The future of cinema is here, it's called digital film, and it could put community theaters which cannot afford to make a costly upgrade out of business.
By the end of 2013, Hollywood will do away with the long-used 35mm film standard, and replace it with a model based entirely on digital format.
The transition is a threat to theaters that cannot afford the required conversion, which according to saveamericascinemas.org, could cost up to $100,000 per cinema. The update requires the purchasing of digital projectors, sound systems, servers and movie screens.
Pictured in the background is the interior of the Reg Lenna Civic Center’s theater, which can seat up to 1,269 patrons, that includes a 16-by-35 foot screen. At right, a moviegoer purchases a ticket to the Friday night showing of “Life of Pi.”
P-J photos by Remington Whitcomb
Jamestown's historic Reg Lenna Civic Center is no exception to the new rule. According to Michael Dykeman, vice president of the Reg Lenna, the theater's existing system won't allow for the showing of new films come the digital conversion. So, in order to continue showing films, the theater will need to purchase new equipment that could cost up to $70,000.
"It's something that we don't have a choice on; it's going to happen no matter what and it's going to happen by the end of this year," said Dykeman. "On the studio's end it creates a huge savings, on our end now we have to upgrade, and it is a tremendous investment."
The Reg Lenna's box office manager, Lynn Warner, said that the films currently shown during "Movies at the Reg" are 35mm.
"One of the main conversion issues for studios is the cost of not only producing film in 35mm format, but shipping, receiving and tracking among other things," said Warner. "I also recently spoke with Rick Davis of the 1891 Fredonia Opera House and they are researching right now for their upgrade as well. The quote that he got was $75,000. So, I called Entertainment Equipment in Buffalo, who Rick has been talking with, they wanted our specs such as how big our screen is, how many seats we have and how far the projection is, so the cost is going to be based on the theater's logistics."
As a result, Dykeman and Warner have started a fundraising campaign called "Donate For Digital" that will act to help the Reg Lenna Civic Center purchase the necessary upgrades.
"Our current issue is funding because it's through foundations and grants," said Dykeman. "So, we thought we'd would open this campaign for the community. And, hopefully they understand that this is a tremendous expense on our part, and that we want to keep the facility up-to-date to offer the best product possible for our film series. And, without the upgrade we won't be able to because there won't be anymore 35mm films released."
Although the process of digital conversion won't completely take effect until the new year, changes have already begun occurring that Warner has noticed because they directly affect the Civic Center's film series.
"They've been reducing the numbers of 35mm film availability, so we have to throw out what films we'd like to bring here, and hope that they have the film available that fits our schedule," said Warner. "So, it's turning into more of an issue when we've got less to choose from and a tighter time frame."
However, there are benefits to going digital. According to Dykeman digital movies offer a better quality picture as well as the option to be shown stereoscopic 3D. The new projector would replace the currently operating one that was obtained in 1991.
"Everything started with the film 'Avatar' because they realized the quality and what they could do with that technology." said Dykeman. "But, we don't really show action films. The people who attend our theater here aren't really the type to go to the mall. People come here for more story-driven films. It's an audience that is here by choice because they want to see this. We have a combination of a sound system, a big screen and a comfortable environment that seats up to 1,269."
Those who wish to make a donation can visit www.reglenna.com and click on the button labeled donate. In addition to supporting the theater by making donations, area residents can also purchase tickets to one of the upcoming film showings. Warner also said that she is willing to hear any creative ideas for fundraising opportunities. One example of a creative fundraiser is that Jamestown Paranormal is considering hosting a spend-the-night at the Reg tour in which they take a small percentage and donate the rest of the proceeds towards the digital campaign.
For more information call 484-7070.
As Warner pointed out, the 1891 Fredonia Opera House is facing the looming threat of digital age as well. According to Rick Davis, executive director of the 1891 Fredonia Opera House, there is no choice but to make the conversion.
"If we do not convert to digital we will not be able to present movies by the end of 2013, that's a fact for all theaters," said Davis. "We are essentially doing the same thing that the Reg Lenna is going to do, which is fundraising to help cover the cost. We are combining that need with a number of other capital needs that we have for the theater. So, we will be conducting a capital campaign this summer that will focus largely on the digital conversion. "
The campaign is currently in the planning stages. But, some behind-the-scenes work has been done in order to ensure that when the campaign is announced there will also be leadership gifts to report.
"This is something that we have known is coming for a few years, but I have to say that smaller independents, like us, always thought that the studios would never fully go to digital," said Davis. "That's because there are so many independent theaters that will need to make this expensive conversion, and there will be many that will be forced to close. That's why we've waited until now because the benefit for waiting is that the cost has decreased by about 20 percent."
Although the conversion is a costly move, Davis said that the movie series is one of the most popular events at the theater, so it is something he takes very seriously.
"We are actually looking forward to the conversion," said Davis.
But, whether it will increase the quality of the product that the 1891 Fredonia Opera House provides creates an interesting discussion, he continued.
"If you talk to real cinophiles they will say no, because you lose the warmth that comes from a 35mm print," said Davis. "But, the reality is that the image will be much crisper, clearer and high definition. We are also going to make some minor improvements to our surround-sound system so in connection with the new digital image for our film, there also will be improved sound and individual-viewer closed captioning for people who are deaf or severely hearing impaired."
For more information call 679-0891 or visit www.fredopera.org.
In order to ensure that area residents are continued to be provided with a high-quality film-viewing experience, several theaters have already undergone the transition to digital film.
According to Marcy O'Brien, executive director for Struthers Library Theatre in Warren, Pa., the organization faced a challenge similar in nature to what the Reg Lenna Civic Center and the Fredonia Opera House are currently dealing with, and decided to make the conversion sooner than later.
"We started working on it early because we knew we were going to have to do it," said O'Brien. "Plus, we have a particularly challenging thing in that because of the size of our theatre there is a 90-foot throw from the top of our projectionist booth to our screen. So, it was going to involve a more expensive unit and we decided that if we were going to do it we were going to have a serious quality unit."
In order to purchase the new equipment, which was installed in December, Struthers Library Theatre received grants from the DeFrees Foundation and a gift from the Friends of the Library Theatre group.
"We started our series after the first of the year with it, and it has been received wonderfully," said O'Brien. "Not only is the image crisp and clear, but it will satisfy even the most fussy 35mm film junkie. Our unit came with a particular Dolby sound unit, which is equally characteristically as good as the image. We're in really good shape, and the new movies are looking really good. So, we showed our first James Bond movie ever because I knew it would be a good show-off piece."
For more information visit strutherslibrarytheatre.com.
Even larger operations, such as Dipson Theatres, also had to face the impending upgrade or risk going out of business. According to Michael Clement, president of Dipson Theatres, the upgrade was made to improve the quality offered at its theaters as well as allowing for an expansion of its 3D offerings.
"Dipson has already invested in its infrastructure by acquiring digital projectors for both Lakewood Cinema 8 and Chautauqua Mall Cinema 1 and 2," said Clement. "Film is going to stop being produced so this choice had to be made or go out of business."
For more information visit www.dipsontheatres.com.
Park 60 Drive-In representatives were unable to be reached for this story.