I had a chance to talk with Liz and Larry McNamara,owners of The Strand Theater, this morning about some exciting news! But before the great news, you have to understand what Larry, Liz and other historic or small town theater owners have been going through in the past few years. You've probably heard about the Hollywood studios' industry-wide conversion from 35 mm film to an all-digital product. For us movie-goers, it is supposed to mean a higher-quality movie, sound, and faster access to new releases. (I'm admittedly not a movie expert or critic, so bear with my novice jargon!) The flip side of this transition is not so bright for independent theater owners; it means each theater, each screen really, needs to shell out about 100 grand for new equipment, electrical systems, ventilation systems, screens, and on and on. What are the odds that the owners of a small-town, historic, independent theater has tens of thousands of dollars just lying around for this exact occasion? About as likely as yours truly, a small town restaurant owner, having a few thousand in my rainy day fund. Yeah, not likely.
According to Liz, the threat of Hollywood going 100% digital has been floating around for the last decade or so. Someone would pop up with a deadline, but then nothing would happen. After many false starts, theater owners knew the threat was looming and started to make plans for conversion. Then last fall, theater owners got the news from Hollywood: go digital or go dark. Like right now. Like in the immediate 4-6 month foreseeable future. Across the north country, panic set in. If the theaters didn't have the funds or couldn't raise the funds, they wouldn't be able to complete the conversion. If they couldn't complete the conversion, the only movies they would be able to show would be older films, specialty films, or translated, films everyone has already seen or films no one wants to see.
Larry and Liz started talking about other options to generate revenue for the theater, concerts, weddings, other special events. They enlisted the help of ANCA, the Adirondack North Country Association, a non-profit, rural economic expansion group that works with local and state governments, other non-profits, small businesses and universities to bring development dollars into our area. Across the North Country, there are 17 theaters that will be affected by the go digital or go dark transformation. Sadly, some of these theaters have already decided they won't be able to stay in business, leaving 10 theaters, including The Strand, to try to raise awareness and funds for the necessary equipment and work.
Liz said that ANCA and the collaborative of the remaining 10 theaters, is the only entity of its kind in the country. Larry and Liz have also been working with Mike Marnell, Schroon Lake Town Supervisor, and Betty Little, NY State Senator,on building support for the theaters and writing grant applications. Liz said both Mike and Betty have been extremely supportive, and only in our area can you see a group come together to collaborate on this level.
Now the good news! Larry got word from his film distributor indicating the studios and film manufacturers will continue to produce a percentage of new release movies on film, most likely through the end of the year. He'll still have to compete with other small theaters for the top titles, but at least the Strand won't be dark for 2013. Liz said this announcement doesn't solve the problem, but it does give them a little breathing room to be able to campaign for funding and apply for more grants. So there will be movies at the Strand this summer!
The Strand Theater will open for the summer on Friday,May 24, 2013, as part of Opening Weekend, with Iron Man 3. The Strand will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday until mid-June, and then will be open 7 days a week for the rest of the summer. Larry said he also hopes to show Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness, Lone Ranger, World War Z, Hangover 3,and After Earth. The Strand is located at 1102 Main Street, 532-9077.
For more information on the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign, visit http://www.adirondack.org/GoDigital/.