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We’re About to Lose 1,000 Small Theaters That Can’t Convert to Digital. Does It Matter?

We're About to Lose 1,000 Small Theaters That Can't Convert to Digital. Does It Matter?

Michael Hurley owns the Colonial Theatre in Belfast, Maine as well as the Temple Theatre in Houlton, Maine. He runs a website for movie theater owners and is a member of the National Association of Theatre Owners. And he’s desperate.

Like many theater owners, Hurley sees a very real possibility that nearly 20% of all theaters in North America will disappear because they can’t afford digital projection — but what he doesn’t see is anyone talking about it. He wrote Indiewire recently and asked if we could help and we’re hoping that this editorial will be a start.

We also want to know what you think. In a VOD world, does it matter if we lose up to 1,000 theaters? And if it does matter, we’re in also in a Kickstarter world  — so what could be done to change it?  — Indiewire Editors

Read an update to this article: Studios Abandon Film, Small Theaters Struggle — And There’s a Happy Ending

If the transition to digital projection was “Titanic,” it would swiftly proceed to the crew making the following announcement: “Will the wealthy and strong please step into the life boats. Will the weak and poor, most of the women and children, please step back away from the lifeboats and have a nice day.”

Need more movie metaphors? The towering bridge that theater owners must cross to reach digital cinema is on fire. The dam is springing leaks and about to fail. Take your pick: The 35mm bridge between distribution and exhibition is about to collapse, burn or blow up. Left behind will be thousands of theaters worldwide.

“Convert or die.” This is how John Fithian, CEO and president of the National Association of Theatre Owners, has repeatedly set the terms. It’s crude, but at least we knew where we stood. The conversion stampede was on.

And it worked. Many theaters that never thought they’d go digital are now adopting at a fast pace. One of my theaters, The Colonial Theatre, will be 100 years old in April. We’re in the midst of conversion; I accept and embrace that day. Every time I see platter scratches, or receive a scratched and dirty print, or deal with a particularly odd projectionist, I look forward to it more and more.

But it hasn’t happened fast enough. At the end of 2011, Fox announced they’d no longer release product in 35mm “sometime in the next year or two.” Also ending soon: The VPF, or virtual print fee. Since 2009, film distributors have paid VPFs to exhibitors. Based on the difference between the cost of a celluloid print and digital delivery, it’s designed to help theater owners offset the cost of a digital cinema retrofit, which costs about $65,000 at the low end. (A new projector, by comparison, was about $20,000 — but that was before you’d pay people to take them away.) 

The VPF has helped some, but not all. As a result, NATO recently estimated that up to 20% of theaters in North America, representing up to 10,000 screens, would not convert and would probably close. “Convert or die,” indeed. And that’s from someone representing theater owners.

This isn’t the first time technological evolution has hit the film and exhibition industry, but in the past the development of new equipment was steady, orderly — and slower. That meant as early adopters grabbed the latest contraptions, there was a healthy market in used equipment for the smaller and less-profitable theaters.

However, small towns developed their theaters back when everyone went to the movies all the time; many theaters in operation today could never be built with today’s costs and the slowing pace of theatre goers. And for all of Hollywood’s so-called love for small towns and the dreams that grew out of the thousands of theaters as films unreeled, there’s been an abysmal deafening silence on their impending doom.

Someone asked me, “Why does it matter?” It’s an excellent question. Does it matter that a thousand small theaters may close in the USA? What would be lost?

I think of the millions of dreams and careers that have taken flight in a movie theater. I know that the economic development power of movie theaters has been profound. People want to live where there are theaters. For the same reason that every successful city center, mall and downtown works to attract and keep a movie theatre, small towns all over the world stand to lose a foundation that has kept them connected to the world. I believe the loss is unacceptable.

However, the brain trust in Hollywood seem committed to playing a game of diminishing exhibition returns and appears ready to write off huge swaths of the ticket-buying public. You can bet that the same people who spent $150 million to make “Mars Needs Moms” have crunched the numbers and believe they can live with a lot fewer theaters in this world.

Other countries handle this differently. In some, the conversion is a national priority paid for by government grants. But here, if you have a historic theater the equipment does not even qualify for tax credits.

I wish I could see where this is going and how it will all play out. The pace is fast and will not slow. At a very near point if you do not have digital, you will not show a movie. There will be tightening pressure. Knowing all the government players involved, I cannot see how the film industry working in cooperation with NATO, both of whom you’d suspect might benefit by a creed of “leave no theater behind,” will instead be allowed to kill off thousands of theaters and screens.

I can imagine (and hope for) state-level, even national antitrust action as the scale and certainty of mass theatrical extermination starts to become clear. For now, it’s a thousand brush fires that people are fighting individually. What happens when they start to fight together?

Digital cinema has great promise that’s being realized. It cannot be that as we take this great leap forward that we leave behind so many.

If this was a movie… Remember “Independence Day”? Bill Pullman plays the President and asks the alien, “What do you want from us?” And the answer was, “Die.” That’s the level of options faced by many of our fellow theater owners as they deal with the distributors, our “convert or die” representatives, the expiring VPF, the lack of any used equipment and all the varied powers driving this digital train.

Someone ought to change the ending to this movie.

You can find Mike Hurley at his site, BigScreenBiz, and at A version of this editorial will also appear in the March print edition of Screentrade.


This Article is related to: Filmmaker Toolkit


rick mackay

I am friends with an IMAX film maker. WE could go on and on about this, but a well done movie on film will always be the best. bUT CORPORATE AMERICA RULES. We can only hope that movies may go the way of the vinyl record. Smooth and great .


Didn’t the studios give theaters a discount for a few years so that the small theaters can save money to go digital? What did they do during the discount years?

Roy Younger

The times I saw a movie in digital it was a complete fail. The movie either would not load or it cut out and glitched during the entire movie. Hold tight vinyl did not die and neither will traditional film. The weakness is right in front of your face with digital.

mick baxter

32 years in a rural Lyric theatre(71 yo)Beausejour Manitoba Canada goodbye from the corporate wolves…


Here we are 1 year later and switched to Digital ! The only changes are we are more in debt due to the conversion and have no good films to show to the public. The result is the industry that we helped build for the last 30+ years has Stabbed us in the back. We
have no support from anyone. The Grosses from mainstream movies have dropped by 50% from last year. The result is obvious to a Blind Person.


We are going to totally ‘feel the pain’. Living in Clearwater, FL, a Drafthouse/Cafe is closing their door TODAY due to this terrible scenario. I’m heartbroken!! We’ve been coming here for many years (over 20) and is one of our ‘date night’ places. My hub and I specifically went last week to say ‘bye’ to our friends (waiters/waitresses) AT the cafe. I called saying ‘DO ANYTHING!!’, but they are also just, DONE. It’ll be very hard driving by knowing ‘GOOD ‘OLE TECHNOLOGY’ did this. Everything you purchase now, will be obsolete 2 yrs from now. Nice. Not so much. We. DON’T. CARE.


