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Ass on the Grass Film Series in Virginia-Highland: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

Q&A with J. Winter, organizer of Ass on the Grass film series.

You've heard of Screen on the Green at Piedmont Park. But what about outdoor movies in Virginia-Highland?

Resident J. Winter has started showing movies on a big screen on his front lawn at the house he rents at 817 N. Highland Avenue, across the street from Dark Horse Tavern, and nicknamed "Highland High."

Winter says his film series, named Ass on the Grass, is a private party on his front lawn "for friends and neighbors to gather, have a few beers, dress up in theme of that particular night, and watch a silly 80's movie." Admission is free.

Winter isn't the first in the neighborhood to show movies on a big screen in his yard. Neighbors on my street periodically show movies in their yard and invite friends and neighbors. But Winter's film series is surely the most controversial.

During the past week, some Virginia-Highland residents have posted online about the pros and cons of Ass on the Grass.

Said one resident: "It's cool that someone (who is also a neighbor) wants to share his movies with others and even serve beer. More like the good-ole-days."

Others are not as enthusiastic. John Wolfinger, public safety chair for the Virginia-Highland Civic Association, posted a comment online in which he offered to notify Zone 6 police. Winter's neighbor also posted a comment in which he complained about noise, among other things. (Wolfinger and Winter's neighbor declined to comment for this article.)

To learn more what Winter is up to, I interviewed him by phone. I found him to be funny and quite a character. Here's our Q&A.

How did you get the idea for "Ass on the Grass"?

JW: I have terrific ideas that only lose me money. And this is one of them, I think.

We were watching the movie 'Stepbrothers' one day and, inspired by the "Catalina Wine Mixer" scene in that film, we came up with the idea to have people over to watch movies. Like most of our ideas we laughed at it and forgot about it. But I'm getting older and I really want to take advantage of the twilight of my youth. And we wanted to have some fun.

And I think we all got fed up with Screen on the Green; it's such a hassle to go down there. After we decided to do Ass on the Grass, they cancelled Screen on the Green. And we were joking, "Yeah, they cancelled it because of us." And then they brought it back.

What's your motivation? What do you hope to accomplish?

JW: We're just a bunch of single guys living in a house, and we're trying to have fun.

Is it fair to say you want to meet girls?

JW: Yeah, that's actually a very romantic way to put it. We're just trying to meet girls. I like that, I'm going to start using that.

So how did you come up with the name Ass on the Grass?

JW: That was the fallback name. I kept asking people in my Facebook account for ideas, saying "Ass on the Grass" is the obvious one, give me something else. And no one came up with anything.

How did the first movie night come together?

JW: We don't know what we're doing. We took a theater system from my dad's house. And then my buddy had a projector. We had to figure out how to build a screen. At Home Depot, we saw sheet rock for $12, and we got two pieces of sheet rock and used that as a screen. And our Netflix account.

The first movie we showed was The Money Pit with Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. A classic. We had about 20 people. We were all happy with it.

We all realized we could have a lot of fun with it this summer with theme nights. If the Braves make the playoffs, we have to show Field of Dreams or Major League. When school starts, we've got to show Back to School. We want to end it with a Lebowski fest all day party. Can't argue with that.

Basically, we're just guys in the twilight of our youth. We're in our late 20's and early 30's, barely hanging on to the dream. Take advantage of no responsibilities. It's pretty simple.

What were the next movies you showed?

JW: The second movie was Police Academy. Because we thought the police were going to be called, I dressed up like the character Mahoney with cutoff jeans and a t-shirt that said 'one in the oven'. I was hoping the cops would show up so I could talk with them dressed as Mahoney. But they didn't show up. There were only 30 people in our yard.

And we probably had around 50 for Animal House. That was a good one; we were sitting around in togas.

You mentioned people were outraged. How did it first come to your attention that some people in the neighborhood didn't like this?

JW: Someone emailed my buddy saying, 'The neighborhood is in an uproar over you guys." At first we started laughing about it. But then we got serious about it. We want to keep doing the movie night. So we drafted a serious response. I got 15 responses from people cheering me on and saying delightful things. And some maybe not so delightful things about that message board and how seriously some people take it. It felt good to receive those messages.

