Cinemas make the switch to digital

Two local movie theaters are progressing on the path to becoming fully digital.

Lake Placid’s Palace Theatre just finished changing the second of its projectors over to digital, though it’s still trying to raise funds to change the other two.

In Tupper Lake, the State Theater has been closed since September and is almost at the finish line of a full digital transition, complete with a 3D screen in its main screening room.

Barbara Clark, who owns the Palace with her husband Reg, told the Enterprise that about a week ago, they reopened Theater 1, the screening room that was the main stage of the original theater built in 1926, after closing it down for three days to install a digital projector. They also upgraded the room’s sound system.

Clark said they made a down payment of about half the cost of a second projector with money donated directly to the theater. Once a fundraising website set up through Adirondack North Country Association’s Go Digital or Go Dark campaign closes at the end of the month, they should have the remaining $31,000 to pay it off.

After that, though, she said there probably won’t be much money left. That means they could be stuck with two screening rooms that have film projectors at the end of the year, at which point the movie industry will stop distributing movies on film.

“When there’s no more film, we’ll have two screens,” Clark said.

That might make it difficult for the theater to survive. Clark said it was out of financial necessity that she and her husband split up the original, 800-seat theater into two screening rooms, then three, then added a fourth in an unused dressing room in the back.

So they intend to keep trying to fundraise, even after the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign ends at the end of the month. Clark said they plan to screen older movies – like “The Lost Boys,” “Ghostbusters” and “The Blues Brothers” – every Wednesday night with a $5 admission donation that would go to the cause.

“Even though we don’t have the website, we have to keep our name out there and see what we can do,” she said.

Even now, it’s starting to get difficult to get movies on film. Sally Strasser, who owns the State Theater, said she was already having problems getting them in when she shut down in September.

“The last couple of weeks, I really struggled to put something on the screen,” Strasser said. “That’s hard, you know?”

Strasser plans to start install digital projectors in her two screening rooms in early November. As part of that process, she said she is getting new pieces of equipment every day. When the Enterprise talked to her Thursday, she had just gotten in a scaler for alternative content, which will let her connect any type of digital device to the digital projectors. The previous day she had received new speaker brackets.

She anticipates getting everything in by the end of October; then it will take three or four days to install it.

“It took a little longer to get here than I wanted it to, but I think everybody is trying to upgrade at the close of the summer season,” she said.

After that, she plans to test the new projectors for a week, with some private screenings for donors. She said she’s heard some horror stories about projectors not working right after being installed, so she wants to make sure everything is in working order before she has a paying audience. Then, at some point, she hopes to have a party to celebrate the conversion.

She also did a few other upgrades, including a new sound system and a new boiler, so the theater will be warmer than it has been in the past.

Strasser said she’s excited and grateful for $35,000 in grant money and $70,000 in donations she got to convert the theater.

“I can’t believe it, our little theater,” Strasser said. “I can’t believe we did that. I can’t believe Tupper Lake pulled together like that. Tupper Lake is amazing.”

Film movie reels used to come in big, round canisters, but the digital ones come in what Strasser describes as a tiny suitcase with a hard drive in it. She will then convert it to her hard drive, but it will be useless until she gets a passcode from the distribution company. That will give her access to the movie for a week, unless she asks to renew it.

Strasser said she plans to start showing more alternative content with the new projectors, like independent movies that wouldn’t have made it to Tupper Lake in the past. She hopes to try out new distribution models, like having customers vote online for which movie to bring to Tupper Lake.

Despite all the new benefits, Strasser said she is going to miss the aesthetic quality of film.

“Film is interesting,” she said. “It’s got a texture to it, a look.”

She is putting her old film projectors in storage for now. Many similar projectors across the country are being thrown out as cinemas convert to digital, but Strasser said she wants to find a home for the one she isn’t keeping where it can be treated with the respect it deserves.

“It would have to go somewhere where they really love film,” she said. “It’s so sad, but it’s really kind of cool, though, because it means it’s going to open a whole new world to the North Country.”