Many video game distributors are being just as shortsighted. Many entertainment industry CEOs and executives have developed a real attitude problem towards the general public who has to work for a living, has bills to pay, kids to feed, etc. And at the end of the week all we want to do is go to a movie, meet someone new or have some fun in the back row during a cheesy B-movie. They are ruining the world we grew up in and it needs to stop.

wiktor grodecki

I want to sell 2 35mm prints of MANDRAGORA and INSATIABILITY – the films that I directed
Anybody interested?
Let me know, please
Wiktor Grodecki 310 8665626


I produce independent faith based films and would love to collaborate with theater owners who have the ability to project DVD or Blu Ray and need inexpensive content. We will make our films available to theater owners for a small percentage of the box office. Our latest movie "The Good Book" is the first faith based silent film and has been rated 5 stars by the Dove foundation. With the right promotional strategy (which we can help with), churches will turn out by the bus load. To contact me use the contact form at our website, found by Googling "Good Book Movie".

Abby cox

I love in Rochester, Indiana. My mom just told me that our theater was closing because they couldn't afford to buy the digital stuff. I feel like I can do something to raise money. My amazing uncle has recently printed me a play since I love acting, so I got the idea to get my friends to perform with me and we could sell tickets for people to watch. I really hope it works because teens here need someplace to hang out in. I'm only 12, almost 13.


Call Film-Tech, there are some small no-frills systems in the $35-40k range, also an outfit called "Scrabble Ventures" has a very interesting and low cost of entry package they are leasing to small theatres/drive-ins. I'm not a regular here, but should be easy to find either supplier. We updated our little drive-in. Raise your prices, extend your hours, buy the box, make it happen….

Rachel Goodstein

On September 19, the Save the Rogers City Theater kickstarter campaign passed the $100,000 goal for the digital conversion. The campaign ended today with 558 backers pledging $116,945. So, the theater will be able to replace some of the circa 1948, Truman era seats. (The theater is also a performance venue for the local community theater group and also hosts concerts.)
Now its time to figure out a strategy to stop Hollywood's cultural attack on rural and small town America.

Malcolm Neal

Just waded through the 130 comments here as I had the time due to the fact that this week we are closed due to not being able to book a suitable 35mm film for our small town!! The Ritz Theatre in Thomaston GA has been there for 86 years. Its now the only theatre out of five left in town and has been open seven days a week generally running first run movies for a $6 admission. Only operating at a break even point for the past few years, nothing 'extra' is available to pay off a loan or lease for the required digital equipment. The studios don't care about the small guys otherwise they would have come up with a practical way of helping the remaining single and two screen theatres make the change, brought on by the studios themselves as a way of saving millions each year. VPF never was an answer for those small operations. The communities suffer if a local theatre closes along with nearby businesses. People are out of work and the town square or similar site all goes dark. The RITZ has been fund raising for about a year but is still less than half way to the needed 75,000 for it single, but large screen. It looks like the studios will be really cutting off 35mm this year and the Ritz maybe one of the many hometown theatres to close. The NATO organization should have made a deal with the studios and/or government bodies to make sure these small town theatres survive. That has been done in other countries, but not the USA. The Ritz tried Kickstarter, but that didn't work for them. Doing special live and film shows, car washes, Zumbathons etc. all help a little each time but nowhere near fast enough to beat the deadline. Any suggestions would be welcome.

rachel goodstein

I've spent my summer vacation as the volunteer spearhead of the kickstarter sixty day campaign to save the 76 year old, historic, restored Rogers City Theater in Rogers City, Michigan on the shores of Lake Huron. (This theater was built by the same man who opened the first theater in Rogers City in 1912.)

Rogers City is most famous for being the site of the world's largest open quarry limestone quarry. It also opened in 1912 and is currently six miles square and 250 feet deep. Much of the limestone mined is used in steelmaking but some of makes its way into processing food like Doritos and other uses. I imagine many of the towns that will lose theaters produce necessities that the Hollywood types consume every day like food.

This go digital or go dark scenario seems natural for two things: a little guys vs big guys movie and some kinda law suit.

As of today 400 backers have pledged $84,360 toward the $100,00 goal. Our deadline is September 28, 2013 at 10AM. To anyone/everyone reading this please pledge and use your social media network to send our story and link to those people who might help.



Our small hometown theatre is facing this issue right now. The owners just remodeled it and business is finally staying local. We used to drive an hour, even in rural northern MN winters to see movies, especially over holidays, but now we can stay in town instead. It would be very sad to see them go out business because of this.

Jubal B

So… what is the legal problem with a lot of small, indie film makers (many of whom like using real film as a medium) who are shut out by the big Hollywood system forming some kind of symbiotic partnership with the small theaters that are also being shut out of the big Hollywood system? I just see a way the two groups could be mutually benefitting one another in a lot of ways instead of everyone depending on marching orders coming from L.A.


My partner and I want to buy a theater. Give me the heads up what goes up for sale and preserved


people who can, or know how to forward this main article on small town theater's not being able to afford to go digital ( i am one that can't go digital without help ) forward the article as well as there plee that out president of the united states .. do you all reading this know that the movie industry finacially supported Obama's election with big money ,and i January he in return gave 10 million dollar's of , yes, tax payer money back to the movie industry ? therefore i think he need's to step up to the plate and take action that all small town theater get's a projector conversion … thanks for reading.. M.W. Coulter

Maxwell Sorensen

You left out the part that its unfair. The reason its unfair is that the vast majority of the theaters now using digital projection are owned by the same studios that have decided not to supply film any more to their competitors.

Mitch Rozen

I have a huge problem with theatres going digital. I agree with Quentin Tarantino in that the point of going to a movie with film in that you get the flicker of the film and the whole sensation. Watching digital you can just stay at home and watch your DVD's; what is the point of going out if you don't get the whole cinema experience.


Should we care? Yes. Why should we care? Because these are mom & pop businesses. Raising families and entertaining ours. Ideally, the industry would help save these small theaters. Will they? Of course not. Why won't they? Because corporate America kills off the mom & pops in every industry. Should the feds try to control this? I would like to think so. America was built on the backs of hard working families. Why are not doing something? The same reason they don't help us. Corporate America has bought our democracy guys & gals. Now that the GOP convinced the courts that corporations are people, I predict that one day these corporations will run for office.

Andrew Shecktor

Our historic one screen movie theater, the Bewick Theater in Berwick, PA, is also in trouble. The producers should really have given small theaters more time to switch over, or at least offered some REAL financial support without strings attached. I have been working to save this theater. Many others in town are as well. Any suggestions for funding the upgrade are welcome!


"Why does it matter?" is a question that needs to be asked and answered in public more often.

2 more answers to this – expanding on what Mr Hurley wrote.

Not only will small towns lose their only theater, but also neighborhoods in large cities are losing the small neighborhood theaters that the children, families, and elders can go to. Instead of walking the 5 or 6 blocks to go see the latest indie film or blockbuster, it is now a bus or car ride, fighting for limited parking, waiting in long lines to sit in another box of a theater room with no character. We are losing the local treasures and places of character.

Also, with the demise of the smaller theaters we are losing the independence and diversity. The megaplexes tend to show only the hit movies. When I lived in the East side of the San Francisco Bay Area, we regularly had to drive 15-20 miles to get to a theater that showed one of the indie or lesser known films.

Now that I live in SF and the Bridge Theater closed (single screen 1 block away), it is bus it or drive to get to one of the other theaters. And it is 1 less screen to show the lesser known, well made films that the major corporations are not promoting.


