Saving small theatres, saying farewell to film

By Michelle Costanza

April 5, 2013 Updated Apr 6, 2013 at 10:52 AM EST

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Hollywood's switch to digital film has many theatres scrambling for extra money.

By the end of the year, 35mm film, along with the projector equipment used in cinemas, will be a thing of the past.

The entertainment industry has made the choice to discontinue the decades-old production of frames on film in exchange for the higher-quality experience that hard drives and high-tech computer-run projectors are able to provide.

While movie-goers will enjoy seeing sharper images on the big screen, the high quality comes with a high price.

Converting to the new equipment costs nearly $45,000 for each theater, a price that small cinemas both nationally and locally are having a hard time swallowing.

Many of these are independently run, non-profit theaters, which must depend on the community to stay open for business. With new financial strains, owners and supporters are left checking seat cushions for extra change in hopes to raise enough money to convert to digital while keeping their screens lit and doors open.

"We have two theaters, so for two projectors with installation the cost is about $86,000. We're at $30,000 out of $45,000 needed for the first projector, which would ensure that we can stay in business," said Art Mission Executive Director Rebecca Sheriff.

The Conrad and Virginia Klee Foundation awarded the Art Mission with a $25,000 grant toward their goal.

Sheriff said if the additional $15,000 is raised, they will do their best to re-format the second theater in the future.

The Art Mission says local appreciation for the culture and uniqueness of the small theater experience allows them to remain hopeful and confident they will reach their goal.

"We are the only independent theater that shows independent and foreign film within about 50 miles, something that are not the run-of-the-mill Hollywood blockbusters," said Art Mission Chairman Denny Ebert.

Aside from the big price tag, Sheriff says overall, the conversion to digital will be better in the long run.

The new format is cheaper to ship, easier to project and offers superior quality.

"As staff, we can just program the projectors once a week and never have to touch them again. That would allow us to focus more on programming and also allow our patrons to have a much higher quality experience," Sheriff said.

Although optimistic, The Art Mission, as well as Cinema Saver in Endicott, are still under the gun as they scrape up money to keep their movies rolling. Both theater have community campaigns going with hopes that donations will see them through the transition.