February 6, 2013 | LXXII, No. 45

Digital projection requirement threatens local community theater

Guest Editorial

The technology of modern entertainment is arriving and the local theater will not likely survive it. Lynette Zierden and her family run the Village Cinema in Coulee Dam. They continue the business that Lynette's mother, Carole Fisher, had purchased last year prior to her death in July 2012. The national film exhibition industry is rapidly converting exclusively to digital projection, and the availability of 35mm movie prints will disappear for most, if not all, new movies as soon as November, 2013.

The Village Cinema theater is run primarily as a community service. The ticket prices are lower than what you might expect to pay elsewhere, in the hope of keeping the movie-going experience affordable to families. Monthly income goes out quickly for the lease and utilities to the city of Coulee Dam, as well to North West Diversified Entertainment for booking the movies. The cost of getting a movie print into the theater is about $200-$500 per movie, plus royalties. What is left from the receipts goes to pay a couple of part time employees, restock refreshments for the next show and other business related expenses.

Lynette and her family take no pay and can not presently see a feasible way to afford an upgrade for the Village Cinema from their current 35mm film platter system to the needed digital projection system. One installed digital projector can cost an average of $60,000 to $75,000, which is much greater than the gross annual receipts for the theater.

Upgrade or quit — that is what’s being asked of independently owned movie theaters across the country and here in Coulee Dam. The fact is that the movie industry has reached the tipping point. 20th Century Fox sent out a letter in 2011 warning that within a year or two the digital format would be the only format in which they will theatrically distribute its films. The other studios are expected to follow suit, as the cost for each celluloid print is about $1,500, as compared to each new digital movie stored on hard drives which will only be about $150. The writing on the wall says those theaters that haven’t converted will have nothing to show but classic films on aging prints.

The only hope for the Village Cinema is to follow in the footsteps of some other small movie house owners who are resorting to a variety of measures to scrape up the necessary cash. There have been campaigns launched, grant proposals written, bank loans taken out, and patrons asked to open their wallets in an effort to survive.

Lynette and her family will be looking at any resources available and assessing the cost effectiveness thereof. They are seeking a combination of grants, donations, and/or partnerships and making any reasonable effort to keep the Village Cinema doors open.

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