The headline on Screen magazine should read " Hollywood kills film and in the process commits suicide".
The "grey suits" that run the big studios are the same breed of "grey suits" that destroyed the banking industry around the world. A bunch of bean counters with their short term interests (bonuses) not looking to the longer game. They declare " We will not make 35mm prints and release only Digital prints". Increases the bottom line in the short term , but is the death knell for Cinemas worldwide. Why go to a cinema to watch something you can watch in the comfort of your own home? I bet those bean counters have state of the art cinema theaters in their own homes – a big selling feature in Hollywood realty. Well I too in my modest home have a cinema set up with roll down screen and HD projector. Great for a family get together to watch input from HD TV – weddings , big sporting events, the list is endless. So why in the future pay good money to see a film in a cinema surrounded by strangers, when you can download legally off the internet and watch at home on your HD cinema set up with family and friends.
35mm film may be bulky and need mechanical film projectors to run , but that is the whole point. It cannot be replicated at home. By insisting on digital prints only the studios have set the ball rolling for the demise of the cinema in our towns and cities.
When I think of the process involved in creating a film it saddens me to hear of there being no need for 35mm film as a storage medium that has proved to last 100's of years. As the films of today are stored on hard drives with no record of longevity -30 years if your lucky! As technology moves fast will you be able to retrieve the data and will it be corrupted!
So many peoples jobs have been lost and now whole industries are contracting and closing down. When will someone wake up and realize, we are going too fast with little thought for the final outcome and there will be no going back.

Veritas Veritatis

There is another factor that is not being discussed regarding the switch to digital projection.
The only reason that I go to theaters is to see a movie on film.
Theater owners know that because they advertize their movies that way.
"Come see your favorite movie on 35mm film stock in glorious Panavision!"
Sign me up, I'll be there.
If movie theaters switch to digital I might as well watch the movie at home,
saving money and the time.
In addition, the theaters that I patronize, Coolidge Corner, Brattle, Dedham,
will likely fall to the cost of the conversion.
They may survive as long as film prints of older movies remain available.
Old films are part of their offering and they could switch to that exclusively.
They may also survive (except the Dedham) because Boston/Cambridge in Massachusetts
is a major urban area with a strong arts culture and benefactors will likely step forward.
This dashes my dream of the Wollaston Theatre in Quincy, one of the first theaters in the
country and a national historical landmark, opening again.
Theater such as the Wollaston have the potential of anchoring a section of a city
that is moribund and lifting all other enterprises in the area with it by bringing
lots of people from outside the community to a neighborhood where they will also
patronize restaurants and other businesses nearby.
In addition to losing many theaters, which in some communities will be
a substantial loss, many movie goers will be lost to the remaining theaters
if there are other like myself and I'm sure there are.
A loss for the human community as the modern technological juggernaut
mindlessly lurches forward without regard to how it affects the quality of life
and the potential for increased profit obscures every other consideration.
I hope this plan backfires on those who constructed it big time.

Mike Hurley

Back in February I wrote this article. A lot has transpired since then. I will shortly be writing a follow up piece to the above. Fear not; the end of movie theatres is not at hand.


While I sympathize with the plight of business owners faced with environmental changes to their industry, this is how it goes. Those willing and able to make the change will survive…for a time. The larger theaters will face their own extinction moment when people decide it's better to watch movies with friends and families from their houses in numbers that make it impossible to nurse the giant multi-screen dinosaurs.

The smaller theaters that can't convert will either go out of business or find another source of revenue. They can become the local live venue with the option of playing classics on film. They can offer community theatre, open mic nights, seminars, live music, join with other small theaters (where possible) to offer retro-film festivals (and even try to get movie-makers to speak about the making of their films before or after). There are many options.

Will it be easy? I imagine not, but it's been done before. Check out all the success stories around the country and compare them to what locals say is missing in your area.

This many businesses looking for solutions may be the impetus behind a new product that can project movies, TV, locally produced digital art, etc for less than the current systems. Imagine a movie theater discovering there is a huge fan base for, I don't know, "Northern Exposure" for example, and, after getting re-distribution rights, showing the series with special events like actor look-a-like contests, media giveaways, SWAG markets, show trivia contests, and the occasional meet-and-greet. Plus, get a wine/beer license, contract with a local restaurant to provide food and its "Northern Exposure" Nights.

Make up your own festivals. Lots of people into gospel music in your area? Then offer a choral talent show. Lots of cooking show fans in your community, then ask local chefs to demonstrate dishes for the locals.

If the theater owners/managers of these small facilities don't adapt, there's a good chance that someone will buy the building and do it instead.

What would be a shame is for historic theaters to be torn down and replaced by parking lots or generic strip malls.

Curtis P

My hometown drive-in is at risk of going out of business but has a kickstarter going to save it, it's in Dixon, IL and has a rich history as being the town where Ronald Reagan grew up – please don't let a piece of history die along the side of the road as well with this conversion.


T J Brearton

J.M. King


Actually, there is NO NEED to lose these theatres. Conversion to digital cinema is not as expensive, as long as they do not worry about compliance with DCI. Christie Digital Systems and Sanyo offers projectors for around $10,000 or less. I know this is a substantial investment but a reasonable investment for a business of this type. After all I have spent more buying cameras, sound recorders, editing equipment, and etc. to produce independent films. But the point is that digital conversion is NOT beyond the means of these theatres. PLEASE Contact me for more info!

Thanks & God Bless!!!
J.M. King

Bill Litster

I have fond memories of going to the movies in the small town where my grandparents lived. I feel a great desire to help these theater owners. I and the owner of Ameridream Funding Solutions and I have financing solutions to help save these theaters. If you would like to talk about what is available for you, please contact me at 816-479-5000. I want to be a part of saving these theaters. Bill Litster – Ameridream Funding Solutions –

Maynard Meyer

We have raised over $90,000 here in Madison, Minnesota and will soon convert one of our screens to digital. Our fundraising efforts will continue to get the second screen converted in the future. The Grand Theatre has been saved through great support from the community more than once since the early 1900's.


We just refurbished our old 1920s theater in town and are starting from scratch. Does any one have a suggestion for good indie films to play and how to get them? We are trying to preserve Main Street downtown and need some help!

Lisa Dangerfield

I stumbled upon this artical while searching for something else and what got my attention was that our town is one of the two owned by Mike Hurley. Going to the theater is one of our favorite passtimes. In our small town it is one of the only things to do with a family. We try to go at least once or twice a month to support the theater. We could wait for the DVD like so many do but what would the world be like without the big screen? Some movies you just have to see on the big screen. It would sadden me deeply if Mike is not able to make the digital transition to both theaters. I, like Mike, wish that there would be more attention given to this situation. Without our theater we would have to travel almost two hours to see a movie and in that case it would be a rare occurance. It's too bad Hollywood and the deep pocket people don't look outside the windows of their own little world and remember that their success is a direct reflection of our committment to their product. Our world should not be so expensive. Mike if you are reading we hope you are able to make the transition in both locations. If not make a public appeal before you close any doors. One thing I know for sure small towns have a way of making big things happen. :)

david tyson

If the studios really had their way there would be no exhibitors to share revenue with, there would be no DCI, films would be streamed to people's homes, venues, cell-phones or tablets VIA the internet (simultaneous release will only be a stepping stone, not the final destination). With so many entertainment choices available today Hollywood (and the music industry) see that Rome is burning and are doing instinctively what they must to survive; pushing the women and children overboard to save their sinking ship. Just give it time, the chains who are spending the money to upgrade will be crying foul when simultaneous release happens. Perhaps modern day Hollywood is not the horse you want your cart hitched to; invest in a smaller, less expensive digital system, get a pouring license and become a cinema draft house showing alternative content.

