Carbondale Theatre Goes Digital With Community Help

May 23, 2013

The movie going experience has been changing over the past several years as the 100 plus year old technology of film is being replaced with ones and zeroes. Aspen Public Radio’s Rob St. Mary looks at how a Carbondale theater is answering the digital call.

There are many familiar sounds around the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale - tickets being sold, popcorn popping and the film on the screen.

But there’s one sound most theater goers rarely hear - the projector. 35mm film rushing before an arc lamp at 24-frames a second has brought the silver screen alive since before movies talked. But that sound will soon be extinct as computer connected digital projectors take over more movie houses worldwide and locally at the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale.

“I can just hear what’s going on… and if I don’t hear what I’m supposed to hear I’m up there in a second. With this… I won’t know what’s going on.”

That’s projectionist Bob Ezra. Along with his wife, Kathy, the couple has owned the Crystal Theatre for 27 years. When they opened their doors in July 1985 their first show was John Hughes’ ode to teenage angst.

“The Breakfast Club”

And of course that was back before cell phones or the explosion of the internet, when the latest movies were shipped to the theater on reels of film. Today, Hollywood is going digital.  It’s not only cheaper and more secure from pirating but audiences get the same visual and sound experience whether they see the movie opening night or years later. That’s because there is no physical film print to get damaged running through the projector. So far, about 85% of theaters in North America have gone digital and there’s now a sense of urgency because some studios have announced they will stop shipping film prints by the end of the year. 

So, the need for the Crystal Theatre to covert is fast approaching. But it’s not something Bob Ezra is looking forward to. If it was up to him, his trusty work horse of a projector would continue grinding away in the booth entertaining patrons for years to come. Because, like most modern technologies, digital projectors do have a shelf life.  

“The best estimate anybody gives at this point is 10 years… what’s bought today will be obsolete in 10 years. It’s one thing to spend that money if you’re done – what you bought is going to serve you for the X number of years. Like my current booth is in its 27th year pretty much with a few modifications. You’re not going to get that with digital and for way less money too to equip that booth… and to run that booth.”

And if something goes wrong, Erza says special technicians might have to be flown in to fix the new digital system.

Still, the new digital projection system could allow the Crystal Theatre to expand its offerings – bringing in different films, live events and open the theater to local filmmakers or artists more easily.

“Somebody wants to go out and take a picture of a snow storm and covert it to the right format we could run it through the projector. Or you want to have a fundraiser we’d be able to host more of those type of events.”

But with a price tag on average of $100,ooo to convert to digital it would take a lot of popcorn to cover the costs, especially when the studios take up to 60% of each ticket at the box office. So, after some debate, and seeing at how similar mom and pop local theaters have raised the money, Cathy Ezra says they decided to ask the community and their patrons for help.

“We didn’t decide immediately to do public fundraising… we actually were scared to death of the idea of doing that and just felt like we needed to wait a little bit… see how things developed. And then we started watching other theaters on-line that were running either kickstarter, indiegogo or their own kind of hybrid campaign – what is what we are doing – and I think we just kind of got inspired by the success of all of them.”

The goal is $70,000 by May 31st.  Right now, the campaign has raised about $54,000. If everything goes according to plan, the new digital projection system could be up and running at the Crystal Theatre in September.

Crystal Theatre Digital Fundraiser from Dave Taylor on Vimeo.

When the goal is met it’s safe to say that the theme song from the first film the Ezra’s showed at the Crystal Theater in 1985 will have added resonance. Because it appears the community and the patrons of this "mom and pop" single screen theater haven’t forgotten them or the magic of movies… not matter how they are delivered to the silver screen.

“Don’t you (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds

I’m Rob St. Mary - Aspen Public Radio News.

For more information about the Crystal Theatre, the campaign and how to take part: http://www.crystaltheatrecarbondale.com/home/digital-cinema-campaign