Getting those positive notes reinforced that it's something neat that's done in the city. You're not going to move to Stockbridge and then someone in the neighborhood's going to do movies in their yard and people gather round. You just wouldn't see that.

I think that letter cleared up everything that needed to be cleared up. And [people] realizedĀ  these guys are just having fun and nothing malicious.

What's the maximum capacity?

JW: There's no way to get more than 100 people in my yard. Like the one guy said in his response that defended us, it's a fenced-in, tiny yard; it will contain itself. It's not like we're all of a sudden going to bring in porta-potties.

So how many movies do you think you'll have this summer?

JW: I think we'll squeeze in 20 before it gets too cold. Summer School is next. Probably next week. We might skip weeks here and there.

And obviously we're going to work in Caddyshack very shortly. We don't charge admission but we're thinking about encouraging canned food [donations] for a food drive.

Is anyone from the neighborhood welcome, up to capacity?

JW: Yeah. And I don't think we're ever going to hit capacity.

Do they need to RSVP?

JW: Nah, just show up and grab a seat. If there's grass and your ass will fit on it, then you're in.

How long have you lived in Virginia-Highland? What are your impressions?

JW: Two years. I like sticking out a little bit in this area. But I absolutely love it. My mom grew up in this neighborhood. And my grandmother died in the government- assisted building right there on Ponce at Highland. So I have a lot of attachment to the neighborhood. This is a terrific neighborhood; there's not much bad you can say about it.

