Cinema manager makes his move

“Life moulds us,” said Ron Stanyer leaning forward in his chair for emphasis. “You don’t choose, life chooses for you.

“Life moulds us,” said Ron Stanyer leaning forward in his chair for emphasis.

“You don’t choose, life chooses for you.”

If the scene sounds like a melodramatic moment lifted from the latest Hollywood blockbuster, you’ll have to excuse him.

After all, Stanyer has spent his life surrounded by film while working in movie theatres.

He’s been managing Landmark Cinemas in Whitehorse for the last 18 years.

But Sunday was his last day.

Life chose cinema for Stanyer when he was only 22 and living in Camrose, Alberta.

One of Stanyer’s friends was running the local theatre and offered him a job.

As a self-proclaimed “cheapskate,” Stanyer found the perks of the job — free movies, pop and popcorn — hard to turn down.

He also enjoyed the friendlier environment.

“I was managing a hardware store at the time and when people go into a hardware store they’re always bitchy because something’s broke and it’s expensive,” he said.

“At the theatre everyone’s there because they want to be entertained — so people are a lot more friendly.”

The old Qwanlin Cinema was empty and eerily quiet on Thursday afternoon.

Upstairs Stanyer was at work in his cluttered office, surrounded by movie posters and cardboard cutouts.

Stanyer doesn’t have a deep passion for film per se, but he does watch a movie everyday.

His favourites are westerns.

“I like the classics — the old spaghetti westerns and Clint Eastwood films,” he said.

“But 3:10 to Yuma was a nice remake and every so often you do get a good western.”

At the theatre, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, so to speak.

During the afternoons, Stanyer would have to make orders for the concession stands and pick them up when they’re delivered to each theatre.

He also has to drive up to the airport to collect the movie reels when they arrive in Whitehorse.

Advertisements have to be placed, the website has to be updated, and a number of young employees need to be managed.

“The theatre hasn’t really changed since Edison invented it in 1895,” said Stanyer, showing the large discs that unwind the film in the projection room.

“But we’re at the precipice.”

Stanyer predicts that film will be changing in the next couple of years, with theatres switching to digital.

However, there are problems with film piracy and switching a single theatre over to digital could cost up to $100,000.

Whitehorse’s theatres could use an update.

The Yukon Cinema is 53 years old.

“People like it for the nostalgia,” said Stanyer.

“But like everything it will eventually have to be put to rest.”

Landmark was thinking about building a new cinema for Whitehorse as a replacement.

However, increasing costs and a change in the board of directors and its focus put the plan permanently on hold.

Landmark also picks the films that come to the territory.

A booker in Calgary decides based on which films are most successful in the US, said Stanyer

“Our target audience tends to be 16 to 26 year olds because they’re the ones with free time and money to spend.”

Stanyer and the Yukon Film Society have tried to bring up more highbrow film.

“I call it the limited-engagement series because their shows wouldn’t make a regular run and yet they’re not arts films,” he said.

“But if you get six people to a show and you’re paying a $300 rental plus freight and everything else, what do you do?

 “If you want to, if not be profitable, at least break even, then you have to find films that appeal to people.”

There have been a lot of subtle changes to the movie industry over the last 30 years.

“It used to be that if there was a naked breast shown in the film it was restricted,” said Stanyer.

“Now it might be 14A. To get a restricted rating now you need a naked woman and 10 guys chopping her into pieces.

“We’ve become so tolerant.”

We also pay a lot more for our films.

Stanyer can remember paying 5 cents for a bag of popcorn that would now cost you $5.

“The films are rented — we’re basically a consignment salesmen and our share is not that big.”

“In reality we’re just a candy store. We make all of our money off of the concessions.”

Landmark Cinemas are looking for someone locally to fill Stanyer’s position as manager.

The work isn’t very demanding, but the manager is responsible for the theatres seven days a week, said Stanyer.

“You’re married to it, even though you don’t own the business.”

You get mornings off, but working afternoons and nights can make for some long days.

“You do it for a lot of years and it gets to be a habit and it’s fine, it’s comfortable,” said Stanyer.

“But after a while you realize that you came up to the Yukon because the fishing was awesome — I love fishing — and I haven’t been fishing in three years.”

After 30 years working in movie theatres, Stanyer is switching professions.

He plans to work with a friend at the 202 Hotel.

And he’ll see what life chooses for him from there.

Contact Chris Oke at

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