Screenwriters Scott Beck & Bryan Woods open a movie house in their hometown of Davenport.
2/20/2024 • Louise Farr
Black writers reflect on the direction of Black art.
Screenwriting duo and WGAW members Scott Beck & Bryan Woods have a slew of Hollywood credits, including 65, The Boogeyman (co-written by Mark Heyman), and their Writers Guild Award-nominated A Quiet Place (co-written by John Krasinski). However, when Written by caught up with them in January, the longtime Los Angeles residents had traded the sunshine and palm trees for sub-zero temperatures in Davenport, Iowa.
Friends since childhood, Beck and Woods were back in their hometown to oversee The Last Picture House, the local cinema they opened in December 2023 as a testament to their filmmaking roots.
“We’re basically permanently children who just dream of things,” Woods quips. “When we were running around our hometown as kids making movies, one of our silly dreams was, ‘Oh, it would be so cool to have our own movie theater someday.’”
And while it’s just a coincidence, the alley behind their cinema is where they actually shot movies when they were kids. “It’s kind of a weird, wonderful, lifelong dream fulfilled,” Woods says.
“It’s a place that we're connected to anytime,” Beck adds. “We open up our laptops to start writing the next script and our first thought is, ‘What are the settings or characters and what are those attributes that kind of tie back to something that's personal?’ We wear that on our sleeve, whether it’s A Quiet Place or our upcoming film Heretic. These scripts are always littered with touchstones that, even if it's not on the surface for an audience to consume, it's there for us to understand the architecture of how to write that and make it something that is a piece of our life.”
The theater itself was a project that Woods and Beck say they have been “gestating on” for several years. They found the perfect building in downtown Davenport about five years ago. Built around 1895, the structure was located in an area that was being revitalized, with a great restaurant and a concert venue bringing in national acts.
The duo was excited about the prospect of their movie house, partly because they considered it unique. “There really isn’t a cinema culture that is permeating and activating the community here in Iowa the way that it does in Los Angeles or New York, or some of our favorite theaters in Dublin or London,” explains Beck. “We felt like it was the perfect opportunity to try and build something that doesn't just put movies up on the big screen, but puts them up with the best projection—35 millimeter and digital with Dolby Atmos.”
“The community we have here in the Quad Cities in Davenport loves movies so much. It’s different than a multiplex experience, where that's very transactional,” Beck continues. “The Last Picture House is all curated about cinema and the importance of it, and the importance of how it engages the creative mind.”
Going to the movies for us is an experience. This movie theater is about trying to give people an experience that they remember, and building community around that.
- Bryan Woods
The cinema’s success has already been noticeable in its first two months, he notes, with return customers and new people excited to attend the regularly sold-out shows.
Beck and Woods have carefully curated the space, which boasts a lounge, rooftop cinema, a rotating selection of international film posters from their own collection, and rare movie props—“things that we would’ve loved to have seen growing up in Iowa as teenagers,” says Beck.
The duo is hands-on when it comes to choosing their eclectic mix of films to screen. “The fun part of having a movie theater is getting to work on the programming,” says Woods. “Scott and I weigh in on a lot of [it]. We also have a wonderful general manager, Jameson Ritter, who worked at the Sundance Institute and the Telluride Film Festival and ended up relocating to our hometown to run the theater, so he also has a big thumbprint on the programming.”
In addition to current films, including Mean Girls and American Fiction, the house has hosted repertory screenings of such classics as Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up Doc? “I’m constantly refueled by seeing sold-out screenings that we had of The Shining, and people seeing that for the first time there,” Beck says.
Despite the proliferation of streaming and the fallout from the pandemic, the duo had no qualms about setting up a brick-and-mortar cinema. “Going to the movies for us is an experience,” says Woods. “This movie theater is about trying to give people an experience that they remember, and building community around that.”
Community is important to the writers, not simply when it comes to their hometown, but also regarding their industry peers during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes.
“The strike was massively important to us,” says Beck, “and we were so proud of the way the Guild stood behind the tenets that they were supporting.”
“What made us very proud as members was the idea that the Writers Guild almost felt like a beacon for the rest of every single industry,” Beck continues. “There were so many people around the world and in our own circuit that really had no idea what the WGA was before the strike. Then, all of a sudden, it put the spotlight on the Guild and on these issues that was really powerful.”
“Scott and I are proud members of the WGA, and we were so proud and glad that the WGA took on these issues,” adds Woods. “We were just so grateful that that was a fight that the WGA was willing to get into.”
And while the duo is back at work, they still make time to head back to The Last Picture House on a regular basis.
“We really want to share that sense of where we came from, who we are, and that we're a product of the community where our filmmaking ambitions really started,” says Woods.
Which is why they keep themselves grounded by regularly returning to Iowa. “We love the people here,” Woods says, “and it just feels like real life to us.”