Small Movie Theaters Struggle to Make Digital Conversion - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Small Movie Theaters Struggle to Make Digital Conversion

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By 2014, it is likely most Hollywood studios will stop production of movies on 35-millimeter film.

Most large theaters have already made the switch to digital movies, but the "Ma and Pop" theaters in northern Nevada are doing their best to keep up. And often times that means hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We have a better picture, better color, better sound," Jim Sheehan of Ironwood 8 Cinemas in Minden says. "Today, people really know all three of those and if you don't have it, you're really at a competitive disadvantage."

The Ironwood Cinema is in its second week showing digital movies. The new method means the theater gets a hard drive from the studios and loads it onto a server. From there, the movies are sent to the theater's eight different screens.

The cost was more than $550,000. They borrowed the money from their landlord. "They realized that if we didn't go digital, we would have an empty 24,000 square foot building with eight slanted floors of reinforced concrete," Sheehan said. "So, they lent us the money."

Studios are also helping foot the bill by offering a subsidy to theaters that convert to digital movies by April 30th. "Every time we play a first-run movie, we get a fee from the film companies to help defer the cost," Sheehan said. "So, if things go well and the motion picture industry stays strong, we should be able to pay it off in five-and-a-half to six years."

Sheehan says the digital conversion saves billions of dollars for movie companies every year, and will also save money for theaters. A film copy of a movie costs $1,300 but a digital copy is just $450. The hard drive also holds multiple versions of the movie like 3D or foreign language.

The key is getting financed for equipment that costs about $60,000 per screen. "The day of reckoning is coming where there won't be any more film," Sheehan said. "Unfortunately, there are going to be a lot of theaters that are going to close their doors."

The movie theater in Fallon is one of those small businesses that is also going through this conversion. The owners say they are trying to refinance, right now. Hopefully, moving to digital and replacing some of their seats, floor and some exterior work. They say that if the financing goes through, it will cost them $350,000.

Written by Paul Nelson
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