Mike Hurley

The Colonial Theatre will begin the conversion from 35mm to digital on Monday June 18th and be running digital on June 22nd. I will write a follow up on the industry wide conversion soon.

Maynard Meyer

An update from the Grand Theatre in Madison, Minnesota. We are now at $78,000 in our fundraising efforts.

Maynard Meyer

In community of 1,500 people we are on a mission to raise $100,000 which will hopefully be enough to convert the Grand Theatre in Madison, Minnesota to digital projection. We are already at $32,000 and we are determined to get this done. The twin-screen theatre is owned by the city and is leased to my partner and me who basically run it as a public service. Some major fundraising events have been planned and we are getting many $1,000 contributions from groups and individuals. The Grand is an integral part of main street and we refuse to die!

William Martin

hello Mike,

My career of 42 years started out in a small Theatre in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
Amazingly enough, the single screen Odeon is still in operation today.

Your article, well written, failed to mention:
Texas Instruments has completed development on, and will release soon, a "cheaper"
version of the 'chip' used in DCI Compliant Video Projectors.
Christie will probably be the first to utilize this chip; designed to meet MINIMUM
DCI standards for use in small venues with a screen size of 20 to 30 feet (wide).
I will guess the Projector cost will be in the $25,000.00 to $30,000.00 range;
or about the same as a film projector and platter system.

Also, Christie, Sony, Barco, NEC, have filed a joint petition with the FTC for a "waiver"
that will allow them to replace Xenon Bulbs in their DCI Projectors with a very
high powered laser as the light source.
These 'laser bulbs' will be cheaper, last longer, run cooler, use MUCH less electricity,
and produce quality light right up to the end of their lifespan.
Christie, for one, has a Finance Plan available that will help small independent Theatre
Owners make the conversion.

For 42 years I made my living as Projectionist working every venue from porno-houses
to First-Run 70mm. I am sad to see film go away. So maybe these small town theatres
will not go away after all. It ain't over till the fat lady sings !

All Best,
Bill Martin


I wouldn't want the theater in my home town to close just because it can not convert fast enough. I think it just isn't fair.


Yes, I know its expensive to switch to digital but not impossible either. If communities claim they care about there local theaters then they should help support funding for this. Do the math. If just 3,000 people donated $10 that would come out to $30,000 to help pay for digital projection. Most of wont die with just a one time donation to help keep a theater alive. How can a community complain of "no where to go for movies" or say "its so sad that this good old theater shut down, had so many memories there" if they where never willing to step up and help out. YES…. it takes EVERYONE coming together!! Somtimes a community ONLY has themselves to blame.

larry Z

Justin and Mickey, Just a FYI. HDCP has nothing to do with D cinema unless you running alternitive content(dvd, bluray, Satilite). There are thousands of D Cinema installs that are not HDCP compliant. D Cinema has its own copywrite and encoding as part of the DCI Compliance. If you buy used Series One projectors(currently everything is series 2) be very careful. It is very exspensive to upgrade these if they are not already.

MarrMark Productions

I echo what all of you are saying, and have for years. Thanks for all of this can go to good ol' George Lucas who never liked film in the first place, and, as "Cinema Productions" guy has said, film has a lot of potential not even tapped yet. There are heights people haven't even thought of with film, unmatched by digital now or ever. Check out MaxiVision 48 please! It's incredible. Dean Goodhill has created this incredible film projection system that could knock the socks off the industry if anyone would sit up and take notice! Long live film!!

Cinema Productions

My company will gladly develop and produce movies for these theaters that can't or won't convert to digital. Not only that but I am willing to start a second company to finance theatres that want to upgrade their analog film capabilities as far as analog projectors (cooling, lenses, light source, tribology, and steadiproj — the complement to steadicam). I think that the potential of analog is largely unexplored and that analog technology can beat digital video by many orders of magnitude in terms of color, definition/resolution, and realism. The technology just needs someone to believe in it.

There are producers like me who like the analog film media but pessimism and cynicism toward potential allies will not help. There are many directors who see the trend toward digital projection as a slippery slope to video. The biggest director of them all, James Cameron, said that he did not get into the film to make motion pictures for the small screen (TV) but for the big screen. The big studios want to cut out theaters (single screen, small auditoriums, etc.) altogether because their profit is in Blu-Ray and video on demand. I got into the business to make analog film motion pictures for the big screen and for theatres — not to see my movies go straight to DVD and gather dust.

I got nothing against digital video as long as it is used for television. George Lucas started this trend and stands to cash in. Well, why not start a counter-trend and cash in on it?

The major part of the problem is that the film processing labs are closing down as still cameras are going digital. "Kodachrome" was a great song by Paul Simon. But who protested when Eastman Kodak and Polaroid got out of the film processing business? I talked to everyone I could and said that if enough people got together and pooled money together (plus venture capital and investment banks) then cinemaphiles and film aficionados could buy the labs and assure the future of the technology. If Hollywood itself can't get prints made to distribute to theaters, then why be surprised if they are talking about satellite downlinks to multiplexes to do digital projection? And Hollywood should not be surprised if the "new media" is easier to steal off the satellites and off wireless hotspots (the same way hackers steal internet service). If they thought they had a piracy, bootlegging and counterfeiting problem before, then wait till the theaters are all digital!!! And if they are transmitting flicks by satellite to theatres, then why should people inconvenience themselves to essentially watch television (that's what digital video is) in a run down theatre when they can watch on their own big flat screen at home? You could call it a conspiracy by the FCC in cahoots with the cable industry to force television set makers to go wide screen (like theatres) and high def (like theatres) but then they are like any industry looking for the newest gimmicks. And television has always imitated the movies (3D at home is the latest) but perhaps that train ride is ending.

The old cathedrals of cinema from the 1940's are gone with buggy whips, luxury transcontinental passenger trains, and penny postcards. Broadcast TV is about to go. I suppose the people who read these words either are and aren't part of the changeover from single-screens to multiplexes. And now IMAX, IWERKS and other big screen formats are taking over the high end while art house chains are no longer buying up run down theatres. Mark Cuban bought Landmark Theatres some years ago. To some, the real question is not whether small theatres will survive (they can show indie and art films) but whether the mid-range theatres will survive. And empty buildings, as far as I am concerned, represent an opportunity. That's enough analysis.

Unite and thrive. Or hang on the gallows separately. I am offering to help. Now let's see if anyone bothers to take me up on my offer.

Cinema Productions
Box 4436
Rock Hill, SC 29732

Paul Rivalin

THE STUDIOS DON'T CARE! They never have, never will. The simple, albeit illogical, answer is that they would just rather all the indies went away. THE ACTORS, DIRECTORS, AND PRODUCERS DON'T CARE! Will Smith, James Cameron, Tom Cruise; these men, and others like them, have the REAL power to influence the situation and they stand by, blaming ignorance, and do nothing for the back bone of the industry which has made them.

