Studio-C Cinema lands at Warehouse PAC with big ambitions

Robert Maier of Studio-C Cinema and Marla Brown of The Warehouse in Cornelius are bringing art-house films to North Mecklenburg County.
Robert Maier of Studio-C Cinema and Marla Brown of The Warehouse in Cornelius are bringing art-house films to North Mecklenburg County. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Robert Maier has a knack for beginnings.

He was working at a university TV station when little-known director John Waters came by to borrow equipment in the 1970s.

He was at WTVI during the boom years of the 1990s, when the station began to rent equipment for documentaries and sent him along as production manager. As Gaston College kicked off its broadcasting and production program in 2009, he stepped in to run it.

But what he’s best at is starting movie clubs. When he moved to Davidson 25 years ago, he and five friends imported copies of art films from New York, sharing the cost. He helped begin the Davidson Film Club in 2012. Then he started Studio-C Cinema in Cornelius the following year to screen movies on a more frequent basis and build toward “a real institute of cinema with films, classes, lecturers, even a festival.”

He’ll take a step toward that dream next weekend, when Studio-C Cinema enters a partnership with Warehouse Performing Arts Center in Cornelius. They’ll screen the Oscar-winning “Whiplash” Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m.

This pairing has Maier and Warehouse owner Marla Brown grinning.

‘Natural synergy’

He gets a venue with 60 raked seats and a larger screen, which his back room at the Cornelius Arts Center didn’t have, plus a venue people in northern Mecklenburg County can find. She gets a film component to go with theater, music and poetry programs she has fostered for six years.

“It’s been a blessing for us because of the natural synergy,” Brown says. “We can pool sound systems, pool marketing, overlap audiences. Many things are happening in the Cornelius area, but as of yet, no strong central force has created a (unified) thriving scene.

“Bob wants this to be an experience you can’t have at a chain theater. You’ll have a glass of wine and cheese or chocolates. It’ll be a luxurious time, a living room away from home.”

Home was where Maier’s cinematic obsession began.

“I grew up in Baltimore and loved television from the age of 5 or 6,” he recalls. “I’d get up and look at the test signal and then watch ‘Little Rascals’ or ‘Captain Kangaroo.’ My dad brought a 16mm projector home, and we’d get all kinds of films from the library: insects, trains, travel films.

“I was an English major (at the American University) when my roommate had a book that explained how you made TV. I got a job at the college station, interned at Reston Cable – Reston (Va.) was the first cable-fed community in America – and then got on in the audiovisual department at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. One day, John Waters came in....”

Maier worked on sound for “Female Trouble” and “Desperate Living,” then graduated to producing on “Polyester” and “Hairspray.” (Get details in his book, “Low Budget Hell.”)

‘Tarzan’ life to Gaston

His crazy quilt of a career took him from the contemplative silence of Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina (directing the documentary “Trappist”) to the whirring engines of a Norwegian ship investigating Russian trawlers in the six-part PBS series “Sea Power: A Global Journey.” He even helped get a TV station off the ground in Afghanistan.

“I was Tarzan, going from one vine to another,” he says. “Then the 2008 crash came.” Luckily, the Gaston College gig let him revisit his desire to be a presenter.

He and Brown have yet to work out their relationship. She says she’ll give him the theatrical schedule for an upcoming season and let him have any open Friday-Saturday-Sunday slot he can use. Maier supplied a projector, which she has already used in the multimedia show “Defying Gravity,” and ordered a screen to fill the Warehouse’s back wall.

“I don’t have a boat,” he says, laughing. “I don’t play golf. This is what I love, and I want to share it.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232

Studio-C Cinema at The Warehouse

“Whiplash,” the jazz-themed drama that won 2015 Oscars for editing, sound mixing and supporting actor, screens Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m. at Warehouse PAC, 9216-A Westmoreland Road, Cornelius. The venue now has a 17-foot screen and a 5.1 surround sound system.

The Oscar-nominated Russian drama “Leviathan” follows June 26-28, then the Irish romantic comedy “Run & Jump” July 31-Aug. 2. (Director Stephanie Green will do a Skype Q&A after the July 31 screening to discuss challenges for female film directors.) Planned titles include “Mr. Turner,” “Citizenfour,” “The Babadook” and “Sherman’s March.”

Details: $9 ($6 students). 704-619-0429, studioccinema.com, warehousepac.com.