A Big Screen Dream Comes to Life

The Hollywood duo behind Davenport’s new cinema

Bryan Woods and Scott Beck stand in front of a Last Picture House banner

Bryan Woods and Scott Beck started making movies together as Bettendorf middle schoolers, back when goofing around behind a camcorder was “a socially acceptable way of playing with action figures,” as Bryan put it. “We had a bunch of what seemed like insane dreams at the time.”

As teenagers, the friends envisioned a future as famous filmmakers who would return to Iowa and build a movie theater. It turns out their fantasy wasn’t too far-fetched. With box office success under their belts and the recent opening of The Last Picture House in Davenport, Bryan and Scott are fulfilling the aspirations they held as kids.

“We’re big lovers and believers, both as filmmakers and now theater owners, of the theatrical experience,” Bryan said. “We think there’s something special about going to a movie on a Friday night and you feel 200 people jump out of their seats when a scare hits, then laugh about it afterwards.”

Creating that kind of spine-tingling suspense is one of Scott and Bryan’s specialties. Their careers skyrocketed after “A Quiet Place,” the critically acclaimed horror film starring A-listers Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, grossed nearly $350 million in its 2018 release. Renowned author Stephen King, known as the “king of horror,” praised the movie as an “extraordinary piece of work,” and Bryan and Scott signed on to write and executive produce a film adaptation of one of King’s short stories.

Inspired by Iowa

The creative duo began developing “A Quiet Place” when they were undergraduate students at the University of Iowa, long before they caught the attention of major studios. Although shot in upstate New York, that movie’s setting—a farmhouse surrounded by cornfields—could be an Iowa acreage.

View of the back of a screening room with black theater seats and red overhead lighting

“What is really helpful to us as artists is being inspired by people and by a place,” Bryan said. “Iowa is inspiring to us.”

When Scott was weighing a choice between attending the University of California Los Angeles or the University of Iowa (UI), his decision came down to where he could experiment and grow as a filmmaker.

“I didn’t see the opportunity in California, ironically, that I did in Iowa,” he said. He and Bryan already had a network of collaborators here, and in Iowa, “there were so many untapped resources to be able to make movies in a way that was more freeing, financially, and more creatively exciting.”

Related: Find a media production directory, location database or register services on the Produce Iowa website.

The pair cofounded Bluebox Films while still in school and secured their first development deal after winning MTVU’s ‘Best Film on Campus’ competition. They point to important takeaways from influential coursework as part of their success. Lessons from a UI nonverbal communications class found their way into scripts for “A Quiet Place” and “65,” a 2023 sci-fi survival thriller starring Adam Driver. 

“After our time at The University of Iowa, we spent every waking moment trying to achieve our dreams,” Scott said. “This industry is full of constant rejection. But we always had a support system in Iowa. More than that, the stories we wanted to tell always had one foot in our upbringing that kept us tied to the state.”

Big Screen to Bricks & Mortar

The Last Picture House is a physical manifestation of the love Scott and Bryan have for both Iowa and cinema. Before becoming a boutique cinema and cocktail lounge in Davenport’s vibrant Motor Row District, the 1895 building that now houses The Last Picture House had fallen into disrepair. (Flashback to Bryan and Scott’s teenage years when it housed a pawn shop.) Now, it’s red-carpet ready.

Rendering of Last Picture House building from a bird's eye view

The building’s revival was a collective effort with a small group of owners and bolstered by Destination Iowa grant funds. In addition to its 150-seat auditorium and 48-seat smaller theater, The Last Picture House will host sunset screenings on the rooftop deck overlooking the Mississippi River. Scott and Bryan’s collection of movie posters and memorabilia also add unique décor to the space.

“Downtown Davenport over the last like 10 to 15 years has seen this resurgence of activity,” Scott said. “There’s nightlife there, also a lot of artistic opportunities with the Figge Art Museum, Common Chord and Raccoon Motel, which brings incredible music acts right next door. Our neighborhood is so phenomenal in terms of the variety that it offers.”

Related: Davenport is also home to Alternating Currents, one of several annual Iowa Film Festivals.

“We treat the theater like a movie we’re working on,” Bryan said. “We’re always asking ourselves, ‘How can we make it better? How can we bridge the gap between LA and Hollywood and Iowa?’”

Scott and Bryan envision The Last Picture House as more than a theater. Instead, they see it as a community gathering space to promote the art of filmmaking through programming, including discussions with visiting artists.

“We want to host educational opportunities,” Scott said. “So, kids like us can see the through-line to making a career in the arts. You don’t necessarily have to leave Iowa to make that dream a reality.”

Published February 16, 2024

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