Rural theaters unsure of reeling in digital

2012-11-04T07:10:00Z Rural theaters unsure of reeling in digitalBy Justin Franz of The Flathead Beacon Montana Standard
November 04, 2012 7:10 am  • 

KALISPELL — Part movie theater, part cafe and part home, Lincoln Theatre owner Tina Moore admits her Troy business is “small town.” Now her theater and other rural movie houses are facing an uncertain future as Hollywood studios change formats from film to digital.

According to Patrick Corcoran of the National Association of Theatre Owners, major studios will stop printing movies on film sometime in the next year. After that, the newest films will only be available digitally. The conversion is expected to save the studios $1 billion annually.

The problem for small movie houses, like the Lincoln Theatre, is the digital projection equipment can cost an average of $70,000.

“We’re definitely going to try and change (to digital), but it’s going to depend on money,” Moore said.

Built in 1924, the Lincoln Theatre was the first playhouse in the area to show a moving picture, according to Moore. In its 88-year existence, the theater has gone through many hands and in 2009 Josh and Tina Moore purchased it. Moore says the theater covers itself, but changing over to digital will be an expensive project, especially when movie tickets are sold for $4 to $6. She said she doesn’t plan on going into debt to buy the new equipment.

Instead, Moore has been applying for various grants and is fundraising for the new equipment. So far, she has gathered about $500, far short of the $65,000 to $100,000 she believes she’ll need for the full conversion. But even if it’s expensive going digital, she is embracing the change. She thinks in the long run it will be better for movie theaters and the film industry.

“I can (complain) about it all day long, but that’s not going to change anything,” she said. “It’ll happen or it won’t.”

Corcoran said if a theater doesn’t change, it could close. Of the 5,732 movie theaters across the country, 3,649 have gone to digital. Corcoran estimates that 120 to 150 screens are being converted every week, but admits it might be tougher in

smaller markets.

“(Smaller theaters) may be able to get older films, they may be able to sell to someone who can make the conversion, or they may just close down,” he said. “It’s hard to know for certain. Some small-town theaters will do well, if they have the capital, but others may not.”

Moore hopes her theater is in the former group. But even if the conversion doesn’t happen right away, she’s not too worried. She plans on diversifying the shows her theater hosts, and is hoping to have plays and standup comedy.

“When the technology gets too expensive, you go back to what worked,” she said.

Another temporary option she is considering is showing DVDs on her smaller projector. Although the quality may not be as good, she thinks people will still come to her 160-seat theater for the experience. She also has no doubts that the people of Troy will come out and help her raise the necessary funds.

“We just started fundraising and planning and plotting and praying — a whole lot of praying,” she said.

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