Ross Trebilco’s career shift at 72

Popcorn? Ice Cream? Bale of hay? The Capitol’s Ross Treblico.

Ross Treblico is a farmer who runs a movie theater. Or, conversely, he’s the cinema operator who is also a man of the land. Either way, it’s a weird juxtaposition that’s seems lost on him.

He’s equally at ease making popcorn and choc-tops as he is silage. He‘s equally at ease driving a tractor or operating his $1 million digital movie projectors.

And he’s just as happy dealing with beef cattle as he is people. Although he prefers beef cattle because “people can be very hard work”.

Beef cattle don’t walk in off the street demanding a piddle in the toilets at his Capitol Cinema in Te Puke, and they certainly don’t spit or whack you when he says no.

He’s had to prise apart people “making out” during a movie. And there are people who want to bring in their own alcohol and food. “It can get quite nasty and I am sick of that sort of thing,” says Ross. “So I definitely enjoy farm work more.

“People who come in and buy a ticket and some popcorn don’t know I am a farmer.”

And the kids down main street in Te Puke just call out “there’s the movie man.” They don’t call out there’s farmer Treblico.

However, Ross’s time as “Mr Movie Man” is rapidly rolling towards the credits. He’s getting out, selling up and going back to farming.

“I’m 72 soon,” he says, but his work ethic is even more epic than some of the movies he shows at the Capitol.

“I am feeding the cattle by 8am, and as early as 5am during the school holidays. Then I’ll be down at the cinema until midnight, every day, seven days a week. I haven’t had a day off for 20 years.” That’s at least 15 hours a day.

“It’s an easy job. Not hard.” By “not hard”, it can be assumed he means it’s not physical, that he doesn’t break a sweat. “But it is still work, you gotta be here.”

And he’s insistent that in 20 years of owning his own cinema, he’s never seen one movie in its entirety. Not one. But he did see the first 15 minutes of the three hours and 48 minutes of Lord of the Rings: The

Fellowship of the Ring – probably not enough to pick up the story line or critique it.

“There was a phone call and I had to come out. Then the lolly man arrived. I had to order the lollies so I didn’t go back in. No point.”

And because each of the four screens in the complex would empty at a different times, Ross would have to clean them out. There was never time to stop and watch the core business.

But - and it’s a big but - Ross will be sad to leave it. “I will miss it after a while,” he admits. “It’s taken such a big chunk of my life for the last 20 years.”

The former pig farmer, kiwifruit orchardist and current cattle rancher never set out to be in the motion picture industry. It evolved that way. In fact, it fell on him.

“I had bought the old Westpac building for my wife’s business and bits of spouting and pipe were falling on my roof from the Capitol next door.” He remonstrated with the owners who told Ross if he didn’t like he should buy it.

So he bought his problem, a building that had been derelict for 25 years. The beef farmer was lord of his own wreck. “It had strong bones, but the roof had caved in and the floor had gone.” Ross’s initial plan to convert the 80-year-old theatre into a shopping mall flopped like a bad movie. His solution was simple and obvious – throw $2 million at restoring it as a theatre and cinema.

“Then after we’d been running for about five years everything went digital – we pulled all the old projection equipment out and put in the new digital stuff. That was another million dollars.” That’s a lot of popcorn and soda.

It was early one Friday afternoon when The Weekend Sun dropped by the Capitol. There’s just one patron in all of the four cinemas watching Batman and Wonder Woman deal with a new threat to mankind in Justice League.

Out in the foyer, the farmer turned projectionist, cleaner and usher, is making popcorn, after having coned up and frozen the choc-tops.

“Hi, I’m from The Weekend Sun, I was hoping to talk with Ross Treblico?” The farmer stops and turns slowly, but deliberately, from the popping popcorn machine. “Well, seeing as I am the only person here, that must be me.”

A bit country gruff or a labored joke, either way you warm to the man if you scratch slowly and deep enough.

Staring down at 72 years, a nut of thick white hair and the lean, wiry, healthy look of a man who has laboured for a living. And there’s a will for more work.

“I will probably look for another bit of land.” That’s after a holiday - his first for 20 years - perhaps a train trip.

Like her owner, the Capitol has good bones as well as classical art deco or ‘moderne’ good looks of the 1930s. “At the same time, people will say it’s an old building and won’t buy something they think might fall over. But she’s as strong as.”

Let’s clarify the dunny issue. It’s not that Ross doesn’t want to provide a relief stop for those caught short down Jellicoe Street. He can’t, he’s prevented by regulation.

The rules say a toilet for every forty seats. He has 400 seats and ten toilets. “If I was going to let them walk in off the street I would have to provide a special toilet for them. That’s a job for the council. People don’t or won’t understand.”

And as for that loner watching Justice League, it’s not an industry indicator. It’s always quiet when Ross is making popcorn. In the evening there can be 30, 40 or 50 in each of the four screens. Ten in each adds up. “That’s quite profitable,” he says.

And on a wet school holiday he can take $12,000 in a day. And beef’s doing alright too.

“I like the variety” says Ross, who’s got two bob each way. “When one’s down, the other’s up.”