Sunday conversation with … Michael Furlinger

Plaza Theater owner mixes old-time grandeur with modern technology

It was just year ago that Michael Furlinger and his business and life partner, John Brieger, took ownership of the Plaza Theatre, Atlanta’s oldest continuously operating movie theater, at the corner of Ponce de Leon and Highland avenues. Although other owners have promised to bring the 75-year-old independent theater back its former glory, Furlinger and Brieger might actually succeed. The theater has undergone a transformation. The new owners also have fine-tuned offerings to include a strong mix of indies, oldies and new releases. Attendance — and profits — are up. (Don’t worry Rocky Horror fans — the picture still shows every Friday at midnight.) “People are not going to spend money just for the nostalgia,” Furlinger said. “You have to give them something. “

Q: You passed on The Plaza when it was up for sale six years ago. Why now?

A: I had decided to go with a theater in Charleston — it has more screens and it seemed like a better choice. I’ve always loved the set up of the Plaza. The potential was there for it to be beautiful, especially the main auditorium. The building needed a lot of love but the bones were always good.

Q: What have you done with the place?

A: We have replaced or restored pretty much everything — the marquee, the screens, the curtains. The new art deco carpet is just beautiful. The leather seats are modern but with art deco stitching. But it’s not just the cosmetics. What you don’t see — the projectors, speakers, audio, soundproofing — is new.

Q: Isn’t it hard for an independent theater to make it?

A: People will flock to it if you give them what they want.

Q: What are you giving them?

A: We have the best auditorium in the city. There is nobody that can match the sound and the picture other than the IMAX.

Q: Do you attract just intown moviegoers?

A: The more obscure you play, the farther people come. We began showing a Japanese animated picture on Christmas Day. We have had people coming from Tennessee and Alabama.

Q: Can the Plaza make it long term?

A: We showed a profit in 2013 for the first time in years. Our attendance numbers were up 94 percent in the first year. To really, really hit our numbers to where I think we ought to be, we have to hit another 50 percent.

Q: How did you turn a profit so quickly?

A: One of the biggest money-making sources is income from rental use. Three independent movies have been filmed in the theater. The Plaza will be featured in a new AMC show coming in April. We do a lot with the Grammies. The biggest programming we did in 2013 was “25 Days of Bond.” That was huge. There are probably only a dozen theaters in the country that do well with repertory and the Plaza is one of them.

Q: What can we expect from 2014?

A: In honor of our 75th year, we are going to cover different decades. January is dedicated to musicals. February, of course, will be romance. March is going to focus on women in film. That’s as far as I have gotten.

Q: Is it hard to get films?

A: It can be. There is something in the movie industry called clearance. We can never play the same movie as the Landmark Midtown does.

Q: What about the The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

A: As I say, Rocky Horror is now and forever. We have seen a nice uptick in attendance because we have promoted it a lot more. We get 180 to 200 people a showing — it is crazy. In general, we do a lot less horror than we used to.

Q: Ultimately, what are you trying to do with the Plaza?

A: It sounds corny. When you sit in those leather seats, you get the grandness of what it used to be like going to the movies, but with the high tech sound and picture of today. That is what we are going for.

The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at