The Show Must Go On

12 Jun

Saving Independent Cinemas

As the perpetual progression of technology marches on, action sometimes becomes necessary to preserve relics that are important to the fabric of our communities. For many of us, local movie theaters have played a part in shaping shared experiences throughout our lives. The enormous, collective effort to save them from a recent threat demonstrates their value.

For over a century, cinemas have exhibited movies using film of various sizes. Most commonly, movies were printed on 35mm film and delivered to locations on 20-minute reels. While technological advancements have been changing how we’ve watched entertainment at home for many years, movie theaters have stayed largely the same until now. The studios that supply cinemas with their content have all but phased out film as a method of delivery in favor of digital content delivered on hard drives. This new method presents the incentives of lowered costs of production (it’s rather expensive to make a 35mm film print) and shipping (film is heavy to ship, hard drives are not) but, unfortunately, the shift has put many of our independent movie houses in jeopardy.

In order to show digital movies, it requires a completely new set of equipment, including a new digital projector, a custom server (i.e., computer), and a host of other modern accessories. Early in the digital conversion years, it was not unheard of for the price to convert one screen to approach, or even exceed, $70,000. That price tag was easy to absorb for the major theater companies, but nearly impossible for the small, community cinemas. And so, independent movie theaters did their best to hang on by showing the films they were still able to get and saving pennies for conversion. And waiting paid off.

Eventually, the price to convert was nearly cut in half. The projectors are more compact, designed for the smaller screen sizes often seen in independent cinemas, and more affordable. The shrinking cost of equipment and rise of crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Fort Collins-based Community Funded has made the goal of conversion attainable. With community support, many independent and family-owned cinemas have been able to stay open, increasing business for locally-owned establishments around them.

Locally, Downtown Colorado Inc.’s Save Our Screens effort has assisted in just these sorts of projects. NW Projection, a company based out of Portland, Oregon, has personally handled the conversion of the Storyville Cinema’s two screens in Salida and The Paradise Theatre in Paonia. The switch over includes removal of the 35mm equipment in place and installation of the new digital projector.  The process sounds daunting, but with a qualified installation company, the conversion can often take place in just a day or two.

The benefits of digital are immediate. Shows can be scheduled to run automatically. There are no more scratches or dirt on the screen. There are no more chunks of the film missing because of a previous malfunction. Now, audiences experience the presentation exactly as the filmmakers intended, with no imperfections. The 500th show is as impressive as the first.

The industry of cinema has changed drastically in the last ten years. Luckily, the spirit, persistence and ingenuity of the independent cinema owners remain intact. With the help of associations like DCI and qualified service companies like NW Projection, the local cinema’s screen will never go dark.


Northwest Projection & Sound, Inc. has successfully converted hundreds of theaters to digital, including two SOS locations. They provide service for theaters of all sizes with projection equipment service, installation and digital conversion, and can be reached at

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