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Small movie theaters struggling to go digital

January 15, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Small movie theaters across the country are facing the possibility of closing shop. It's because studios are changing the way theaters show you their films, and those changes cost money that some single screen theaters just don't have.

The Art Theatre in Long Beach opened for business in 1924. In 2007, new owners gave it a major and much-needed renovation.

"It was in bad shape. There were a couple of cats living inside. And it's one of those places that you didn't want to see with the lights on," said Mark Vidor, owner of the Art Theatre.

Now, Vidor just wants to keep the lights on, so he's asking his community for help. Owners of small cinemas all over the country need to switch from using 35 millimeter film to using digital projection.

"We would love any amount of support the community could give us in our goal to raise funds for that digital projector," said Vidor. "With antipiracy devices that the major studios want to use, we'd actually need to buy one of their dedicated projectors."

And it's not cheap. It costs about $50,000. The National Association of Theatre Owners says digital projection offers better quality, it's more durable and it's more cost-effective. It estimates studios will save $1 billion a year delivering their movies through a digital server instead of mailing heavy canisters of film.

The Art Theatre and other single screen theaters across the country are reaching out to their neighborhoods to keep them in business.

"That's the reason we bought the theater, because we wanted it to remain with the community. We didn't want a developer to turn it into an office building or some kind of a swap meet," said Vidor.

There is no official date for the conversion yet, but the Art Theatre hopes to raise enough money to make the switch by fall.

The National Association of Theatre Owners says about two-thirds of the nation's theaters have already switched to all-digital equipment.


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