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TOPIC: Colorado helps theatre convert to digital

Colorado helps theatre convert to digital 13 Mar 2014 16:06 #40717

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I was interviewed by an AP reporter on a program they are implementing to help theatres witha challenge grant to fund +/- 5-% of the conversion. Will post more when the AP story comes out. Have you heard of this in any other states?

Colorado movie theaters seek, get help to make digital conversions
The Kress Cinema & Lounge in Greeley was able to raise more than $80,000 through a campaign on Kickstarter to fund the purchase of a digital projection system.
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Courtesy of Kress Cinema & Lounge

The Kress Cinema & Lounge in Greeley was able to raise more than $80,000 through a campaign on Kickstarter to fund the purchase of a digital projection system.

L. Wayne Hicks
Associate Editor- Denver Business Journal
Email | LinkedIn | Google+ | Cultural Attache blog

Across Colorado, small, independently owned movie theaters are struggling to keep the lights off.

Fundraising campaigns are under way — or happily completed — as theaters prepare to switch to digital projection systems. The motion picture industry has decided to abandon 35mm film, partly to save on the cost of printing and shipping movies, and theaters have to adapt to the new technology.

But the new technology doesn’t come cheap.

“These projectors can cost between $60,000 and $80,000,” said Tom Botelho, executive director of the Denver Film Society, which runs the Sie Film Center, 2510 E. Colfax Ave. The film society needs to raise $300,000 for three digital projectors for the Sie and one for use at the Film on the Rocks summer series at Red Rocks.

The idea of being forced to adapt doesn’t sit well with many theater owners, including Bob Ezra, who owns the single-screen Crystal Theatre in Carbondale with his wife Kathy. “We’re still fond of film,” he said. “It’s a 120-year-old technology that’s worked pretty well.”

Even so, the Crystal must make the switch if it wants to show the latest releases.

“Fox has already stopped shipping prints,” said Colorado film commissioner Donald Zuckerman. “Most of the other studios have rationed their prints. They don’t make that many of them and when they do have them, they send them to the higher-grossing theaters first, for obvious reasons.”

By the end of last year, 83 percent of U.S. theaters had made the switch to digital projection, up from almost 12 percent in 2007, according to IHS Screen Digest, a unit of Douglas County based IHS Inc. Those that haven’t made the switch are chiefly the smaller, single-screen theaters, drive-ins or arthouse cinemas.

Although independent, Colorado’s movie theaters aren’t alone. A coalition of various organizations have banded together to share information about ways to raise money. The Denver Film Society is playing a role, as is Downtown Colorado Inc., the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the Boettcher Foundation and the Gates Family Foundation.

“The fear is if these small community theaters can’t feature the new movies coming out, they won’t be able to keep their doors open,” said Genevieve Zeman, preservation and design specialist for Downtown Colorado Inc.

“We look at it as a huge problem,” said Zuckerman, whose office is a division within Colorado’s eco-devo department. “In some of these towns if the theater closes down, it could affect the whole downtown.”

The Gates Family Foundation has contributed $10,000 to help the single-screen Cliff Theater in Wray buy a digital projector. And the foundation’s board last month earmarked $125,000 for nonprofit and community-operated movie theaters to make the switch to digital.

Thomas Gougeon, president of the Gates Family Foundation, estimates a dozen rural theaters in Colorado already have found financing for the digital conversion.

“Our pool of funds will help another half-dozen or so make the necessary investment,” he said. “That will leave another dozen or so that are private for-profit operators still searching for a pathway to make the investment. We have not closed the door to participating in a solution for these theaters.”

The fundraising is over for the Kress Cinema & Lounge in Greeley, which was able to take in more than $80,000 it needed via the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. The twin-screen Lyric Cinema Cafe in Fort Collins exceeded its $150,000 goal on Kickstarter.

Michael Putlack, a manager and the head projectionist at the Lyric, said the money was used new digital projectors and a new sound system. The difference between the old and new projection systems is dramatic, he said.

“It’s as good as it gets,” Putlack said. “That’s saying something because we’ve always done the best we could with what we have. It’s nice not to have to make that excuse any more: ‘We’re doing our best. Sorry it’s not the brightest. Sorry the sound isn’t the best.’ It’s really great not to have to make excuses for people.”

L. Wayne Hicks is associate editor of the Denver Business Journal, writes the "Cultural Attache" blog, and compiles the daily "Morning Edition" email. Phone: 303-803-9221
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