Film industry switch from 35mm film to digital dumps hefty cost on theater owners.
Carla Gebers doesn’t want to do it, but a potential $60,000 to $100,000 upgrade is forcing her to lock the door to Hebron’s only movie house. It’s simply a matter of time.
The movie industry announced last year it will no longer distribute films in celluloid format, meaning cinemas will either go digital or go dark. Gebers, who also owns the movie theater in Superior, said in the case of Hebron, she’s afraid the change means closing the Majestic Theatre for good.
At the time of the announcement, the film industry added that the switch to digital movies could save studios a hefty $1 billion annually; shipping costs of up to $2,000 for heavy containers of up to five reels of film would be replaced with a small hard drive about the size of a VHS tape. Eventually, movies will most likely be streamed directly into theaters by satellite or online, eliminating the need for shipping altogether.
Unfortunately, while the industry saves a boat load of cash, movie theater owners such as Gebers will shoulder the cost of the change by needing to replace the old celluloid projector with a new digital projector at a cost of approximately $75,000 per projector. And in a small, rural theater, it’s a burden she most likely would never get out from under, she said.
In Superior, the city’s economic development department is looking into saving the theater there.
Here in Hebron, a grassroots group of interested individuals have taken on the task of attempting to keep the movie theater’s doors open.
According to a newsletter distributed by the “Save the Majestic Theatre” committee, at present the group is looking for committed individuals who would be willing to serve on the board and create a volunteer organization. Thayer County Economic Development Alliance (TCEDA) temporary co-director Deb Craig said in the letter, “A great deal of investigation has already been done by the committee regarding costs, equipment, funding options, legal issues, and non-profit status.”
Last winter, members of the Thayer County Healthy Communities Coalition (TCHCC) conducted a survey among county youth of the importance of the movie theater in the rural area. In the study the members also shared information about a tour taken to Belleville, Kan., to see how a non-profit group was keeping the theater open there.
TCHCC director Megan Hinrichs said the members conducted the survey to collect data to provide useful information to any non-profit organizations interested in purchasing the theater. “If the theater were to operate as a non-profit,” Hinrichs stated, “there would be significant opportunities for grants.”
Gebers said the Majestic Theatre also has maintenance issues such as the need for new coating for a leaky roof. “Cinema Two is not in use because the roof leaks onto seats in the theater,” she said. Also, the theater is not up to today’s fire codes and changes will need to made to satisfy the state fire marshall’s office.
Gebers said she is more than willing to help anyone take over the Majestic Theatre and is full of suggestions for making the entertainment facility attractive such as removing the wall between the two cinemas to create one large theater thereby allowing room for a larger screen for one theater instead of one new small screen for the digital projector. “A new screen, sound system and digital projector are all part of a digital package,” she said. “And a bigger screen is a bigger draw.”
In the local area Geneva, Oxford, Gothenburg, and Kearney as well as the Kansas villages of Belleville and Mankato are examples of communities who have worked together to create a strong volunteer board to run theater programs, Craig said. Some of the businesses are owned by the volunteer organization, others are owned by the city and operated through a volunteer board. “Individuals, families, and organizations such as Lions, Rotary, Scouts, FCCLA, FBLA, 4-H, FFA, church groups and youth groups help staff the movies on a rotating basis,” she said.
If anyone is interested in joining the movement to save the Majestic Theatre, contact Deb Cossart at 402-440-5975, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Retaining businesses in Thayer County is instrumental to economic development and strong communities,” Craig said. “Please help us retain the Majestic Theatre.”