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Digital Conversion Requirement Threatens Small Theaters

Theaters are being forced to convert to digital projectors or shut down.

35 mm film

Photo: Bill Shaw/WTIU News

A 35-millimeter film strip shows scenes from The Smurfs. The movie industry is no longer making film, forcing many theaters to upgrade their projection equipment.

By the end of this year the movie industry will no longer be releasing movies on film. Everything will be digital. That means cinemas that have not upgraded to digital will be forced to do so, and that is pressure on their budgets.

It costs between $800 and $1,000 to duplicate films on 35-millimeter film. But movies can be reproduced digitally for only $100, and the shift is leaving thousands of independent cinemas behind.

“What that means for small cinema is if they can’t convert to digital cinema, they’re no longer going to have access to those film titles from these studios that produce those prints,” says Indiana University Cinema Director Jon Vickers. “So what that means is that they are going to be limited in terms of what they can program which I think is going to limit they’re ability to make a living or make money.”

The upgrade to digital is costing Skyline Drive-in Owner Joe Gaudin $60,000. He says he did not have the money to pay for the upgrade, so this weekend, he is hosting a fundraiser to try to raise the money.

“At first I didn’t have much faith in reaching out to the community, but I’ve found so far, it’s been really great and [we have] more support than we could have really expected from local businesses, long time patrons, local city government officials, who are now taking notice of what were are trying to do,” he says.

More than 70 percent of theaters in the U.S. have already made the switch. The rest, including the Skyline Drive-in theater, will either have to pay the cost or shut down.

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