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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] realized  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.

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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