September 25, 2013LANCASTER — The Rialto Theatre owners — Greg Cloutier and Dave Fuller, both of Lancaster — plan to come before the Lancaster selectmen at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 7, to discuss the possibility of getting a $50,000 loan from the town's Main Street business loan fund.
It would cost approximately $80,000 to bring in new digital projection equipment, which is a necessity if the Rialto is to remain a venue for "first-run" movies.
"We've dragged our feet on this major investment, but if we're going to continue showing first-run movies we need to spend $80,000 for this digital upgrade," explained Cloutier, adding that grant options appear to be limited to nonexistent because the movie house in not under the aegis of a nonprofit.
"The Rialto marquee has lit Main Street for 80 years but with major studios requiring theaters to go 'all digital,' David is now finding it harder and harder to source 35 mm prints of first-run moves, so we're in a bit of a tight spot in getting the movies our customers are looking to see," Cloutier said.
"We want to keep the Rialto a 'first-run movie theater' that would remain the foundation of our business plan, while still continuing to expanding our live and non-profit performances,"
Cloutier has borrowed a slogan that was successfully used by the three-screen Red River Theaters in Concord: "Go Digital or Go Dark!"
Restaurants, ice cream cone shops, and stores on Lancaster's Main Street benefit from the nighttime and Saturday matinee activity, and parked cars line the Routes 2 and 3 with customers drawn to the county seat by movies and live entertainment, the entrepreneur pointed out.
"Boston Globe" reporter Ty Burr wrote an article, "Digital projection threatens some community theaters" on Jan. 27 that detailed the problems facing New England's independently owned "mom-and-pop" movie theaters. "The future has arrived for New England's small-town movie theaters. Unfortunately, it's consigning some of them to the past," its first paragraph reads.
The first example Burr used to illustrate today's reality is that of Coös County resident Elaine Riendeau of Gorham, who had to close the Casablanca Cinema 4 movie house in Bethel, Me., that she had operated since 2000. "With the national film exhibition industry rapidly converting exclusively to digital projection, Riendeau couldn't afford to upgrade the Casablanca from the 35mm film platter system that had served it well for 12 years," Burr writes. "With four screens, she would have had to pay a minimum of $240,000 just to stay in business."
The reporter points out that industry experts predict that at some point in the coming months, "new movies will cease being released on celluloid film. An era will end, taking the stragglers with it.
"The push to convert the industry from 35mm film prints to digital files began more than a decade ago, but it only picked up steam in recent years with the success of 3-D movies like 2009's "Monsters vs. Aliens," "Up," and James Cameron's "Avatar." The latter was a watershed moment for the technology, with the worldwide number of digital screens more than doubling in the film's wake," Burr reports.
Moviemakers stand to save a lot of money under the new regime. It cost some $1,500 to make and ship a 35mm print, with a major studio release calling for about 4,000 prints.
"By contrast, the cost of a paperback-size hard drive containing a digital movie runs to about $150. … A digital print will never scratch or break, and it will look as good on the 1,000th play as on the first," Burr points out. "Plus, going digital means a theater can roll out alternate programming like broadcasts of live opera, concerts, and stage plays as well as films outside the standard distribution channels."
The Colonial Theatre in Bethlehem, a nonprofit corporation owned and operated by The Friends of The Colonial that is managed and run by a volunteer board of directors and a professional staff, including executive director Stephen Dignazio, raised approximately $70,000 and was able to install a digital projection system in August.
The Jax Theater, located in Littleton, also has digital projectors.
According to an article in the Aug. 23 issue of "New Hampshire Business Review," Northern Nights Drive-In theatre in Lancaster, owned and operated by Ray and Annette Dubreuil, is aiming for a win in Honda's "Project Drive-In" campaign, designed to give a digital projector to each of the top five vote-getting drive-ins across the country.