Decaturd June 09, 2011 at 06:34 PM
Dude, can you say "ass" in here? If I had kids I don't think I'd want them to see that. Asses in grass is a gateway to naughty behavior. In my parents day, the only ass you'd read about in polite places was Francis the Talking Mule.
Ted Nugent June 09, 2011 at 07:38 PM
J. Winter is like the Charlie Sheen of VaHi! Love his sense of humor and his happy-go-lucky attitude. Good seeing someone doing something fun in the neighborhood. Will be at the next movie. Awesome!
Decaturd June 09, 2011 at 09:14 PM
@David Dude, I wouldn't have commented if I wasn't serious. Hey, are you balding? If you are, you can't call someone dude. You're too old.
David Eckoff June 09, 2011 at 09:39 PM
A few people have asked me if there is a movie tonight. I understand from J. that there isn't any movie scheduled for this week. He says the next movie is scheduled for Thurs June 16 ("Summer School"). Here is their home base on facebook for more info: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=217459548281360
takebacktheneighborhood June 10, 2011 at 02:04 PM
I am a resident / homeowner in VaHi and I am becoming very concerned about this and other events which have been tollerated. I personally saw the event from the street and consider it an eyesore. Not to mention, the potential negative impact on our property values. I am tired of paying the outrageous city of Atlanta property taxes and watching the public treat our streets and residential areas like it is an extension of a bar parking lot. You dont see this type of stuff tolerated in Morningside, nor Decatur for that matter. IMO, the VaHi community needs to come together for the good of all and not the few who want this to be like a fraternity row on a college campus. The more that stuff like this is tolerated, I am starting to believe that VaHi is not nearly ready for the modern property values and property taxes we are paying. Party on renters and landlords!
Virginia June 10, 2011 at 02:51 PM
To be fair, most of the discussion on the newslist was about the fact that the event was announced in Creative Loafing as a public event, with an official beer sponsor. That sounded like it was going to be much more than 20 friends on a lawn.
J. Winter June 11, 2011 at 01:55 AM
Takebackthenieghborhood, Take back from what? Tired of paying "outrageous City of Atlanta taxes"? Tired of "watching the public treat our streets and residential areas like it is an extension of a bar parking lot"? Madam or Sir, lets walk through this slowly, and pay close attention to the last step. 1. Tired of paying outrageous city of Atlanta taxes for frivolous things like parks, schooling, fire departments, library's, upkeep of infrastructure, and the occasional friendly police protection? I have firm persuasion you and your family would be much more comfortable in a more cost efficient town like Lawrenceville. Very spacious. 2. Take back our streets back? From what? Please elaborate on your subtle southern racism. 3. So the bars and nightlife on N. Highland Ave have become bothersome and inconvenienced to you on your lovely family? Oh heavens. I'm just throwing a conservative number out there, but I'm guessing you've been a mover and shaker in this neighborhood all of 10 years? The bars on N. Highland senior you by 90. Don't shake a palm tree and get pissed a coconut knocks your noodle. 4. And lastly, with total irregard and abandomnemt... remove the stick out of your ass... And join us for Ass on the Grass. xoxo -mayor
AJM June 11, 2011 at 06:10 PM
Ass on the Grass is a great idea. Keep it up. We need MORE stuff like this.
takebacktheneighborhood June 13, 2011 at 01:43 PM
Racist? That's a first-predictable, but Priceless. You seem to have a great grasp on the value of Atlanta City taxes seeing as though you've apparently never paid a real-estate tax bill in our life. Have you done any research on what your neighbors are paying in real-estate taxes? Why would it matter to you if the neighborhood goes south, you can just move on and let the rest of us deal with it. Maybe your specialty is not economics, but let me give you a little lesson. Let's say there are 1000 properties in the neighborhood. Your neighbors are the only ones with a movie event, kiddie pool, lawn chair strewn eye-sore next door. Guess what ? Most are not going to want to buy next to the movie event frat house and so property values are affected. You conveniently tried to make this about Lawrenceville, but that isn't what we are talking about. Again, why is this stuff going on here and not in Morningside or Decatur? Maybe you've been in a drunken stupper for a while, but there's been a lot of crime and some of us would like to know more about who is coming and going around here. 1st you say you've got 35 people over at your house, then you say it's a free-for-all, which is it, private or public party? Do you have parking plans for this stuff? Are you going to make sure that the streets are treated like a residential area and not a bar parking lot? Maybe you can spend your Saturday cleaning up the streets to help out? I know, I know- it's all about you though, isnt it?
Barbara Baggerman June 13, 2011 at 06:13 PM
I take issue with Morningside being depicted as a stuffy place that wouldn't tolerate this kind of thing. God forbid we ever become that! On my Morningside street we have neighbors who occasionally do "movie night" or "fire pit" on their front lawns; all the neighbors are welcome; and it's this kind of comraderie that makes our street one of the most sought-after in the 'hood. I love seeing spontaneous, fun, crazy stuff going on in our neighborhoods. It's like the "good old days" of the '70s and '80s when post-college hippie-freaks and urban pioneers moved in to Va-Hi while everyone else was moving to the 'burbs. We valued a different lifestyle and we made it happen here. We created this "Mayberry" that is now so highly desirable, which may not be understood by people with a traditional suburban mindset who are focused on upscale appearances. What makes these neighborhoods valuable is not appearances, it's COMMUNITY. "Community" is something money can't buy. Party on.
