Theater being forced to go digital

By: Jason Chaney - Mar 07, 2013
Source: Central Oregonian
Movie studios will soon cease to provide movies on film

Go digital or go dark.

That is the ultimatum that movie studios have imposed on cinemas across the country, including Prineville’s Pine Theater.

“The studios will be doing away with film,” explained theater co-owner Ali Mehrabi. “They will be going to digital only. Probably within the next five to six months, film will be obsolete.”

Since the early 1900s, movies have been shown on 35-millimeter film reels and Pine Theater, which was built in 1938, has always shown its movies on film.

Digital movies began to emerge around the turn of the millennium, but the conversion to the new technology did not gain momentum until 2005 when cinemas began installing digital projectors to show 3D movies.

“Then, in 2007, right as we were getting ourselves into the movie industry, buzz started swirling around James Cameron’s next movie (Avatar),” Pine Theater co-owner Oniko Mehrabi recalls. 

“Exhibitors really started to listen, knowing there would be a demand to see this new movie in digital, and started replacing their old, but still totally functionally reliable equipment, with new digital equipment.”

Because of the recent ultimatum from studios, Pine Theater will need to swap its two film projectors with new digital ones -- a $95,000 expense. The Mehrabis cannot afford the expense without some help, so they have devised a fundraiser inspired by Tinseltown.

On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, visitors can find the names of hundreds of movie stars immortalized in the concrete sidewalks that line Hollywood Boulevard. With this landmark in mind, the Mehrabis have launched the Walk of Fame Horseshoe Campaign.

To raise the necessary $95,000, the owners are selling 240 personally-engraved horseshoes for $400 each that they will place in the cement entry to the theater.

“What we chose to do was something local. It’s Prineville people, Prineville names,” Oniko said. “That’s what our goal was – that you would have fun standing in line and looking at all of your good friends’ names.”

The Mehrabis knew they would eventually need to make the switch to digital projectors. Ali said they had heard rumors about it for the past two or three years. However, they did not anticipate having to act so soon.

The timeline hastened when studios struck a deal with the larger cinemas to help them make the switch more quickly.

“They are covering 75 percent of their costs,” Ali said of the studios. “They are just not giving the same deals for the small theaters.”
With more theaters going digital quicker, the window for acquiring movies in film version is shutting sooner than initially expected.

“The faster the other theaters change over, the sooner they will quit producing the prints,” Oniko said. “We thought we had two years to get this money.”

Because of the rapidly approaching end of film, the Mehrabis have set a date of July 4 to conclude their fundraiser. In the event that they come up short of the $95,000 goal, they are collecting contact information with each donation so they can return the money if necessary. 

However, Oniko remains confident that community members will purchase all 240 horseshoes in time. As of Friday afternoon, less than a week after announcing the fundraiser, they had already sold three.

Assuming their plan succeeds, the Mehrabis expect moviegoers to encounter a noticeable improvement in picture quality when they start showing movies in digital.

“The picture will always be crisp,” Ali said. “There will never be lines through the film.”

In addition, Pine Theater will get new-release movies on a more consistent basis and might even have the opportunity to show 3D movies at some point in the future.