Digital films could drop curtain on drive-ins - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Digital films could drop curtain on drive-ins

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A new digital transition for cinemas promises better sound and picture. However, with astronomical prices, some Vermont theatre-operators say it could be the end of the line rather than the next step.

Hollywood producers are telling movie-theatre operators they expect to stop producing feature films on film.  Inside Montpelier's Capitol Theater on a rainy Monday night, they aren't using any film. The patrons may not realize it but the venue has replaced 35 millimeter with servers and terabytes.

The theatre and another in Barre are owned by the Golonka family. "We took a leap of faith," said Cyndy Golonk, "we know that the picture's better, quality of sound is better."

The family spent more than $100,000 per unit to replace the projectors in all of their theatres. With five screens in Montpelier and two more in Barre, the final bill totaled about $750,000.

That price tag isn't a problem for big theatres, but Golonka says they needed help to make it work. "It's a scary thing, it's a huge investment," she said.

Just along the New Hampshire border in Fairlee, Vt., Peter Trapp prepared for a handful of guests to arrive at his drive-in theatre. Due to the nature of his business, the Fairlee Motel & Drive-in offers fewer showtimes and only seasonal hours.

Trapp says the digital switch has his business on the brink. "Do I close the drive-in because I can't afford a projector, or do I close the drive in because I borrowed the money and bought the projector because i can't make payments," he said of his predicament.

Trapp only upgraded to 35-millimeter in about 2003, and now he says a lack of replacement parts and an industry shift has made that obsolete. He hopes fundraising and a bank loan will keep the projector light on.

"Last week we brought in like $294," he said, "which is great, but we got a long way to $70,000."

Donations total about $2,500 and the drive-in will host a benefit concert next month. A little more than $20,000 should be enough for a down deposit but doesn't secure the future.

The decision of whether to upgrade is made more complicated by the vague timeline offered by production companies. There's no announced cut-off date for film, and because of that, some of the independent theatre-operators we spoke with Monday say they think the change is still years away.

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