The digital revolution will change the power balance over the next 5 years. In true studio foresight they are as clueless as ever. No longer does the appetite for "names" prop up a film. No longer does a massive distribution cost 70 million in print costs. No longer does the movie going public give a dam what studio made the product. Through their collective avoidance of responsibility they have all eroded their brands beyond recognition – karma is a bitch. Look at book publishing! My guess, the studios who are, or begin too, support the exhibitors will reign insurmountable kings of movie land :) Don't expect those to be the current big players.

Bruce Sanders

This is a very stupid policy on the part of the film companies and distributors, because it will eliminate independent theatres in areas of the country where people don't have "home theatres" and STILL DEPEND on their small town theatre to see movies. It's interesting to note that the government ruined Loew's Theatres in the 1950's consent decrees in an effort to "protect" independent theatres, yet, they haven't sounded a peep about the current film company policies, which threaten to eliminate all but the very strongest independents.

Of course the WORST thing about small independent closing is that it affects the vitality of the entire area where it was located, including jobs.

Juan Pacheco

I have been several times at the Colonial theater in Maine: Beautiful little theater, like many others in the country. We have to sign, push or send letters to the Studios for helping these theaters stay, and HELP THEM to be converted to digital system. Studios could help them. They have a lot of money from their sales and also from the Piracy marjet participation, around the world. These theaters supported them for years, it's time to give them help to no see them to close. (Since I was a kid I hate to see theaters closing their doors or being converted into other plan)

Jacob Felz

We all knew the day would come when film would become "obsolete." My only question is why is it that important to have digital over film? Is there that noticeable of a difference? In my personal opinion the difference isn't worth the risk of losing the few locally owned cinemas we have left around. If the industry is serious about switching over they should consider a "cash for clunkers" to try to alleviate the unnecessary costs being thrown at these small companies that are already struggling to keep up with the big theater tycoons. I grew up in a pretty rural area, and it's definitely not hard to find cinemas in the area, but it's rare to come across one still open. All I hope for is that this heavy burden doesn't crush the hopes of any more movie theaters.

Just because 35mm film projectors seam outdated, doesn't mean we need to fill our garbage dumps with them. They've been around since the turn of the century, and have withstood the test of time. The locally owned theater I worked for had four of these marvelous machines. Each machine ran perfectly without any problems caused by the machines themselves. The oldest projector there has been in use since the early fifties, and is still doing the job it was designed to do today.

To sum it up "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." To me the differences are not major between film and digital, they both play the same movies, and tell the same stories. Until the cinema owners decide to switch over to digital they shouldn't be forced to. It's a big step for these local businesses to switch over, and some may not be financially prepared.

If somebody doesn't step in soon it might just be too late for some small towns.


So, a little technical detail for those of you interested.
The primary reason that Digital Cinema systems are so expensive is because the newly created DCI standard calls for a 2K (or now even 4K) resolution projector. This is the number of pixels projected in the horizontal direction is 2048 (or 4096) Earlier video standards (set by the broadcast industry) went up to resolutions of 1920 x 1080p. The entire transition to digital, scared studios into believing that using the existing 1920 pixel standard would enable "broadcast content" to make its way into theaters, diminishing the hold that studios have over exhibition. Thinks Superbowl in theaters. Ergo the 2K standard. The result of this unusual standard is that the DLP (Digital Light Projection) chip which was mass produced earlier (for 1920 projectors) had to be custom designed all over again for 2048 pixel projection (a mere 128 pixels more). Given that the overall requirement for 2K/4K projectors is so low (compared to volumes of typical semiconductor devices), the DLP semiconductor device cost gets amortized over far fewer volumes, causing the 2K chips to be exorbitantly priced. This correspondingly and directly raises the cost of the projector. Studios claim that 2048 pixel projection is a must to maintain quality – as against 1920 !
Anyways, this problem was anticipated and dealt with by a few innovative digital cinema companies in India. Those companies offer a complete digital cinema system with 1920 resolution and more that 5000 screens (out of something like a total of 7000) have been digitized now. Given that Indian movie studios did not mandate the 2K DCI standard there, the transition was smooth and swift – without imposition of obscene costs. No theaters have been left behind.
Reason for writing this up is that if the folks that care about this can persuade Hollywood studios to expand the DCI standard to include 1920 resolution projectors, the entire problem would go away, given that the cost of conversion would then fall to something lower than $25,000 per screen.
Just my two cents …!

Mike Hurley

I wrote this piece and thanks to all who wrote back and have shared it and forwarded it or argued my points. I have learned from all of you and the debate continues to crystallize and focus my thinking. As part of what I do, run two small town movie theatres theatres, book theatres, run, and own and run a number of other small companies as well as serve on a small town city council, past 3 term mayor, etc. etc. I spend far too much time thinking about the other guy, and generally the little guy. As Mitt Romney says: only in reverse. Because I do not run theatres in major or even moderate population based areas I have more developed ideas in the world of smaller or niche markets than what makes an AMC tick on Broadway and 48th in NYC. I am a small town guy who lived in NYC, grew up in suburban New Jersey, and I have concluded that the extermination of small town theatres is a coming reality. And that I am going to do my best to fight it. To that end I started by writing this piece for Screen Trade magazine, this month's issue alone is a really good piece of work and all I can say about Screen Trade is it is not a wholly owned entity or so driven by the ad dollar that they will actually print something interesting and a bit incendiary. Good on them. And they are getting good ad dollars (or pounds) too. The article that was written for Screen Trade was picked up here by and the ditor tells me it has become the hottest article they ever ran other than an Oscar story. Thanks to Indiewire and all of you.

Since then…. I have been mailing and emailing film critics, directors, film companies, writers, web sites, etc. and soon will move to include states attorney generals, governors, etc. I'm not going to lay in bed thinking "someone should have done something." Engaging this debate has been clarifying for me: it's not about digital cinema. it's about a technology change that was gerrymandered into a trust that excluded the more rural and less wealthy. It's as if we were told you can only drive a Cadillac and anything else must get off the road. Lots more analogies apply but that will suffice. I realize this isn't everyone's fight and that the players like NATO (arguing rather ironically for the destruction of theatres) and the MPPA who hired Senator Dodd for defeating any government backlash, and the equipment cabal that conspired to create a level of tech standards that would be inescapably high priced; this group will not and probably cannot, be slowed or defeated or even persuaded to bend or care but I do intend to fight them and their evil plans. I say that with a bit of movie-esque sense of humor. I'm not totally nuts here. I just can't abide bullying. I will do my best to take a T-65 X Wing Star Fighter and shove a lucky shot into their Death Star. May the force be with me. To all the people who have written, called, reached out and support this fight I say than you. Who wants to support Goliath over David? Indiewire has asked me to write a follow up piece and I hope it will be of continuing interest. Spread the word.


