Say it’s 1975. You’re a movie-loving entrepreneur and want to open your own cinema. Couldn’t be that hard, right? Find yourself an auditorium, some padded seats, put up a screen, buy a ton of popcorn—oh, and you’ll need a projector, but nothing too highfalutin. The 35-millimeter film they were projecting 20 years ago is the same as the 35-millimeter film they’re projecting today, which will be around for at least another 20 years. The format is static, and the equipment used to project it is built to last.
Anyone hoping to open a small theater in 2012 has to deal with much tougher circumstances: Digital is the way now, and while that makes life easier for distributors, the cost for small cinemas across the country could be enough to put a lot of them out of business.
A few weeks ago, the D.C. area’s E Street and Bethesda Row cinemas, both part of the national Landmark Theatres chain, wrapped up a complete conversion from that century-old method of film projection to the Digital Cinema Package projectors that are now the industry standard. The other major chains in town are at or near full-digital conversion, too: AMC Theatres’ Shirlington location is the national chain’s only house still showing 35-millimeter prints, and it’s been more than a year since I saw a film print at Regal’s theaters in Silver Spring or Gallery Place. (Regal didn’t respond when I asked how long ago the company went digital.)
Continue reading the rest of my story over at the Washington City Paper.
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