FACETIME- Silver screener:<B> </B>Greenbaum sees the big picture

Word to the wise: Don't ever tell screenwriter Adam Greenbaum, "It won't play in middle America." He's not buying it. What the 34-year-old New York native did buy, however, was the dilapidated Visulite theater in Staunton, transforming it into a state-of-the-art art house cinema, where Greenbaum plans to prove middle America is ripe for challenging films.

"I feel there are lots of people who are just not served by mainstream Hollywood products," he says.

Although Greenbaum's only previous movie-screening experience was working as a projectionist while attending Wesleyan University, he got a dose of showbiz L.A.-style as a story editor in the mid-1990s for Michael Gruskoff, producer of Young Frankenstein. Greenbaum recalls one meeting where a studio executive suggested that a tender script about a suicide might be improved by adding space aliens.

"I really just became depressed and fed up," Greenbaum says.

Disillusioned and back in New York, Greenbaum started performing stand-up at comedy clubs, where he met in-your-face comic Maija Di Giorgio. She hired him as a writer, and later the two collaborated on Bitter Jester, a documentary about life on the comedy circuit.

The film won awards at the New York Film Festival and the Aspen Comedy Festival, but, to Greenbaum's frustration, it never received mainstream distribution.

Disheartened, Greenbaum turned to writing short fiction. After attending a writers' retreat in Wyoming, he suggested to his future wife, Shelah, that they buy a bookstore.

"I was like, "Why not cut to the chase?'" Shelah recalls. "Why spend time and money on a bookstore when what you really want to own is a movie theater?"

The two began a cross-country search for a cinema. After rejecting has-been spots in Colorado, Florida, and Pennsylvania, Greenbaum was not overly optimistic when he boarded a Staunton-bound train in August 2004. But, he says, he knew he'd found the right place when he didn't meet anyone who disliked living in the town.

The 1930s-era Visulite, leaky and mold-ridden, was a different story. Five contractors turned down the job before Greenbaum found one willing to take on the overhaul.

Having re-roofed, de-molded, and rewired the basic structure, Greenbaum installed stereo sound and selected extra-comfy chairs for the theater's stadium seating. On January 6, the new and improved Visulite opened with The Squid and the Whale.

In addition to showing offbeat films, the Visulite features live music before weekend screenings and regularly hosts film discussions. In the future, Greenbaum plans to invite filmmakers to lecture.

"My goal has been to create the most comfortable environment possible," he says, "and to show the very best movies that are out there."

Greenbaum's biggest gratification? "I love when people come out of the movie and want to talk about it."

Adam Greenbaum