Another Downside to that Whole “Movie Theaters Going All Digital” Thing

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Another Downside to that Whole I love experiencing films in 35mm. While I have a fairly extensive Blu-ray/DVD collection, there’s something magical about seeing movies on the big screen projected ON film. It’s the reason I still drive to archival theaters to see revivals of old favorites. There’s simply nothing like it.

Unfortunately, there’s another downside to the whole digital switch that theaters have embraced with surprising quickness. Turns out that many smaller, independently owned cinemas find themselves faced with a miserable ultimatum, so eloquently spelled out by John Fithian, CEO and president of the National Association of Theatre Owners: “Convert or die.”

The excellent editorial written by IndieWire journalist Michael Hurley illustrates the very real possibility that the United States could suddenly find itself down 1,000 theaters in the very near future, providing these businesses cannot make the switch to all digital delivery.

The problem is that making the switch to digital projection is a costly endeavor, with low-end estimates coming in around $65,000. To the large and soulless chains out there, this is no problem. But to small little theaters all across America, this is a much bigger issue. And it’s compounded by the fact that Hollywood seems anxious to jump to digital asap. For example, Fox has stated they will no longer be issuing films on 35mm over the course of the next year or two. How long until other studios follow in their wake?

My advice? If you have one of these movie houses around you, get out there and support it. It’s all we little people can do at this point, lest we be faced with an all-too-probable future where fewer theaters means less choice and more unpleasant patrons. What a terrifying world that would be.

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Matt Serafini

Author (Under the Blade, Feral), slasher movie enthusiast, N7 Operative. Plays games, watches movies, reads books. Occasionally writes about them.

  • Gus Bjork

    Near my home is an old classic theater, the Riverview, from back in the days. It’s been kept up and it’s a very popular place. One of those $3 a ticket theaters. A solid part of the business are the mainstream releases but once they went digital they went nuts-in a good way. There’s a lot of festivals, a lot of indie’s and a lot of exposure for documentaries and such that would never be able to do film. I was projectionist myself a long time ago, back when you actually had to watch for the change over dots even but I’ll vote for digital as I think it’s going to be how the small indies are going to get more exposure.

    Provided more independant filmmakers start getting their heads out of their asses.

  • James Coker

    A sad future indeed, I frequent to the Temeku in Temecula all the time because they’ve showed classics there, Saw Psycho,Jaws,Rocky Horror,Blue Velver,Back to the Future and Holy Grail there. WILL DEFINITLY SUPPORT THE THEATER ALOT MORE

  • Vanvance1

    I rarely go to the theatres anymore. There are too many teenagers with cell phones ringing and lighting up the place with their amoled screen.

    Most cell owners under the age of 25 don’t understand how to behave in a theatre (or any public place including the street). They are unable to focus for 90 minutes on a movie.

    Happily we now have big screen tvs, awesome home surround and blu rays. I don’t miss theatres at all.

    • theGoldenSimatar

      To be honest, I’ve found older patrons in their 30s and up to be the rudest when it comes to the cell phones. Might just be the areas I’ve been in; but while teenagers whip out the phones, one warning and they’re done. Middle age people and up….had a woman tell me “i don’t have to listen to some kid, fuck off” a few weeks ago…so I got the security guard to kick her out :)

      I’m still gonna go to the theaters, best picture and best audio; certainly with IMAX.

      • Vanvance1

        Congrats on kicking them out. Anyone on their phone during a film should immediately be ejected from the theatre.

        I have another reason for not visiting theatres that often. The truth is most of the movies I’m interested in rarely get a North American theatrical run. I also have a no remakes policy, so that means there aren’t a lot of interesting new horror movies to lure me in.

        • theGoldenSimatar

          I can understand about most films not getting a theatrical/limited run here in the states. I get really excited about even some independent films or films with rather nice sized stars (The Hunter for example) but sadly their distributors don’t have the muscle for advertising.

          I do support a small art house/indie theater about a half hour up the road from the theater I work in as well as a Landmark theater in DC. And while I certainly want people to come in and watch films in my theater, I do send them to those places if I know the film they’re looking for is gonna play there. Or even at a major competitor closer into DC which will get the smaller films.

      • Masked Slasher

        I have to say, I think you’re right.

        To be fair, I usually avoid the teenage-friendly screenings like the plague, but when I think back to the worst theater experiences over the last few years, only one of them involved teenagers.

        Most of the time it’s older people who’ve grown accustomed to blathering incessantly in their living rooms and think nothing of destroying the experience for everyone around them.

        One guy was so inconsiderate that, halfway through DRIVE, he simply blurted out “eh, I don’t like this movie.” WHAT. THE. FUCK.

        Going to the movies ain’t what it once was, that’s for sure. But the experience CAN come back. As soon as these big chains adopt the policies of places like the Alamo Drafthouse and really decide to do some good when it comes to rude patrons, etc. But they’re too afraid to LOSE business over it, so instead of enforcing a “no talk/no text” policy, they only pretend to.