Arman June 14, 2011 at 08:02 PM
I am thoroughly impressed with the retort of takebacktheneighborhood. Splendid! It's about time that we take a stand against these people who have, without hesitation or remorse, spent years frequenting our bars and restaurants which has, for years and years, made our neighborhood desirable and fun which, in turn, has raised our property values which, in turn, led me to purchase my home here. I'm rootin tootin upset, and I'm ready to reverse this unjust trend. Let's get together and make a difference. I'm tired of driving past all of the bars on N. Highland and seeing people going into bars and coming out of bars and parking in bar parking lots to frequent bars. What gives? I don't understand why people can't just stay home and enjoy the comfort of agoraphobia/idontlikepeoplehavingfun-itis. Take back the streets and private lawns!
Dan June 15, 2011 at 02:24 PM
Thumbs up.... WAY UP!
Bailey June 15, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Thumbs down for Ass on the Grass. People gathering in the front yard of a single house in a large neighborhood once a week for several hours is lowering my property value. I have to pay a fixed amount of property taxes, regardless of property value, right? Wait, you're telling me that my property taxes (millage rate) are pegged to property value (assessed value)? So if my assessed value decreases my property taxes decrease accordingly? Consider my mind blown! Furthermore, I have heard that only 6 times since 1959 have property taxes been lower than they are now. (http://www.fultoncountytaxes.org/fultoniwr/MillageRates.pdf) Can this be true? I guess I am getting a lot of bang for my buck these days. Maybe I will loosen up a little bit this week and join my neighbors for a brew and a movie.
takebacktheneighborhoodhasnofriends June 15, 2011 at 05:15 PM
Wow, is it really possible that property value will go down because of twenty people in a front yard?
Casey June 15, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Takebacktheneighborhood, I find it hard to take seriously a person who cannot spell the word "stupor."
David Eckoff June 16, 2011 at 08:26 PM
As a follow up to this story that I wrote, I saw a post on the VHList that stated: "City of Atlanta Muni Code Sec 142-115 would apply to a Private Large Gathering having more than 75 attendees, for which there is an application". However, in my review of the code, 142-115 only applies if the event does not meet the criteria set forth in section 142-112(a). It seems to me that this event does in fact meet the critera set forth in 142-112(a), copied and pasted below. Therefore I think this event does not require an outdoor event permit or application. Sec. 142-112. - Private outdoor events at residence. (a) An outdoor event occurring on private property, at a building that is used as a residence at the time of the outdoor event, regardless of the number of attendees, does not require an outdoor event permit, and no outdoor event application need be filed. (b) If such outdoor event has greater than 75 attendees and occurs at a residential building that is not being used as a residence at the time of the outdoor event, and if the outdoor event does not qualify as an outdoor festival, then the outdoor event shall be treated as a private large gathering, as described in section 142-115 below. (c) Where such outdoor event includes an activity that requires a sub-permit, as set forth in article IV above, the applicant must file a sub-permit application with the SEM and be issued a sub-permit prior to performing said activity. (Ord. No. 2006-66, § 15, 9-26-06)
David Eckoff June 16, 2011 at 08:29 PM
And here is the link to the City of Atlanta Muni code, if you're interested in reading the entire section: http://library.municode.com/HTML/10376/level3/PTIICOORENOR_CH142OUEV_ARTVIIIOUEVPRPR.html#PTIICOORENOR_CH142OUEV_ARTVIIIOUEVPRPR_S142-112PROUEVRE#PTIICOORENOR_CH142OUEV_ARTVIIIOUEVPRPR_S142-112PROUEVRE
Chris June 16, 2011 at 08:32 PM
Thank you for your research David. Watching other people have fun must be a miserable experience for folks like Takebacktheneighborhood.
King June 16, 2011 at 08:38 PM
Agreed. Thumbs up to this event.
Harvey Wallbanger June 16, 2011 at 09:53 PM
Wait...I'm an owner in VaHi. I don't see this being such a bad thing. And as far as parking...they can park (or walk as most do) in the same spot that they would for the restaurants/bars they go to before and after the movie. I used to live in that area and could usually hear the live music across the street at Blind Willies...and I loved it. That's why I live in that neighborhood. Also this is occurring at a property across from Dark Horse, Harry & Son's, Limerick Junction, and Blind Willies. Sounds like the perfect spot for a fratty lifestyle in Atlanta. I'm not sure why anyone would expect different in that location. It's not like this is a house on St. Louis away from the noise of the N Highland. It might as well be a bar itself. Things like this is what VaHi is all about and leads to our friendly open-minded community reputation. If I wanted Morningside or Decatur (and I might one day) I'll move there. But until then I'll enjoy the fruits of my neighborhood...this being one of them. Nothing to be ashamed of here. Good, clean, legal fun.
Melanie Wofford June 17, 2011 at 01:44 PM
I think the Ass on the Grass is a wonderful concept. It promotes community engagement. My hat goes off to the resident who took a proactive move to help continue an activity that brings joy to so many people. Atlanta is great because of its rich and diverse neighborhoods, made up of residents that bring that added flavor, some bitter some sweet, but when its all said in done, its about living safely in harmony while having a little fun!!! Its so wonderful to be engaged!!! Kudos dude, Kudos melanie@communityhousingcorp.org
Kizzy June 20, 2011 at 07:40 PM
"Thumbs up ass in the grass?" Kizzy finds this vivid.

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