Here's a predictable plot: A world-famous director buys a mansion in the Hollywood Hills and immediately demands that his underlings bring forth a traditional screening room - an opulent show-place, sealed off from the rest of the house, complete with a hulking projector, Voice of the Theater-type speakers, leather recliners on shag-covered risers, red velvet curtains, and a touchscreen remote the size of most people's TV sets. Although this scenario has undeniably played out innumerable times in the homes of many filmmakers - auteurs and arrivistes alike - the world-famous director in question here is Oliver Stone and, true to form, his home theater proves to be anything but true to form. In fact, it's melded into the most open, socially active (and brightly lit) room of his house. But the driving force behind Stone's iconoclasm here isn't some need to shake up the domestic status quo, but a simple desire to keep things, well, simple. "I didn't want to have a projection room," says Stone. "That seems a little too Hollywood for me. You know, 'Let's all go into the projection room.' I don't want to force people to see a movie. But, if we have a few friends over to watch something, we can put, what, seven, 10 chairs in here and turn it into a little screening room."
Stone still prefers movie theaters for his primary viewing. "When I really want to see a film, I want to see the size and scope, the cinematography, the sense of theater and audience," he says. "I want to be part of a participatory event." But his home system gives him a chance to catch up on movies he doesn't have time to see in theaters. Just as important, it gives him a place to unwind. "It's not a movie theater, but it's very nice. I consider it just a main room, a family room. But it's also a place that makes viewing at home a bit elevated, a bit more sacred. It's relaxing after a hard day to enter another world."
While planning the renovation, Stone immediately realized what others have found out only through bruising experience - that having a separate home theater room can isolate you from the rest of the family and turn movie-watching into a chore. "There's a flow to the house from room to room, and it's important to keep that flow and not have a sequestered space," he says.
While most people would have next called in a custom installer, Stone needed someone who would be involved with every aspect of the home's renovation and design and be flexible enough to work with his demanding schedule. So he turned to "entertainment lifestyle specialist" Janna Robinson, who helps filmmakers, movie stars, and other celebrities figure out ways to make technology complement, rather than complicate, their lives.
Stone told Janna upfront that a dedicated home theater was out. "Oliver's whole thing is that he doesn't want to come off as pretentious," says Janna, "and he felt that it would be a little pretentious." It's fortunate the family room was a good fit for what Stone was looking for, because it turned out to be the only place in the house that would work. "The only other room was what later became the gym," says Janna, "but that was too small to do anything with, and it leads into the garage."
To do the installation, Janna brought in James Budow and his crew at Santa Barbara Performance Audio. Recalls James: "When Oliver first sat down to talk to us and I started explaining the options to him, he said, 'You're absolutely boring me now'." James soon realized that Stone didn't need to know all the minutiae but wanted to be fed just enough information to make an intelligent decision.
Also, it took a while to get Stone engaged in the installation because the job started around the time he began shooting World Trade Center. "But once he was done getting out that production, he was very involved," says James. "I can't say I wasn't intimidated, but when you ultimately nail him down, he's pretty easygoing."
Stone was especially concerned that the home theater be integrated into the room unobtrusively. "One of the first things he told me was, 'I have tons of books, so we need cabinets for them,' " says James. So he and Janna helped the cabinetmaker design a shelving unit where the books are dominant most of the time, but where the LG 60-inch plasma HDTV comes to the fore whenever it's on. "The LG sits seamlessly in that cabinet, with the rest of the gear hidden away," says James.
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