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Kenmare Theatre hopes to go digital

“Go big or go home.” For the Kenmare Theatre, the saying could more appropriately be revised to, “Go big or go out of business.”

2/22/12 (Wed)

Evening entertainment . . . The marquee out front of the Kenmare Theatre
is lit up as movie goers begin to arrive Friday evening.  Movies play Friday, Saturday
and Sunday evenings, along with a Sunday matinee in the winter season
or a Monday evening movie in the summer season.


Closing up shop is the only other option

By Terry Froseth

“Go big or go home.”

For the Kenmare Theatre, the saying could more appropriately be revised to, “Go big or go out of business.”

Kenmare’s movie theater, as with thousands across the nation, is facing the challenge of installing an expensive digital projector, or closing.

Movie makers announced a few years ago they would be converting to a digital format for distributing their movies.

Instead of the bulky, heavy 35mm film reels currently shipped to the local theater, the new digital movies are downloaded to a small hard drive about 4 inch by 8 inch in size. The hard drive is then plugged into the computer that is part of a new digital projector.

The cheapest route to the digital future, for a bare-bones digital projector will cost around $75,000, after installation and all other related expenses.

The Kenmare Theatre group has decided to go big and pursue purchase of the top-of-the-line digital projector and new screen at a cost around $100,000, but capable of showing the newly popular 3-D movies.

It’s a lofty goal for the Kenmare Theatre, especially since the theater operation just barely breaks even year after year. Its net profit for the past year was $263.75.

With no funds in hand to work with, the Kenmare Theatre group decided at its annual meeting last week to go to the public for support.

The group will attempt to meet its goal of raising $100,000 through donations from community individuals, organizations, businesses, grants, or any other means.

The fund drive was officially kicked off at the Theatre’s annual meeting when one of the shareholders wrote out a check on the spot for a $500 donation, leaving just $99,500 to go.

Even though the Kenmare Theatre doesn’t make much profit, it is a for-profit corporation owned by the shareholders who revived the theater’s operation 13 years ago.

As such, the theater group can accept new investors as shareholders, but they cannot actually accept tax-deductible donations.

For that reason, the Kenmare Community Development Corporation, which owns the theater building, has agreed to purchase and own the new digital projector if enough funds can be raised through donations.

The original group of shareholders contributed $2000 each, with a few putting in more, to raise nearly $50,000 in 1999. Those funds were used to purchase the original projector, new surround-sound system, new screen, new seating, a new popcorn machine, and new drapery for the auditorium walls.

The Development Corporation also spent about $30,000 to renovate the concessions area, lobby, and bathrooms, and replace the heating and air conditioning systems.

Donate to the cause
Individuals interested in helping the Kenmare Theatre stay in business have the options of buying in as a shareholder, or making a tax-deductible donation to the Kenmare Community Development Corporation.

Businesses or organizations are also welcome to become shareholders of the theater, but a tax-deductible donation to the Development Corporation is more likely to be preferred by businesses and individuals, according to the theater’s accountant.

Donations will be accepted by Kenmare’s city auditor, Barb Wiedmer, as she also serves as the executive director of the Kenmare Community Development Corporation.

Investments in shares of the Kenmare Theatre corporation can be arranged through Becky Kostad at the Kostad CPA office in Kenmare.

New ideas or sources for obtaining the needed funds would also be welcome.

More information is available from any of the Kenmare Theatre board members. Jim Anderson serves as president. Other directors are: Tami Gravesen, Roger Johnson, Melissa Harris, Terry Froseth, Jan Kostad, and Randy Landers.

The shareholders group consists of about 16 additional individuals and families.

The group hopes the rest of the community sees the theater as a great asset.

Every week for 13 years the theater has drawn out-of-town visitors to Kenmare, while providing a pleasant, enjoyable form of entertainment for the community and surrounding area.

In addition, the theater has been the first real job for dozens of young employees over the years.

The changing
movie industry
Movie theaters of similar size in the region in Crosby, Stanley, Tioga, and Garrison, are also looking for a way to go digital.

The privately owned theater at Bottineau made the conversion to a 3-D capable digital projector last summer. The owner of the Botno Theater said it was a great investment resulting in vastly improved picture and sound quality.

Elsewhere, the two-screen theater at Valley City shut down February 9th. The owner said he was unwilling to invest in new digital projectors and he had been unable to sell the business.

Kenmare’s movie booking agent, Jim Wilson of Minneapolis, said about 750 new digital projectors are being installed across the United States each month.

About 25,000 of the nation’s 40,000 theaters have made the change to digital, Wilson said.

Most of the larger theaters, which account for 80 percent of the nation’s movie receipts, have converted.

Wilson explained how the movie makers will save billions of dollars with the conversion to digital.

An average 35mm movie costs $1550 per copy to make, Wilson said, while the same movie can be downloaded to a digital hard drive for $50 per copy.

Movie studios make as many as 3500 copies of each movie. The industry as a whole produces about 400 new movies per year.

Switching from 35mm copies to only digital copies results in a savings of $2.1 billion each year for the movie makers.

Even so, the movie studios have been unwilling to help movie theaters in any way financially with the changeover.

Wilson said there are predictions that as many as 5000 to 7000 theaters could close when 35mm films are eliminated completely.

Some reports say the end of the old style film will come in 2013, although Wilson said no firm date has been announced.

3D movies
Besides delivering superior picture and sound, the advent of digital cinema projection systems has brought about a rebirth of 3D efforts on the part of the movie studios.

Previously, 3D using 35mm film was a tedious process to project and you were limited to wearing those odd-looking red and blue 3D glasses.

Today’s 3D Digital Cinema systems still use glasses, but they are mostly clear and are capable of delivering a better 3D experience than the old red-blue “anaglyph” process.


Obsolete technology . . . Charles Steinberger tends to
the platter spooled with film just before it is ready to run
through the old projector.  Four reels of 35mm film are spliced
together on the center tray of the platter system for a two-hour
movie.  A new digital projector would be similar in size to the
old one, but without the platter system for the film.  Instead,
the movie would play from a hard drive plugged
into the digital projector's computer.