal with all these individual distributors anymore."

Dolensek said that the hit independent film "Best in Show," for example, played at venues owned by Resort Theatres, a competitor, because Resort has a larger number of screens 32 of them in Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs and Palm Desert.

"That movie should have played at the Festival of Arts," she said. "Hopefully, with Laemmle's connections, we will be getting the films that ought to be playing here."

That supply looks to be rich, since such films are being squeezed out of mainline theater chains. (See related story on page 1.)

By targeting smaller pictures and maintaining more moderate revenue expectations Laemmle has managed to remain profitable.

What's considered a successful weekend at a Laemmle theater differs from city to city, said Bob Laemmle, the company's president and father of Greg. In Encino, for instance, a good weekend gross is $4,000, while in Palm Springs it might be $2,500.

Greg Laemmle said the company doesn't have the same operating mentality as the larger, financially strapped theater operators. "These major chains are so in debt that they can't move enough people through (their theaters) to make enough money" to pay off their expansion loans, he said.

And those problems at the major chains might bring additional opportunities to the privately held Laemmle operation, which generated revenues of $20 million last year.

"We have received phone calls from property owners to see if we were interested in acquiring several General Cinema properties," said Bob Laemmle, who declined to provide any specific details about those properties. "We look at things, but about 90 percent of the time we say no for one reason or another."

The main reason is typically that most major chain properties are too large.

"Our crowd doesn't want to go to a 16-screen multiplex to see a movie like 'Snatch,'" Greg Laemmle said. "They want to see an independent movie in a smaller theater."

In their ongoing quest to provide moviegoers with that experience, the Laemmles are preparing to open a new multiplex this spring at the corner of Cherokee Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.