A couple weeks ago, the Fargo Theatre announced a capital campaign to raise $200,000 for a transition from the Theatre’s current film projector system into an all-digital system. This transition, mandated by film distributors, has a lot of positive aspects, like a crisper picture and reduced shipping costs (movies will now come on a large hard drive rather than in large film canisters). However, the cost to make the transition has stressed small-town movie theatres across the country, putting many of them in the same funding predicament as the Fargo Theatre.
I accompanied Fargo Theatre director Emily Beck and Theatre staff member Justin Schroepfer into the projection booth for a look at the Theatre’s current film system. Schroepfer threaded the film for a new movie (The Sessions) from a large, rotating pan through a few wheels and spindles, then ran them through the projector, a process that took about 10-15 minutes. Although the Theatre will hang on to its 35mm film projector, showing movies in this fashion will soon become a rare occurrence.
I asked Beck for a little insight into the transition process and the equipment involved. (You can view more photos from inside the projection booth over at our Tumblr.)
What components will the Theatre need to purchase in order to complete the transition to digital?
The Theatre will need to purchase 2 DP-2K projectors, lamps, digital bases, Dolby Screen Servers, digital media adaptors, equipment mounts, and a list of “rack” equipment including specialty cables and Sonic VPN Firewall. There are also significant freight and installation costs.
What advantages will going digital have? Will audiences notice the difference?
The audience will notice the crisp, pristine images and a greater variety of film programming. In the long term, the Fargo Theatre will have significant savings on shipping and labor costs.
Why will you be hanging on to the 35mm projector? And, what will you miss about film?
Fargo Theatre staff and board members are deeply committed to preserving the tradition of screening 35mm film. The Theatre will retain and maintain its 35mm projection equipment. As often as possible, we will offer that unique viewing experience through our Classic Film Series. Personally, I will miss the character of a film print–scratches and all! In my opinion, celluloid delivers images with a depth and warmth that has yet to be duplicated by modern digital technologies.
What happens if the Theatre is unable to raise the funds to make the upgrade?
In the spring of 2013, new release films will no longer be distributed on 35mm film. If the Fargo Theatre is unable to make this transition, it will no longer be able to operate as a cinema.
Image: Justin Schroepfer takes film from a spinning platter to thread into a film projector at the Fargo Theatre.