        Of course, there are good folks in some of these theaters who will kick out obnoxious patrons, but we’re a long way from where we need to be.

        • theGoldenSimatar

          My advice for films that might gear towards teenagers; if you can, go before schools let out on a weekday or on the weekend try to catch the first or second show. Teens seem to come out more in the late afternoon/evening. Or go on a Sunday evening when there’s gonna be school the next day. Those are honestly the best times to avoid a teenager crowd.

          The problem that I and other folks in large chain theaters (Regal, AMC, Rave, etc.) versus Alamo in regards to patrons is that Alamo is a dinner and a movie establishment. We’re a snack and a movie establishment….though don’t tell a family I had a week ago drop $60 on chicken, pizza, hot dogs and such….despite the fact we’re surrounded by restaurants of every culinary taste. Anyway…

          Alamo’s theaters are smaller, their largest is our smallest. You don’t want to have 10 or so screens that sit 300 people; it’s not feasible, especially on a busy weekend. Their small theater sizes make it easier to narrow down the problem patron.

          Also because they’re a dinner and movie; the causeways they have between rows for the servers to deposit food makes it easier to reach a troubling patron. Their employees don’t have to hop over a few dozen people, they can just walk straight to them with barely a notice.

          In a regular theater, if the patron is in the middle of a row, in the middle of a 2, 3 or 400 seat theatre; unless they’re causing a big disturbance…it’s generally considered just as or more disruptive for the employee to hop over so many people to get to them. Interrupting the folks in the row in front, the folks who the employee is hoping over and going in front of in the rows behind. The times myself or coworkers have done it have resulted in numerous complaints after the film and handing out refunds/readmit passes because of the “damn employee”.

          While you can point towards Alamo as an example of a great policy, it’s also about context.

          But, while cell phones are a problem; in my five years working for theaters, I find the it blown out of proportion. I’ve only ever kicked people out for using their phones if they get agitated with me or don’t take a warning. But, I haven’t kicked many out for cell phone usage as most tend to put it away after asking them.

          I’ve kicked far more parents cussing at me for not selling them an R rated ticket to give to their kids, patrons cussing in the lobby, kids trying to race/sneak into R rated movies, patrons smuggle in booze, smuggle in purse doggies (easy to spot when the bag is moving and ruffing), attempting to steal posters/banners/standees, and other assorted nonsense.

          Just recently though I’ve been getting complaints that our food is too loud, the packaging for the candy is too loud, the popcorn loud, people sipping the last droplets of soda in their cups….why don’t we do anything about that but we tell people not to do and I quote: “quiet activities like sending an email and reading text?”

          I told the patrons that we can’t tell people how to eat and that the light is far more distracting in the dark theater. Response: “you need to change your companies’ policy then because that’s bullshit; you’re going to lose business if you don’t let people enjoy themselves in a quiet theater.”

          I must admit, working a theater has made me lose faith in humanity. No matter what theaters do; patrons are going to bitch and moan because they feel like it. Because it’s easy, because it’s fun….legitimate concerns and complaints get muddled and lost in the sea of nonsense.

          I still love my job, especially being a film lover it’s great. But any love of humanity…gone. New Bond Villain: loses humanity when working in a movie theater. Check please.

          Cell phones are the easiest to complain about because cell phones are so ingrained into our daily lives that people don’t think twice about them being a nuisance till they realize that they can be. I wish more could be done; but there’s a limit to how far one can go.

  • theGoldenSimatar

    Coming from working a theater; I will admit I am damn sad to see our 35’s go. There was no greater joy than calling myself a ‘projectionist’ and playing with the film. Building a 35 was also in a way exciting and nervous at the same time.

    But, this is what they say is ‘progress’ With all other sectors of the entertainment industry going digital; it was sooner or later that theaters were going to go digital. The theater I’m at now went full digital last week and now we’re fully automated; we’re still having problems such as cues not being hit but it’s growing pains.

    The upside I will say though, in defense of digital. While I can attest to the fact that I treated the 35 like a holy relic and the same goes for every other person I know whose operated projection…I admit there’re folks out there who either 1. don’t know shit or 2. don’t care for a shit. And they misthreading and damaging prints; something as simple as having a few perforations more of/less of slack is all the difference. Digital, takes that element out and does provide a high resolution image so that on week 5 of release it’ll look as good as it did day one. Still, I never minded a few scratches and some dust…but still.

    I’m gonna miss the 35’s. I’m glad I could call myself a Projectionist, still do…but now it’s ‘technician’ for anyone coming after.

  • addeisdead

    I used to enjoy going to the movies quite frequently. When the original After Dark Horrorfest debuted, I practically camped out at my local theater for the one-weekend only run. There’s no way I would be able to afford that anymore.

    My local theaters were both bought out by AMC a while back. They eliminated the student discount that used to be a big help, and in the last year their prices have gone up $2 a ticket. It now costs more to take my girlfriend to a movie than it would to just go out and buy a new release movie on Blu-Ray.