After 43 years owner operator Peter Smith hands over the Starlight Cinema Taupō 12 May, 2022
Rachel CanningTaupō & Tūrangi Weekender
The year was 1979 and a young Peter Smith took on the job as a projectionist at the local cinema.
Two years later, the owner sold Peter his third of the shares and after making an inquiry to the managing director, he was offered the remaining shares.
Peter says the key to his success was "just being there and being a people person", for 43 years!
"Offering a good service is key, and having a good selection of movies to show. Also, the staff have been critical to the success of the cinema."
Throughout that time, Peter has employed a lot of young people, many keep in touch and he enjoys seeing them make a success of their lives. He also has a core of senior staff, one has been with him for 19 years and two staff members have been at the cinema for 11 years.
The Starlight Cinema is locally owned and independent and Peter says he has never been tempted to sell out to one of the big movie chains.
"It wouldn't be the same if the cinema was owned by a franchise. They would operate it in a different way."
He is staunchly community-minded and the Starlight Cinema Taupō has sponsored the annual fireworks and laser extravaganza, which in turn donates tens of thousands of dollars back into the community, the annual hobby show, the local harriers club, women's golf and the community patrol, to name a few.
"The local cinema is the community. They support me and I support them."
Peter is going to help the new owners out for another couple of months and is looking forward to going on holiday with his wife Robyn when he finally gets to retire.
Related articlesTammy Prince says she spent many happy hours of her childhood in the Starlight Cinema.
On Friday last week, Tammy and husband Charlie Prince bought the Starlight Cinema Centre from Peter Smith, who Tammy has known since she was 5.
When she was a child, her father Tom Clelland owned the business Xtra Clean which had the cleaning contract at the cinema.
"I worked in Dad's company in the holidays. The cinema would be my babysitter. In 1993 when The Lion King came out, I watched it 19 times over 14 days. I saw Titanic 22 times, I love movies."
Tom has sold his cleaning business now, but still keeps the carpet clean at the cinema. Tammy says Peter was more than an employer to her family.
"My dad was a single dad and so was Peter and they bonded. It wasn't like they were just co-workers."
Tammy's other childhood love was golf, moving to Texas when she was 18 on a golf scholarship to Oklahoma State University. She and Texas-born husband Charlie both have business degrees and Charlie is a big fan of superhero movies.
For a time they were both professional golfers but they didn't like the travel. During their last few years in Texas, Tammy raised their three young children while Charlie worked as a land and contracts analyst for an oil company.
"Charlie said to me 'what do you want to do?' And I said 'I want to own a movie theatre, it's so familiar to me'. We were going to either start one or buy one."
Fast forwards a few years, and the Prince family arrived in New Zealand on March 24, 2020, one day before the borders closed due to a State of National Emergency declared over the Covid-19 pandemic.
For the past few weeks, Tammy and Charlie have been learning the ropes at the Starlight Cinema, an immediate challenge being to get through this year "and make sure the business makes financial sense".
Tammy says if she and Charlie build a new cinema, people can expect something fancy but welcoming and cosy, and it will have a decent bar.
"We would keep the blockbusters but expand the boutique side. It will be a cinema designed for functions, such as birthdays."
Tammy says that dad Tom is now their primary babysitter.
"He is very excited [we have bought the cinema] and we have all been a bit terrified."
A million dollar restoration project for Embassy Theatre Wellington’s landmark cinema, Courtenay Place’s Embassy Theatre, opened in 1924, is to receive in excess of a million dollars as a loan to the Embassy Theatre Trust.
Former Wellington Mayor, Dame Kerry Prendergast and her husband, property developer and former city councillor, Rex Nicholls, are loaning the funds to restore the entrance to the treasured theatre.
The Category 1 heritage listed Embassy Theatre, has had a wonderful history providing a wide variety of entertainment in the capital city for close on 100 years. The theatre has played host to many film and arts festivals, international movie premieres, and as recent as the early 2000s, with Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which brought 120,000 people out to line Courtenay Place.
Lower Hutt lawyer and New Zealand arts stalwart, the late Bill Sheat, who passed away in January last year, was a long time chairman of the Embassy Theatre Trust, of which Rex Nicholls has also been a trustee. Bill and his trustee colleagues put much energy into saving and restoring the Embassy Theatre over many years.
The Embassy Theatre Trust was formed in 1995 to save and restore the building. The Trust, with the help of Wellington City Council, eventually purchased the property in 1997.
Between 1998 and 2003, the Embassy was refurbished with parts of the building being sympathetically restored, and the auditorium modernised to cater for the demands of current theatre goers.
Bill Sheat had his funeral service in the Embassy Theatre in January last year and, in recognition of Bill’s deep interest in musicals and acting, was a real theatrical show by all accounts. For the several hundreds who attended Bill’s service, including me, it was a wonderful tribute to an outstanding arts leader.
Rex Nicholls is very clear on their new objective. “We are lending this money to the Trust to rebuild the entrance foyer the way it was back in the 1920s and we want to put a big digital ad up on top of the building to help pay rent for the theatre.” Just a further step in a long programme of restoration work for the Embassy.
The Embassy Theatre is a special feature looking down Courtenay Place, attracting huge numbers of people travelling through the area, and by night an entertainment drawcard for thousands of city residents and visitors.
- David Watt
Renovations underway in May 2022. This will be a large electronic billboard, spelling out EMBASSY.
Geoff Lealand was an Assoc Prof in Screen and Media Studies at the University of Waikato from 1992 to 2017. Now retired (not a word he favours), he writes social history, maintains this site, its Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as going to the cinema at least twice weekly.