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Business

Industry's conversion to digital forces old-time movie house to upgrade

2/7/13 | By Shelia R. Cherry, Associate Editor

DAGSBORO, Del. — If only Frank Capra was still around, he’d probably appreciate the irony of his films being used for Joanne Howe’s “Save the Place” campaign to fund a needed upgrade to digital movie projector technology for her 65-year-old Clayton Theatre.

Howe, who bought the movie theater with her husband in 2000, is still showing first run movies like “Les Miserables” in 35 mm celluloid film on the original MotioGraph projector that came with the building, which was built in 1948. But MotioGraph went out of business because its products never broke down, she said.

Fast forward to the new era of cinema, where imaging in general is now going digital. “We knew it was coming,” she said, with film manufacturers Kodak in bankruptcy and Fuji no longer making film stock.

But the sudden decision of major studios last year to save millions by no longer printing film in the 35 mm format has forced Howe to accelerate her conversion to the new digital technology, she said. Doing so, however, will require an $85,000 investment to update her equipment.

The conversion is hitting small town theaters like Howe’s hard, she said, because while the studios are offering theaters help with the costs of converting to digital, that help is available only when theaters order first run movies on opening day.

Since studios receive a percentage of ticket sales revenue, opening day receipts are key, Howe said, because ticket sales progressively decrease the farther away from opening day a movie is shown. Small theaters don’t tend to qualify. Although they show first run movies, they might not show them on opening day.

So fire up the community, Howe is looking for the kind of pocketbook full of miracles George Bailey found at the end in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Hence, Howe is showing movie classics to save her classic theater. On Mondays the doors open at 6:15 p.m. and the movie begins at 7 p.m., when the theater is otherwise dark. Tickets for the classics series are $4 across the board, unlike the $8.50 per adults and $6.50 for kid’s ticket rates for the regular movies shown during the rest of the week.

During January the classic series featured Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca,” “The African Queen” and “The Maltese Falcon.” Jimmy Stewart will be the headliner for February, leading off with “Harvey.” In March, Howe will feature John Wayne movies, she said.

She said she is also selling theater memorabilia and accepting donations.

The theater is located at 33246 Main St., in Dagsboro, Del. The theater telephone number is 302-732-9606, and the box office telephone number is 302-732-3744. 

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