Daytonian of the Week: Jonathan McNeal

It's no secret that one of Dayton's greatest weapons in creating an urban resurgence is its arts scene.

From the professional gallery art exhibitions at the Dayton Art Institute and the Dayton Visual Arts Center to the profusion of live music acts you can see any given weekend, to the nationally renowned theater shows at the Schuster Performing Arts Center and the Victoria Theatre Association, there's no shortage of art offerings to experience.

One of the most accessible, cheap, and fun outings to do is to catch a movie at THE NEON theater, 130 E. Fifth St.

No, you won't catch the new Transformers or Marvel Franchise entry, but it's the only theater around that has shown films like the David Foster Wallace biopic The End of the Tour, the terrifying It Follows, and a variety of local and national film festival selections. Not only is this the only place around to see those films, but at the very reasonable price of $7 for matinees, $9 for evenings, and $5 (yes, $5) on Tuesdays, plus delicious snacks and drinks, the entire experience is a complete pleasure.

Thank our Daytonian of the Week, Jonathan McNeal, for that experience. Manager of THE NEON since 2001, the Salem, Ohio,. native came to Dayton to attend the Motion Pictures program at Wright State University in 1992.

> > > Watch Jonathan McNeal's "I Am Dayton" video.

McNeal, 41, works every day to bring the best of global independent cinema to Dayton, giving the Gem City a cosmopolitan luxury few other small cities can afford. Get to know him.

How did THE NEON come to be?
Jonathan McNeal: 
THE NEON has been a cinema (with different owners/operators/names) for almost 30 years.  I took over management as it was transforming from a single screen cinema to a twin. That was in the Fall of 2001.

Describe your role at THE NEON. What's your day-to-day goal in running the theatre, and how do you work to accomplish that goal?
I'm the manager. I have a great partner at THE NEON - our assistant manager Diana Cordero. She takes care of inventory - office/cleaning supplies and concessions, and she does an amazing job. Since I don't have to worry about that, I'm able to focus on the films (and staffing and marketing and scheduling and community relations and private rentals and...). We're open 365 days a year, and there's something to check in on every day. My day to day goal is to make guests' experience as smooth and positive as possible - and I think I have the right team in place to make that happen.

What are the challenges you face at THE NEON?
Our biggest challenge is making people aware and interested in smaller films that they may have never heard of before.

What is the indie cinema's place in Dayton's resurgence right now? Have you seen more of an interest in recent years, or has attendance been steady since THE NEON opened?
We have certainly grown over the years. We've seen a pretty steady growth - even during the economic decline in 2008. I attribute this to a few things. Our prices are the best in town, the customer experience is among the best around, and the films we bring to this market are among the best in contemporary cinema. We also partner with many local filmmakers, grassroots organizations, and companies to bring their events to life...and all of those relationships help build awareness.

Is there anything you wish regular moviegoers (the ones who go to Regal, AMC, etc) knew about indie film theaters?
People often ask, "How do you get all the best movies?" "Your movies always get good reviews.  Why is that?" Well there's a big difference between the multiplexes and indie cinemas. Thousands of independent films are made every year. A very small percentage of those films get picked up for distribution. Of those films, only a small percentage make their way to us. In a sense, they've already passed a bevy of tests to make their way to our screens...they're already tried-and-true. Hollywood films are different. When Hollywood makes a film for $100,000,000 (or a lot, lot more), you better believe they're going to put it in theaters - whether its good or not. And they'll spend millions telling you why you should see it. Indies are different. Our films are usually labors of love that have had a long, hard road getting to our screens...and the difference shows.

With the LGBT Film Festival only just come and gone and the 7th annual FilmDayton Festival just around the corner, how do local film festivals help benefit their community?
Film festivals bring fresh films to town that might not otherwise get screened. They're usually smaller films with smaller budgets - and they often don't have distribution deals in place. That said, the voices of these filmmakers are valuable to many demographics in our community. It's important to not only see "yourself" on the screen, but it's also important to see people and places and ideologies you might not otherwise encounter. An investment in cinema can make for a much more well-rounded community.

What is your favorite food/restaurant/bar in the Miami Valley?
I have a lot of favorites in town...and rotate among them. I love Meadowlark and Wheat Penny Oven and Bar and Coco's Bistro and Roost Modern Italian...but I also love a quick lunch at Carmen's Bistro. When it comes to a late night bite, I drop into Tank's Bar and Grill quite regularly. Regarding bars, I can be found any number of places: Century Bar, MJ's on Jefferson, The Right Corner, Fifth Street Brew Pub (and of course the restaurants I mentioned also have great bars).

How do you describe Dayton to out-of-towners?
There's plenty to do. In fact, I don't have enough time to do what I want.

What do you wish people knew more about Dayton?
From Cinema, to Performance, to Music, to Visual...the Arts are thriving in Dayton.

What is one thing you would improve/change about Dayton?
The fearmongering of so many local news outlets hinders our growth. I wish we could get them to refocus and invest in our optimal desired community.

What do you imagine Dayton will look like in 10-15 years?
We're growing. The skyline is changing and there's been a lot more traffic (foot, bike, car) lately...and I want to see that growth continue.

What is one fun fact about yourself?
Ileasa Plymouth, my Rubi Girl persona, just turned 18.

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