Tim League

Alamo Drafthouse founder discusses revolutionizing entertainment and making people happy

Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League on revolutionizing entertainment

In 1997, the first Alamo Drafthouse opened in downtown Austin on Colorado Street, and Founder and CEO Tim League has been revolutionizing entertainment — in Austin and beyond — ever since.

A graduate of Rice University with degrees in mechanical engineering and art/art history, League worked for Shell Oil before his career path took a detour into the world of film. Deciding that engineering wasn’t his ideal profession, he took a leap of faith and opened a movie theater near Bakersfield, California with his wife Karrie. Although the venture failed, League’s passion for film was fueled. He packed up the seats, the projector, and an entrepreneurial spirit, and headed to Austin to give the theater concept another try.

For over 15 years, Austinites have gravitated toward the Drafthouse's unique brand of programming, which has become a cultural mainstay of Austin’s creative landscape. Now, the Alamo Drafthouse footprint is seen across the country, in locations as varied as Dallas, San Francisco and Yonkers.

A true cinephile, League’s innovative work extends far past the general movie-going experience. He founded Austin-based Fantastic Fest, the largest genre film festival in the United States, in 2005. League is also the force behind Drafthouse Films, the Alamo Drafthouse’s branded film distribution label. Drafthouse Films shares some of the most provocative and artfully unusual films via distribution in theaters, home video, and video on demand.

The CEO of Alamo Drafthouse is a successful entrepreneur, but he’s also a down-to-earth guy who loves movies and sharing that passion. “I really love my job,” says League. “I also really enjoy watching other people be happy and having a sense of pride for putting on a show that makes people happy.”

Here are just a few insights into what drives Tim League to keep fueling the expansive growth of his unique brand of entertainment.

Your chief characteristic?

I think I'm split between stubborn, competitive and curious. If I have to narrow it down to one, it would probably be stubborn.

Your idea of happiness?

I really love my job, which can be distilled down to drinking beer and watching movies, so I'm generally pretty happy. I also really enjoy watching other people be happy and having a sense of pride for putting on a show that makes people happy. For this reason, I think my favorite week of the year is Fantastic Fest. That said, it is such an intense week, that my idea of happiness after Fantastic Fest is getting away from everything, getting away from email, phone and electronics, taking naps and reading books in a very tranquil place.

Your idea of misery?

I hate being in any kind of a situation where things are going wrong and I am completely powerless to do anything. I don't deal well with frustration.

Your favorite food and drink?

I drink and eat just about anything. Anywhere I can get a great omakase meal with 10 or more courses and great wine pairings, I'm in heaven. Locally, I like Uchi and Uchiko for that. I also recently had a really great food trip in Flushing for Chinese food. We just went from place to place for about four hours sampling one dish at a time. Karrie and I developed a real soft spot for vintage port after visiting the Fantasporto Film Festival in Portugal.

What is your favorite pastime?

This shouldn't come as a big surprise, but I like to drink nice wine, eat great food and watch great movies. Before we started Fantastic Fest, Karrie and I would go to film festivals for our vacations. We choose the ones with close proximity to great food or wine.

Your favorite restaurant — in your hometown and in the world?

Uchi/Uchiko here in town for sure. I've had great meals at The Fat Duck, The French Laundry and Momofuku Ko.

Your favorite motto?

I don't really have one, but I've always enjoyed hearing Conan answer the question of what is best in life: "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women." He seems so confident in that answer.

Your favorite heroes in real life?

I've got two favorite heroes right now: Alan Graham who is funding and building a progressive housing facility (Community First!) for the chronically homeless in Austin, and Josh Oppenheimer, who spent nine years risking his life to create The Act of Killing, the new Drafthouse Films doc, which exposes the killers in the U.S.-backed Indonesian genocide.

If not yourself, who would you be?

I think if I would have made a different decision as to what to study in college, I would have ended up in a career I really enjoyed instead of immediately getting restless and opening up a movie theater. I think I would have loved to be an architect.

What is the best advice you ever received?

My friend Mikey Trafton told me to always be aware of the routine activities you do throughout the week. If you don't like doing them, find a solution to get them out of your life; make it a priority. That's not all that earth-shattering, but I certainly subscribe to it. I hope to never cut the grass again for the rest of my life.

Something people would be surprised to know about you?

I really love classical guitar. We have the hands-down best classical guitar society in the world here in Austin.