I love to go to the movies. For me, it’s the experience primeval: dark cave, dancing light, stirring sound, and an audience hooked on THE STORY. Or maybe it’s the experience surreal: going inside a seashell to emerge on the shore. I like sharing reactions and focused attention in a well-designed space without distractions.
I love a good movie house. I remember the Brookhaven theater where I saw Becket when I was twelve (it was supposed to be Cat Ballou, but the show had rotated; that was life-changing for me); George Ellis’s Ansley Mall Film Forum where I saw everything I could in my twenties; Loew’s Tara Theatre where I saw Star Wars (and the parking lot chaos after … the Force was with every driver); 112 Drive In Theatre in Fayetteville, Arkansas; and, of course, six years of movies at The RITZ Theatre.
The RITZ delivers all of this for me, for now. Forces beyond our control may see it shut down within a year.
It sounds like a B-movie plot: “The Mayan Calendar comes to THE END in 2012!” In fact, the end comes in an industry mandate forcing exhibitors, such as The RITZ, to choose abrupt capital investment or closure.
Film is being cut by the bleeding edge of technology. Do you know where to buy ribbon for an IBM Selectric Typewriter? Carbon paper sets for multiple copies? An adaptor to play your 45’s on a 33-1/3 turntable? A player for your 8-tracks? Where to get your slide film processed? Where to buy slide film? How to get data off a 5-1/4” floppy? This is one of those media shifts, but it is arriving much faster than expected. The RITZ Theatre has a nearly new, very reliable 35mm film projector which will go unused when film distribution ceases. It has no resale value now.
In a letter dated November 9, 2011, Twentieth Century Fox wrote, “Dear Exhibitor, … We remind you that the date is fast approaching when Twentieth Century Fox and Fox Searchlight will adopt the digital format as the only format in which it will theatrically distribute its films. We currently expect that this date will be within the next year or two …” If you, dear reader, doubt the suddenness of this change, I invite you to do your own Internet research. Small cinemas and drive-ins all over the nation and world are scrambling. Unlike the government conversion of broadcast TV, there is no assistance program because exhibitors and distributors alike are private enterprises. So-called incentive programs offered by the distributors involve “third-party integrators” and are designed to support multiplexes, not single screen operators. (I called Fox myself to verify this.)
Will THE STORY continue?
Now is the time for all good movie lovers to come to the aid of our cinema. There is no commercial justification for the current sole proprietors to make this change. After a decade and a half of improvements, effort, and dedicated operation, our movie house runs profitably, as is, but is a small business. The conversion to digital projection will not change the movie experience or market. Revenues will not reimburse this expenditure, estimated at $70,000. However, without conversion we will have no local movie house. When film distribution ceases, The RITZ Theatre will close, probably in its 85th year of continuous operation.
Just the FAQs:
Q. Why won’t there be film copies?
A. The distribution company saves a lot of money by circulating digital copies instead of film.
Q. Why not show old movies?
A. The distribution medium is at issue. The next showing of Gone With The Wind will be digital. Furthermore, film is a temporary medium. It develops scratches and pops, faded colors, and breaks. Old film will be trashed or recycled for the metal content.
Q. Why not host live stage shows?
A. The owners encourage these shows for the community, but they are generally not profitable.
Q. Vinyl music came back. Won’t 35mm film movies come back, too?
A. Possibly, as an artistic choice, more expensive than it is today, and probably ten years too late.
Q. How does a theater choose a digital projection system from multiple formats and Blu-ray?
A. A single-screen current-run movie house must accept the copy format available from the distribution company.
Q. Why didn’t the owners see this coming?
A. Most “film” critics, exhibitors, and other professionals didn’t see this coming so fast. My Internet research suggested early forecasts were for half of U.S. projectors to be converted by 2015. Excitement over 3-D motivated multiplexes to switch earlier than expected, and the halfway point passed in 2011. This is not an insurable disaster or a failure of a business plan. Times are changing.
Q. Why not go to Griffin or Macon or Columbus?
A. I like a short drive, low ticket prices, and supporting an outstanding local business. I like a single screen without sound interference from another movie. I like rapid rotation of the movie “now showing.”
Q. What is being done?
A. Local citizens are trying to form a corporation to purchase a projector which The RITZ Theatre would house and operate. They hope for 501 (C)(3) status so contributions would be tax deductible and more easily solicited. Dear Movie Lover, your involvement would be welcome. The corporation needs legal advice, accounting advice, board officers, members, volunteers, ideas and donations. $70,000 is needed in six months.
Q. How can donations be solicited for a private business?
A. While I cannot speak from experience and I am not an attorney, I believe private citizens can act to preserve a community resource. I believe an active movie projector is such a resource for our community. Subject to gift tax rules, I believe any private citizen can give any entity a piece of equipment. Absent such a benefactor, I believe private citizens or a corporation can own a piece of equipment and make it available for the community purpose. If our sense of purpose is not strong enough to answer this crisis, then the future of The RITZ Theatre is literally none of our business.
Q. What will happen if The RITZ Theatre does not get access to a digital projector?
A. “It is therefore widely reported that small theatres will face extinction except for the ones that can come up with a way to raise the money to make the change.” Presentation to the Upson Historical Society, March 2012.
At this time, Dear Movie Lover, please go to see a movie at The RITZ Theatre every chance you get. Admire this labor of love: the original ceiling, the renovated space, the beautiful screen, great sound, crisp film projection. If you are at least age 21 and climb stairs, sit in the balcony. It’s worth the two bucks. Stay in the lobby a few minutes afterwards to meet your fellow movie enthusiasts. Say “Thank You” to Amy and Malcolm. Fix these moments in your memory …