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Teaneck theater joins a digital cinema revolution 02 Jan 2014 16:34 #40520

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Newly retrofitted Teaneck theater joins a digital cinema revolution that is nearly complete
Thursday, January 2, 2014

Nostalgia is the keynote of the newly reopened Teaneck Cinemas: Flashing marquee bulbs, art deco murals. But the biggest throwback of all may be the movie reels.

Images of them are incorporated into the theater's carpet designs and wall decoration. But you won't find movie reels in the projection booth. Or in almost any other projection booth of any theater that plans to remain open past 2014.

Teaneck Cinemas, like 80 percent of U.S. theaters now in operation, has gone digital.

No more sprockets. No more splices. Rather than stacks of film cans, the theater now gets deliveries of hard drives, specially encrypted against piracy. At that, they're a little old-fashioned: Many theaters now get delivery through satellite links or the Internet.

"By the end of next year, you're probably going to have a hard time seeing a 35mm film," says Matthew Latten, the new owner-operator of the 76-year-old theater, which has reopened after an eight-month retrofit, including new seats, new screens, new – or at least newly restored – décor. But the key change is the image and sound. In this theater, like most today, everything is digital.

"At this point, if a theater isn't digital, it soon will be," Latten says. "If it's still open."

Digital is now a fait accompli for exhibitors: The Ramsey Theatre, a two-plex that shut in August and is set to reopen this month under new management, has converted to digital as a matter of course.

"We wouldn't have been able to reopen it if we didn't," says Laura Rose, one of three partners who have spent more than $100,000 for this aspect of the renovation alone. Like the owners of many smaller cinemas, the partners turned to Kickstarter, a so-called crowd-funding platform, to raise the necessary funds: They got $141,000 in little more than a month. Community cinemas, at a time of crisis, are being helped by communities themselves.

"This is something a lot of independents are doing now," Rose says. "It's the mom-and-pop independent cinemas that are running Kickstarter campaigns."

Quietly, without fanfare, without many moviegoers even being aware, cinemas worldwide have been going through the most wrenching change since the talkies turned the industry upside-down in 1928.

As of the first week in December, 4,608 of 5,749 theaters in the U.S. have gone digital, according to the National Association of Theater Owners. Moreover, since that number includes most of the big multiplexes, the percentage of U.S. digital screens is even higher than those figures would suggest: 90 percent, or 36,649 of 40,045 screens. Digital conversion has cost exhibitors $2.5 billion to $3 billion, according to Patrick Corcoran of the theater owners group.

When will 35mm be phased out entirely? A so-called digital doomsday this week — Jan. 1 — was supposed to signal the complete phase-out of celluloid by distributors. Not true, says Corcoran. But the complete adoption of digital by the industry is clearly just around the corner.

"There is no official drop-dead date," Corcoran says. "However, studios are distributing fewer and fewer film prints with each release. The best we can say is, 'soon.' "

The new digital revolution may not be quite as bloody as the talkie revolution, which bankrupted exhibitors who couldn't afford to wire for sound and left thousands of silent-film musicians jobless. But it's still a struggle — above all, for independent theater owners.

Go digital or die

They face a hard choice: either reequip for digital now, at a cost of perhaps $40,000 per screen, or face a day — sooner rather than later — when movies are no longer available on film.

"It's definitely been a harder climate for theaters, and this is just one more adjustment they have to make to stay relevant, stay in business," says Karie Bible of Exhibitor Relations Inc., a box-office tracking firm.

The talkie revolution was, at least, consumer-driven: Audiences, hearing Al Jolson bleat out "Mammy!" in 1927's "The Jazz Singer," demanded more. The digital revolution may be less so.

Boosters talk about the unparalleled clarity of the image, and the fact that the copies don't "degrade" as they age, or as they're copied. Then, too, 3-D is part of the equation: Many big blockbusters now come with glasses, and the new 3-D processes are entirely digital.

That said, it's still an open question whether most audiences can tell the difference in a good celluloid print from a digital copy. Some – like the vinyl-sound purists – even insist that the older process is "warmer."

"I think at this point the quality is so good, I think anybody who is against it [has] almost a nostalgic thing going on," says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak, a global media measurement company.

Filmmakers themselves seem to be divided. Some directors adore the new process (George Lucas, an earlier adopter, was the first to shoot and distribute a big-budget feature entirely in digital, 2002's "Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones"). Others, like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan, have gone on record as doubters, even haters.

What the digital revolution is really being driven by, Latten says, is the industry itself. Particularly its legal arm: those who worry about piracy and theft of studio property.

"The only group that gained is the distributors," says Latten, who has worked as an adviser to theaters (more than 100 on the East Coast) retrofitting to digital.

"It's very difficult to record [a digital movie] with a camera, it's impossible to suck the movie out of the projector," Latten says. "You can't download the movie because they're encrypted. That's the only thing driving this. It's a motive to secure data, content, and keep it for themselves."

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Last Edit: 02 Jan 2014 17:54 by sevstar.
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Teaneck theater joins a digital cinema revolution 02 Jan 2014 21:13 #40524

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Is this your place?

I have followed this theater on Facebook. The progress looks great and I really like the work the photographer does.
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Teaneck theater joins a digital cinema revolution 03 Jan 2014 13:51 #40528

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I graduated from Teaneck High School in 1969 and snuck into the Teaneck Theatre many times, even paid my way regularly. I'm really glad to hear about their success and wish them well.
Michael Hurley
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Teaneck theater joins a digital cinema revolution 04 Jan 2014 00:25 #40530

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No not my place.
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