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Going digital?

Posted 6/06/12 (Wed)

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

John Fithian, CEO and president of the National Association of Theatres, has been quoted by many as saying, “Convert or die,” a sentiment that is all too true for small theaters across the United States.
For the past 120 years, theaters and cinemas have been using 35mm film to show all their movies. Everything from the very first “talkies” to Gone with the Wind and Saturday Night Fever to Dances with Wolves and Titanic have been spliced and run through a reel.
But with the release of films like James Cameron’s Avatar, there has been a growing call for the industry to upgrade everything to digital in recognition of the popularity of such movies and the continued growth of technology.
What does that mean for theaters, large or small?
It means costly upgrades to be able to continue to show new releases. It’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger looking at you and yelling, “Come with me if you want to live!”
If a theater was interested in only showing older movies and nothing newer than 2012 for the remainder of its days, then there would be nothing to worry about.
That, however, is not the reality for most theaters, which has many feeling the heat. Especially since the IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service recently reported that by the end of 2012 theaters with 35mm film will only account for 37 percent of all theaters globally. In 2010 that number was at 68 percent.
The change is happening rapidly across the U.S. and it is very much like a heralding of “Digital or bust!”
So what is Watford City’s Six Shooter’s Showhall doing about the change?
Over a breakfast of yogurt parfaits and Belgian waffles, Aaron Pelton and Alicia Madsen, part-owner and manager of Six Shooters’ Showhall, respectively, related both their passion for what the theater brings to Watford City and the challenges that going digital has brought.
Six Shooters’ Showhall opened in  2006 and its stadium-seating, twin theaters have been showing everything from Marley & Me to The Blind Side and just recently, The Avengers.
“This town didn’t have a theater after ’85, but since we opened we have been very proud to be here,” says Pelton.
What many do not know about twin theaters like Six Shooters is that under the reign of 35mm film, they are on the bottom of the cinema food chain.
Film production companies like Dreamworks and Universial Studios only make so many 35mm film copies of their movies, which go to the largest theaters first. Once those copies are out, most smaller theaters are forced to wait until larger theaters are done with their copies.
The 35mm reels are then shipped, which can sometimes cost as much as renting the movie itself. And if a 35mm copy is not available in the region, Six Shooters might not even have the chance to show a particular movie.
Pelton and Madsen even have a movie broker based in Minneapolis, Minn., who helps the theater get movies as quickly as possible.
Despite some of the setbacks of being a small theater, Pelton and Madsen enjoy not only their theater, but the people who run it.
“I get a lot of compliments on what a nice theater we have, despite being so small,” says Madsen. “And we have a lot of high school kids who have come in and really learned a lot about the reels and projection. It’s great to see them figuring out such complex equipment.”
Now that 35mm is out the window, Pelton and Madsen are focusing on building funds for the $140,000 transition to digital, which seems like robbery, despite the fact that the ex-presidents from Point Break are not waving guns around.
In order to raise the needed funds, Six Shooters is expanding its services to draw more patrons to not only its cushioned, lean-back theater seats, but now its cafe and concession stand.
The gallery has introduced breakfast Monday through Friday from 7 a.m to 11 a.m. There will also be more food options at the concession stand, like nachos and hot dogs. The theater’s proximity to Outlaw’s Bar & Grill also allows for to-go meals to be brought into the theater.
The theater also plans to show recently released popular kid and family films as matinees this summer for all the kids who are out of school for the summer.
Pelton and Madsen hope that including features like this will boost sales to make sure the new equipment is viable.
“We hope by the end of the year to have a substantial revenue stream to be able to start pricing out the new equipment,” says Pelton.
“And even once we’ve ordered the equipment it could take up to six months to get it,” adds Madsen. “The rapid demand has created a long waiting period.”
With the industry undergoing a fast and furious change, all some theaters can do is hold on for the ride and hope it only lasts as long as Gone in 60 Seconds.
Six Shooters’ Showhall may be one of those small theaters, but with community support is certain to continue to bring Watford City all the newest movies
Six Shooters’ Showhall is now showing Snow White & the Huntsman and Men in Black 3, with Madagascar 3 opening this Friday.
Hours and show times can be found on their website at www.sixshootersnd.com or by calling 701-842-7469.