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Film era fades to black as cinemas go digital

October 31, 2013
JESSICA COLLIER ( , Lake Placid News

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.

Article Photos

Palace Theatre owners Reg and Barbara Clark just installed this $62,000 digital projector for their main screening room. They left one of the old film projectors next to it for now.
Photo/Jessica Collier

Barbara Clark, who owns the Palace with her husband Reg, said they recently reopened the biggest of its four screening rooms - which includes the stage of the original theater built in 1926 - after closing it down for three days to install a digital projector and upgrade the 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.

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"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 that would go to the cause.

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.

Strasser plans to open digital projectors in her two screening rooms in early November. 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.

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 transfer the movie to her hard drive, but it will be useless until she gets a passcode from the distribution company. That will let her show the movie for a week, or longer if she can get it renewed.

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 one of her two old film projectors in storage for now, and she said she wants to find a home for the other one where it can be treated with the respect it deserves. Many similar projectors across the country are being thrown out as cinemas convert to digital.



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