Alamo Drafthouse founder discusses love of movies, company's inspiration

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Alamo Drafthouse CEO, Tim League, speaks to students in the Belo Center as part of the College of Communication Council’s speaker series. League and his wife left their jobs in California and moved to Austin to start the company.
Photo Credit: Briana Vargas | Daily Texan Staff

The Alamo Drafthouse Cinema began with a couple’s love for movies and their unconventional plan to open a theater with no experience in the industry, according to founder and CEO Tim League.

League, the first speaker in the College of Communication Council’s speaker series, discussed Tuesday the origins of the business, its growth over the last two decades and his role as CEO. The company began with limited experience, manual labor and a very small amount of money, League said. Before founding Alamo Drafthouse, League and his wife, Karrie, lived in California but always wanted to move to Austin.

“We loved Austin, and so we took 200 seats, a projector and a screen — whatever we could, really — put it in a truck and moved it to Austin,” League said. “We really built it ourselves, and we didn’t have much money. Karrie’s parents mortgaged the house, my parents gave me a loan and we had about $250,000, so we just built the Alamo Drafthouse.”

League and his wife left their jobs at Shell and a research biology company, respectively, to make a career out of their passion for movies, which League called a risky move.

“Honestly, I was pretty bold and stupid,” League said. “I think that when you are bold and stupid, you don’t realize how truly inconceivable your plans are. But I wanted to model what we think the life cycle of the human being really is. There’s birth, then a lot of really great movies and then death.”

Communication studies sophomore Sara Leonard arranged the event. She said the speaker series was in need of a guest from the film industry to attract radio-television-film students to the event, which Leonard said led to League’s appearance.

“We have always lacked a lot of radio-television-film speakers,” Leonard said. “I really wanted to try and find someone that could relate to this major. I’ve heard he is a really great and candid speaker, so I reached out to him.”

Public relations junior Avery Fazende said League was surprisingly honest about how he draws from the ideas of others to make Alamo Drafthouse unique.

“I loved that honesty,” Fazende said. “Because it’s a fact that there are really no truly original ideas, and, as a CEO, he was so honest about that.”