Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Bob Stannard, a lobbyist and author. This piece first appeared in the Bennington Banner.
You’ve done OK and can afford some of the trappings life has to offer, like a large, flat-screen TV. They’ve come down in price and are affordable. They’re pretty big, too. The standard big screen is around 60 inches, but word has it that Sharp has just come out with the world’s largest flat screen measuring 90 inches. That comes out to 4 feet tall and 6 feet, 8 inches wide.
That’s one big TV.
So there you are sitting on your couch watching a TV about the size of an outdoor drive-in movie theater when your phone rings. Nope, it doesn’t ring during the credits or even during a lull in the action on the action film you’re watching. No-sir-ee, that phone goes off right at the apex of suspense in your suspenseful film. Do you answer the phone? Caller ID shows that it’s someone you need/want to talk to. You reach for the remote. You hit pause. The screen freezes and there you are in a conversation that is slowly dragging you miles away from the great movie you’ve been watching.
And if it’s not the phone that rings, maybe it’s the kids playing in the next room that provide the unfortunate, yet predictable distraction. All that money tied up in a world-class TV only to be interrupted right smack dab in the middle of the best part of your movie. It sort of ruins the experience, don’t you think?
The bad news is no more movie theaters to show these new digital films, because the small theaters of America can’t afford to make the transition from 35mm over to digital. The cost is roughly $75,000 per screen.
What are your other options? Well, you can either disconnect your phone and/or put the kids up for adoption, or maybe your best bet is to get off the couch and go out to your local movie theater to catch a film. Wait a minute; that option might also be off the table. You may have heard that our nation is about to lose roughly 20 percent of its local, downtown movie theaters.
Oh, you haven’t heard the news? The film industry is forcing all movie theaters to convert to digital or go out of business. Theaters will no longer receive 35mm films in canisters shipped to them by UPS.
As of the end of this year, theaters will simply get a digital disc that they will slide into a machine. No more broken strips of film. No more fuzzy screens or sound distortion. That’s the good news. The bad news is no more movie theaters to show these new digital films, because the small theaters of America can’t afford to make the transition from 35mm over to digital. The cost is roughly $75,000 per screen. Small theaters like the Village Picture Shows in Manchester simply don’t make nearly enough money to make the switch. This theater, like so many other small theaters, is operated more as a community service than a for-profit company. The financial burden of converting to digital is enough to drive them out of business.
“Convert or die,” is how John Fithian puts it. He’s the CEO and president of the National Association of Theater Owners. The larger, metropolitan multiplex theaters can probably afford the financial hit, but the smaller theaters cannot. It’s the equivalent of the big box store mentality. The industry is setting us up to ruin our classic downtown movie theaters and creating an environment where only the mega-theaters can survive. The industry seemingly could care less if it loses 1,000 theaters across the land, because they’ll make up the difference in cost cutting. Making and shipping a DVD is a whole lot less expensive than dealing with 35 mm.
The upside, of course, is that the quality of the experience is enhanced significantly. Digital movies, along with killer digital sound throughout are nearly other-worldly. However, what good is the technology if your theater has closed?
Some theaters are fighting back. The Village Picture Shows Theater is a good example of not accepting defeat. When Manchester realized that its hometown theater was in jeopardy a few people got together to take action. Losing our theater is just not an option. Movie theaters are one of the last forms of affordable entertainment left for people. It’s where many of us went on our first date a zillion years ago. Downtown movie theaters are a major thread in the fabric of our lives. Losing our theaters would be a major blow not only to our community but to our social fabric of day to day living in rural America.
It’s time to rally around our theaters and help them survive. Find a way to assist these small theaters to make the conversion. In Manchester a “Kickstarter” campaign has begun. In addition to the Kickstarter campaign the Manchester & the Mountains Chamber of Commerce has stepped up to act as a conduit for contributions. We need to raise $175,000 to make the conversion. As of this writing $91,427 has been raised, but time is running out. If you want a movie theater in Manchester then now is the time to offer your support, or acquiesce to interruptions while trying to enjoy a film at home.
Here is the link to Kickstarter.