While it's sad to lose the analog film as an art-form, it's actually much cheaper for indie filmmakers to produce and distribute their film digitally now. Print traffic shipping costs, digital to print transfer, storage costs, etc are a huge drain that are directly incurred by the filmmakers and their distributors, not by many of these indie theater companies. With the old technology moving out, the cost to repair and maintain the projectors and films themselves is too high. As the cost of the newer technology drops, it will become more cost effective for these theaters to go digital, AND keep the old analog system for cult and retro films. This is where indie theaters can set themselves apart and actually create a loyal audience, as the large chains sell and move out their "old gear". The good thing is they can shop around for the best price on the digital systems – there isn't only one or two companies installing and manufacturing these digital projectors.

Bill Dever

An organization call the Independent Theatre Alliance has been establish to help combat this…please go to

Lisa H

The government is never going to step in because 1) arts funding of any type is, unfortunately, unpopular with voters, and 2) this technology replaces workers. Even though the workers would otherwise be fired because the theater closed, it's just not politically viable.

The movie studios that spend $250 million on stuff like John Carter might consider getting involved — surely there's some way to make it a tax write-off. But asking big distributors to pay for their competition is probably a non-starter. They WANT the indie theaters to fail.


It matters quite a bit, imho. The more independent, non-profit movie theatres close, the great the chances are that anyone will lose their favorite independent movie theatres at anytime, if one gets the drift. I think they're trying to isolate us from each other by closing off all of the smaller theatres and just leaving us the big, antiseptic-looking multiplex cinemas that dot our highways and byways, overcharge for movies and concessions, have rude audiences, and play the schlockiest movies imaginable.


When sound was introduced in to cinemas in the 1920s, how many theatres had to close because they did not properly plan for the future of their industry?

Digital Cinema has been the future for so long, it is now our present. A number of forward-thinking chains started converting to digital five and six years ago. So the question is, why didn't those 1,000 theatres who should have known where their industry was going prepare for this years ago?


It's easy, big commercial cinemas and multiplex cinemas should be taken off say, 1% from their profit for subvention of the small and arthouse cinemas. This should be ruled by the goverment.

David W. King

Is "Die" the only alternative available to these small theaters? Many of these are landmarks, if not national then certainly local. Although seen as movie theaters today, can they be used as alternative venues? I know that in each state there are hundreds of performers that would "Die" to play these old theaters.

Wraukon the Excellent

Hollywood can jump off the cliff into their perfect sunset and go f*k themselves.

Clarence O'Herron

I was one of the last of the old time projectionists that changed from one machine to the other in the early 70s, there was 3 drive in's at this time and 3 indoor theaters,they all had a projectionist in the booth and were all manually operated and were carbon arc lamps ,well the indoor theaters were sold to a chain and the drive in's closed up -this was the start of the small town theaters closing in my town ,we now have a8 screen at the mall that is high priced ,seems like20 minutes of ads before the show even starts.My wife and I haven't been to a show in 2yr's it sucks because of the prices and the atmosphere , no body cares what the kids are doing,there is no ushers like in the old days at the indoor theaters.Yes it is a Damn shame the small mom and pop theaters are disapearing because of money ruling the land. there is a drive in here in IL. going through this right now-being forced into DLP,it is a twin screen , the owners don't know how they are going to do this kind of major upgrades and survive ,they are looking at possibly closing——-YEAH another one may bite the dust.

David W. King

Is "Die" the only alternative available to these small theaters? Many of these are landmarks, if not national then certainly local. Although seen as movie theaters today, can they be used as alternative venues? I know that in each state there are hundreds of performers that would "Die" to play these old theaters.

L.M. Kelly

My hope is to continue to have an alternative to the hugely expensive, $4 for a bottle of water, and very loud mega cinemas. The last time I went to one, I got there early and was subjected to a bombastic string of commercials for everything from TV shows to popcorn. I was hardly fit to watch the movie when it finally came on. I treasure my freedom to go to my local Flat Rock Cinema, have a veggie burger or popcorn, sit in a nice chair with a little table beside me and ENJOY the entire experience. I intend to do whatever I can to enable this small cinema to continue to provide this valuable service to our community. I don't support it just because it is small; I support it because it provides an alternative to the loud, expensive and impersonal big box cinemas. I love going to the movies and I don't want to loose that experience.

Justin Eugene Evans

Mickey –

With respect, HDCP compliant projectors are far less expensive. HDCP is simply a protocol created by Intel. Every laptop in the world is HDCP compliant and the cost is de minimus.

While I certainly have a vested interest in this argument that doesn't make what I say any less true. Go to to see The Model One, an HDCP compliant WUXGA (1920×1200) computer-enabled professional projection system that retails for $3,999.00.

There is no reason for professional projectors to be expensive.

Mickey Thurman

One of the things not mentioned here is that it's mostly the first-run small theater that will be hit. First-run requires HDCP compliant projection ($40K & up), whereas if the theater is running older movies they are allowed to license DVD & blu-ray a theatrical grade projection system, but those can start around $10K. There are many other theater groups discussing this, but you're right, it hasn't been publicized much. Many are scrambling to raise funds for the new projection system and some of the distributors are already limiting the 35MM prints. I help run an historic theater in Hoquiam, WA, (7th Street Theatre) and fortunately we show only the classics and have the DVD/blu-ray projection in place.

Mike Hurley

Thank you for all the comments and for all the people who have written me directly. There's a lot of diversity in thoughts from the people who think there's an inexpensive work around to a fairly strong dose "who needs them?" for film distributors and to a much lesser degree movie theatres. One of the most difficult things to convey is that this will be happening to the smaller towns of the USA and the world. Yet these smaller towns are still where millions of people will no longer see movies where they are doing so today. For those who think: who needs 'em I will bet you live in areas where you have options. In tens of thousands of square miles across this country they do not share those options. Theatres that show first run films will not be replaced by viewing rooms showing unknown but up and coming projects. The effects of this historical first ever loss of film viewing is difficult to imagine. Last night I watched the Oscars, tens of millions of people saw those nominated films in small town theatres and my goal is to make sure they do in years to come. For me the bottom line is to slow the digital transition door closing on the last 35% of theatres, to ease the costs of that transition in any way possible, and insure that we do not lose these theatres as venues for the world of film (I suppose we'll call it that even when there's no film in sight!) entertainment.

Justin Evans

Doesn't BryteWerks' Model One solve this problem? It's an ultra-bright computer-integrated cinema projector for only $2,999.00.


What of the Elephant in the room? If 1000 screens go, if theaters not run by massive overpricing corporations gojust how much more prevalent will pirating films become? How much more will the big film companies lose rather than gain in this situation?


Of course, the chains don't care about the little theatres, even the classic ones. Most small town theatres will project you a movie on a nice size screen, in glorious 35mm (and some even with stadium seating, digital sound, even the dreaded digital projection) at 30-40% less cost to us, the consumer. The large national chains are following the same model as Wal-Mart and other big box retailers, put the small guys out. In the case of a theatres, they want the small theatres out of the picture so they can charge us way too much to see a movie, with no alternative. Home theatre, as great as it can be, in no alternative to the cinema experience. If there is no competition except other, similar priced national chains, they can continue to get away with charging 7.50 for a matinee and $10-15.00 for a evening show (Texas prices, folks). Price increases will become more frequent. At least Wal-Mart and their ilk make an effort towards lowering prices for their foreign made crap. I still don't want to shop there and I prefer not to hit Regal, Cinemark, etc. for a movie.

