George R. R. Martin owns one. So does Quentin Tarantino.

Many a moviemaker and movie-lover has fantasized about running his or her own movie theater. Well, this might be your best chance ever—if you’re a persuasive writer, that is.

The Temple Theatre, a historic two-screen movie theater in Houlton, Maine, is being offered by longtime owner Mike Hurley to the candidate who writes the most convincing 250-word essay answering the question: “Why would you be the best person, family or group to own the Temple Theatre?”

After announcing the contest in December 2015, Hurley has extended the opportunity to win ownership of the theater from the original deadline of January 15, first to January 30, then to the current deadline of February 3. Essays will be judged on writing structure, content, quality of expression and creativity by Hurley and his staff in Belfast, Maine, where Hurley lives.

The best 20 essayists will be asked to interview with a secret panel of three in Houlton. All submissions require a $100 entry fee. A minimum of 3,500 entries are necessary for the theater to be awarded; otherwise, all entry fees will be refunded.

Temple Theater

Houlton, Maine’s Temple Theatre

The Temple Theatre is located in the heart of Houlton, the county seat and business hub of Aroostook County, by far the largest county east of the Mississippi River. Operating since 1918, the theater is housed in a three-story building and occupies the first two floors. The theater is equipped to seat a total of 400 guests, with 200 at each screen. The second floor entails 4,200 square feet of office space and a 2,000 square-foot apartment, where the theater’s manager resides.

Yes, it’s turning 98 years old, but the Temple isn’t exactly the ramshackle, crumbling picture palace you might be imagining. In 2002 it was renovated and in November 2014 it was equipped for digital projection, with state-of-the-art projectors, servers and sound system. It continues to please audiences by showing first-run films that cater to a myriad of tastes. 

So why the contest? After running it for 13 years, Hurley was motivated to give away ownership of the theater because of the long commute—he lives 150 miles south of the Temple. More importantly, his all-star manager of over 10 years, Patrick Blanchette, has decided to move on from the position. Hurley initially listed the theater for $350,000, but when it failed to sell, he decided to embark on this more unusual avenue.

The winner will not only receive the Temple, but $25,000 cash and 30 days of consulting and training in theater operations. As unorthodox as a contest for the ownership of a movie theater may seem, Hurley is not the first to attempt to give away property via competition—not even in Maine. His essay contest was inspired by a similar contest in which Janice Sage, owner of historic Maine bed and breakfast the Center Lovell Inn, asked for 7,500 entries with a $125 entry fee. (Sage did not receive 7,500 essays the first time she held her contest, but eventually did the second time.)

Inside of Temple Theater

The Temple’s box office and concessions counter

Hurley anticipates that selecting a winner will be difficult. He says, “[The entries] are all really good—very personal, heartfelt, sweet, brave, hopeful and sincere. I have not seen one truly bad essay. It will be very hard to pick just one.” Although the contest has yet to see 3,500 entries, he is not discouraged. “We have a lot of entries from all over the U.S. and some from out of the country, including Europe, New Zealand, Australia and Canada,” he reports. 

What about potential entrants who fear that theatrical exhibition, under attack from Video on Demand and other competing entertainment platforms, is waning? “It’s not flailing in Houlton,” says Hurley. “[Revenue] is up 50 percent over last year, thanks to increased digital options to get more movies when we want them and show them when we want. With the help of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the industry had the biggest box office in history. We had a fantastic holiday season. I have great faith in filmmaking and exhibition. If you love the movies and people as I do, this is a wonderful business.”

“The biggest problem we have is showing all the movies that people want to see. Having been in this for about 25 years, it is clear to me that there are more good movies being made than ever before.” MM

For information on submitting an entry to the Temple Theatre contest, visit here.