Errol Byron Thomas

Going to the movies is no longer what it used to be. During the 70's and 80's periods,you were able to stay and watch the movies as many times as you wanted to for only $2.50-$5.00. To see a movie by its self for only one time is now $10.00. And man,does that really,really suck.


Let's be honest – the theatre experience has deteriorated, due to rude patrons and rising costs of everything involved. Not much can be helped about the former (Alamo Drafthouse's policy and shaming of the texting girl being a great exception to this). But theatres are victims of corporate distribs and studios getting greedy and sloppy with their product, as well as a public uninterested in seeking out indie films. What should happen with these non-corporate theatres was correctly identified by Michael Curtiss – a network of theatres is the right approach, but it's likely too late to make that happen effectively before time runs out. Even if this happened, if the perspective of indie theatres is that indie films don't sell tix, then aside from the historic factor and our own desire to support non-corporate cinema, independent filmmakers shouldn't feel much allegiance to them. Support has to go both ways, and while the theatrical experience helps give indies a much needed push when ancillaries come online, distribs are much more interested in day-and-date VOD than ever. It's only a matter of time before they drop theatrical altogether. I think we need independent theatres, and they could and should morph into facilities that promote and invest in 35mm film preservation AND independent film, but if they don't wish to adapt to the current landscape and their sugar daddies just dropped them, then if they perish, it's their own fault. It's called Adapt or Die – outmoded businesses die all the time, and replacements rise from the ashes. If they go, maybe 80 years from now, they will have an 'Artist'-like renaissance.

Mike K.

A previous comment asked whey don't the independent theaters just use the VPF's? The reason is that the VPF process, was hijacked and turned into a complicated process with many "middle men". A big chain can work the process, but the small chains lose.
An independent theater will have to pay out more to get into the VPF process than they will get back. We'd have to basically pay a $1.40 to get a $1.00 in VPF's.

Michael Medeiros

Screen on BlueRay. Screen on DVD. But screen! Find a way! — bennettparkfilmsdotcom

Peter Mork

If it ain't film, it ain't the movies. What's digital? The correct word is video. Or, more commonly, TV. They want us to watch TV in a movie theater. It looks bluish and funny, and it always will.

Film exhibitors should make an effort to reassure their customers that they care about presentation, and will do their best to project films in that are in good condition, in the proper format. That doesn't mean flawless. A few specks of dirt on a print only bothers those cranks of a non-artistic bent, and these are not our people. I think projected film's day is far from over in places where people understand the difference, and among filmmakers who do.

Don't trust anyone who says "K" instead of "thousand". Don't trust anyone who posts on the internet.

عاطف ابوخليفه

المسرح هونبض الشارع الحى ويجب العودللمسارح الهادفه وليست التجاريه لان التجاريه بيكون الاسفاف فيها كثيرجدا ولاتحكى او تساعدفى حل مشكله وده الفرق بين المسارح الهادفه التى تظهر مشاكل المجتمع وتساعدفى حلها ام

Miles Maker

So did these theaters simply refuse to participate in the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) program? It's a financing mechanism for funding the first purchase of digital cinema equipment in the replacement of film projectors.

Melissa Mogel

My dad would have enjoyed this article.
Robert H. Lemer.

James Russell

Yes. I agree that we need to save the small theatres… but how?

Mark E.

Of course it matters that these theaters are disappearing, but sadly, the vast majority of folks would rather go to the multiplex and see the latest sci-fi/action/special effects/CGIed-into-oblivion blockbuster. Honestly, I don't see how these small theaters have been able to stick around or so long, I'd have thought most of them would have died 10 years ago when the huge theater chains popped up every last place possible.

Michael J. Curtiss

This sounds like an opportunity to create a network of small theatres who all assist one another in the exhibiting and preservation of non-digital media.

David W. King

Yes, it matters. But does this have to be?

Historically, before many of these theaters were movie theaters, many of them, particularly those built before the 1930s served a double purpose. Many of the earliest small theaters were built for vaudeville. It was after the introduction of early cinema that many of them converted to movie theaters.

Am I naive to think that these theaters could be used for alternative purposes? Could these same theaters be used once again for live performances?

For the past several months I have been appealing to performers who would like to play the historic theaters of Michigan. This would include everything from the small theaters in smaller communities throughout the state to the larger theaters which still exist in the larger cities here in Michigan.

Many of these theaters predate the earliest sound systems and are such superior to the bars, taverns, honky-tonks, etc., in which these performers play now.

Would theater owners be open to allowing live performances?

Or am I completely off-topic?

I would like to hear from people who would be interested in allowing live performances, whether musicians or other performers.

I would provide you an address to which you could write me, but I don't want to be accused of spam. Or worse.

annmarie woolsey-johnson

Looking for info on Hudson Valley cinemas closing for similar reasons.

julia marchese

there IS a petition to fight for 35mm!


These are great Maine theatres— truly one of a kind.


Say it ain't so! Where oh where will I go to buy $6 bags of popcorn and $3 for 8-ounce coke? Where else can I spend $8 to sit thru 20 minutes of commercials? God save us from our favorite recliner and a 55-inch tv screen with no interruptions!


You know why his theatre is really going to die?
Because he's showing Snakes on a Plane.

Brittan Dunham

I don’t think the whole “if you don’t have digital you won’t show a movie” thing has to be true at all for theaters that show indie/art house/repertory films. The TUGG or Kickstarter-type model could do so much for covering the cost of having prints struck and distributed to these small art house theaters. Independent distributors and archives have said that they have no plans to stop circulating prints as long as the materials are available. It’s getting more difficult but I still think that, with some planning and initiative, film and the theaters that can’t afford to replace their film equipment, can survive.There seems to be quite a bit of misinformation about how close we are to not having film anymore. The stock and projector equipment is still being manufactured. I think a lot of people are having knee-jerk reactions to the current situation (and those invested in digital technology are fueling the panic), but movie going has survived all sorts of ups and downs. I think people enjoy the experience of going to the movies enough that it can survive this.I want to hear more from the distributors, archivists, filmmakers and exhibitors who are thinking outside the studio box. A little collaboration and creativity will get us through this with fewer casualties.

Kevin John Charbeneau

Having been in all aspects of film, from production to distribution and exhibition, this article bothers me. The implications, the outcome. Yes, time moves on, technology upgrades, however, with two films – this year alone, that celebrate early cinema and the experience – THE ARTIST & HUGO, this needs to be rectified. Sooner rather than later.


I really want to comment on this but I keep getting blocked as spam.

Lenny Shapiro

The entire industry does owe a great deal to the single theatre circuits that have been a part of the community for decades now should not have to pay during this transition period for the digital conversion. They should be given a grace period for 2012-13 to save this money and put it towards conversion, if they decide to do so in two years, their option. We suggest all these theatres should unite and with a single voice present their greivances. Perhaps a committee to be set up by NATO. Thanks, Lenny Shapiro.


This is a historic preservation issue! Old cinemas are important to downtown character. Tap into programs like Save America's Treasures or Main Streets. The latter already provides support for downtowns and early-mid-twentieth century cinemas are considered treasures to these groups.


I will write about this tomorrow on my website ( to try and spread the word. If we all get together we can save some of them. It is really sad…


I would argue that the real problem is what has been displayed on the marquee. It's a double edged sword though. A small town one screen theater can only afford to stay open if it plays the broad fare that is offered to them by studios. Digital may be cheaper for filmmakers but Indy is pretty much dead as far as distribution. VOD is the only thing keeping the independent film alive. I work in 100% digital Indy theater in a major US city and we still only show Sony pictures classics and Fox Searchlight pictures regularly. No one seems to show up for the truly Indy fare, even when the director shows up for a Q&A. I doubt the expensive switch to digital will matter in terms of quality for smaller theaters but the issues we have with digital are ridiculous.(keys are late, colors are off, audio no sound, sound no audio, corrupted hard drive,wrong format, etc). At times they just run it on a Blue Ray. Why pay theater prices for that? If there were only a hybrid or a way to convert using the old lenses for 35 mm projection perhaps it would then be feasible. The question then is still whether anyone will show up. They can watch everything on their IPAD in any venue they walk into. Why pay the price to sit where everyone shows up late and talks or texts during the feature. The theaters are also usually run by 15 year olds that are apathetic toward the horrible pay and entitled Iphone owner that frequent the theaters. Society has changed and film is dead. Sad, but true.

Joel Hulett

Wow, this is significant as these are often the art-house theaters on the forefront supporting indie film. I agree with what Dylan Marchetti. I think that it will take action at the local community level as well, and that perhaps a series of DIY campaigns from filmmakers linked with crowdsourcing fundraisers like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo might be one avenue to employ, but undoubtedly there will be other creative ideas. I bet Convergence through Sundance is already networking on this, and hopefully as a film community we will look for ways to help our local theaters.

Joel Hulett


Let me clarify, I love small cinemas and they will prevail in the END! Ultimately the big chain theaters are the ones who will die off in masses. We will always have an Alamo Drafthouse! Always, FOREVER! But the greed ugh its sad and sucks, my apologies for all the cussing before…I really want every cinema to live! ahh the internet…now you know how many online dates I've ruined saying the wrong thing! PEACE!


Dear Cinema Goofballs!
The elephant on top of this theater made my day! The ticket prices to see a movie at 8pm on Friday night are WAY TOO HIGH! I have to be rich now to just ask a girl to the movies? Because with popcorn we are talking between 30 and 40 dollars – GO OUT OF BUSINESS please! YOU GREEDY PIGS NOW YOU'RE ALL GONNA F*CKEN DIE! Because of GREED nothing to do with technology, nothing to do with this article, it's just PIG MADOFF CINEMA! SIMPLE MADOFF AMERICAN GREED! You stupid F*CKEN PIGS!
wait also…
Love the Titanic metaphor. THAT WAS SPOT ON! I got inspired to use a metaphor as well "MADOFF"!

Dylan Marchetti

This whole conversion has been handled so poorly that it’s a miracle it’s only 1,000 theaters. Speaking for my company, and several other indie distributors who can reveal themselves- a lot of us don’t care for this digital conversion either. It’s not for us… it’s for Warner, and Sony.

From a money standpoint, we don’t like paying VPFs, not because we want to begrudge you new projectors but because we have to pay new ones every time we open a new theater… whereas we could bicycle 35mm prints across the country. Does Warner save money not striking 7,500 prints of Harry Potter that all open the same day? Of course. Do we save money paying twelve VPFs instead of playing the same 35mm print at four theaters? No.

We also don’t like dealing with vendors who are asking for thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of dollars to convert our films into the proprietary DCP format (which, for the most part, is pushing a button and making sure all comes out the other end ok), fees we suspect are grossly inflated in order to replace revenue they’ve lost from 35mm film-outs.

Further, we aren’t thrilled that we now have two classes of release- those films we’re willing/able to undertake the expensive of releasing on multiple formats (because of the conversion, we can’t do digital OR 35mm, we currently have to do both in order to do a proper release, which puts our tight budgets over the top in some cases), and those films that we are able to play with the independent theaters who have can run a Blu-ray disc or Quicktime Pro-Res file.

And about Blu-ray/QT… they look and sound great when properly projected, nearly identical to 2k DCP digital on anything except a giant sized screen (and yes, we do care, so we’ve looked at A/B split screen projections- I can say for sure that a well-authored Blu-ray is indistinguishable until the screen hits 35 feet). The projectors are significantly cheaper, and the Blu-ray copies are $30 instead of $175 plus a $700-800 VPF. This enables us to release smaller films, and it works. Several fellow distributors do this, and we’ll continue to, as long as there are theaters we can work with. Other technologies, such as Emerging Cinemas, also help matters.

But should we discover that one day we wake up and it’s DCP digital or nothing, we’ll have no choice, and we’ll go back to our filmmakers and explain “sorry guys, but I have to move $7,000 to $10,000 from your marketing budget into digital duplication and VPFs”. This may stop some of the smaller, and often wonderful, films we’ve released in the past from making their way to theaters (sometimes the entire budget is under $10,000). To me, that’s a huge tragedy. I trust my fellow independent theaters will help ensure that’s not the case.

But then, that’s where the rub is- if you are happy playing true art house and independent film, this transition is probably going to work out just fine for you. But if your business model depends on playing The Descendants, The Artist, or even Spiderman, well, that’s where it starts to get real dark real fast, and I don’t know what to say. The major studios have decided to abandon you. They have done the math, and flawed as both that math and their thinking may be, have decided that you are officially an inconvenience to their business strategy. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the usefulness of the studios in general to your business strategy.

Losing a single movie theater is sad, losing a thousand is unforgiveable. The shortsighted thinking behind writing off that big a chunk of their audience proves that the powers that be at the studios don’t particularly understand their audience, their product, or how one connects with the other. Taking another look would be wise- only this time, not solely looking at the bottom line for the next five years.

Instead, perhaps the studios should consider the cultural significance of films seen in a dark room with strangers, and how that feeds the entertainment industry as a whole. Because that experience is something that’s powerful, even (and perhaps especially) in a small town, and although the major studios may not be willing to support it, the independent end of the industry is.

Some of the thousand theaters you’ve mentioned will not close, because they’ll be able to evolve. They will open their doors, and screens, to independent films, special events, and alternative content. In the process, they will develop their own relationships with local communities, rather than using studio ad buys to do so. But I’m no Pollyanna… the reality is that some will do this and thrive, some will struggle, and some will fail. And many will be simply unable to make an alternative model work without the big studio films, due to audience tastes or mortgage bills or whatever, and that’s the avoidable tragedy of all of this.

Since this is on indieWIRE, I can say I know the indie side of the industry will do all that it can. I wish I could say that it would be enough. But just like many independent films, this movie doesn’t have a Technicolored 1950s happy ending. It’s more ambivalent. The characters are looking at each other, there’s a hard decision to make… and that’s where the film stops and the lights come up. It’s up to you to determine what happens next.

Dylan Marchetti

Well, I tried to comment, but got a bit carried away and the spam filter is rejecting me, so I posted my comment on the Variance blog instead. Sorry, promise it's not a trick to sell sneakers or time-shares or anything like that.

Tetsuki Ijichi

So, doesn't another digital projection such like with HD cam, DV cam or Blu-ray work for such a small theater? Can't any small theater become an art house or community film center?

David Deere

Quite thoughtful for a juvy from Jersey. Nice work Mike, way to make people think

Noel locks


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