Pella Chronicle

CNHI/Southeast Iowa

September 27, 2012

Cinema 4 Theatres upgrades to digital

CENTERVILLE — The Cinema 4 Theatres at Lake Center Mall is halfway through a $250,000 digital upgrade that will allow it to show 3D movies, get some movies faster and weather a thorough-going technological shift in the movie industry.

All four theaters are being converted from projecting on 35-millimeter film to totally digital projection and sound. Two are done, and the other two should be done in the next couple of weeks.

The immediate benefits include better picture and better sound, Manager Kevin Laurson said. Instead of getting film reels every week, the theater will receive hard drives with the movies on them to plug into the projectors. This will help the Cinema 4 survive as studios gradually phase out film prints altogether.

Digital projection should have fewer technical problems than film, Laurson said.

“Film is fickle,” he said. “It’s very, very easy for things to go wrong with it. The slightest scratch in the right spot, and you won’t get sound through the whole movie.”

Laurson said he is looking forward to being able to offer 3D movies.

“The biggest complaint is, ‘Why isn’t this going to be in 3D?’” he said. “Kids get disappointed, and that’s hurt us in the past, but we’re ready to keep up with everybody else.”

This upgrade is costing the Cinema 4 between $250,000 and $260,000, estimated Jeffrey Young, manager of Lake Center Theaters LLC, the investment group that built the four-plex.

After the Lake Center Mall burned in 1999, Young decided it was important for Centerville to have a theater, so he started raising money from local investors. Fridley Theatres had built a two-plex in the mall before it burned. Young approached Fridley family members about rebuilding, and they agreed to be one of the investors and also contracted as the management company.  When the theater was built at a cost of over a million dollars, most of the funding came from local investors, including Young.

 “We did a leap of faith then, and we’re going to do it again with the conversion to digital,” Young said.

The four-plex opened eight years ago. Young, who is also a chairman at Iowa Trust and Savings Bank, said the investors did this more for community good than to make a profit, and so far the theater has not made a lot of money but it hasn’t lost money either.

“We just feel like it’s a huge asset to the community, and we want people to have really good, wholesome things to do,” Young said. “We want you to be able to drop your kids off and know they’re safe.”

Even though the price of digital projectors is still high, it has fallen by about half since they first came out, Young said.

Additionally, digital projection is much cheaper for the movie industry. Young said film prints cost about $1500 each to produce, while the hard drives might cost $150 each to produce.

Laurson said the digital projectors open up options for the community as well because DVDs can be run off the new digital projectors. If a community group wishes to show a movie now, it won’t have to rent a film print, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

“I always try to do it when someone approaches me, but now it’s a lot easier,” Laurson said.

Fridley Theatres books the movies for the four-plex. With the digital projection, studios will make more copies and the Centerville theater will then get some of those movies faster. Movies in the fall and spring were sometimes delayed due to lack of copies.

“We are hoping that converting to a digital projection system will create a renewed interest in attending first-run movies here in Centerville,” Young said.

Young said the community has a small population for supporting a theater, but he tries to draw in some lake traffic. He said younger people seem to go to the movies more and some loyal customers attend often.   

“The people that use the theater really appreciate it,” Young said. “Some people like to wait around for Netflix, but if you like to go to the movies you know what the experience is. You’re immersed.”

Contractually, the theater is required to keep a 35-millimeter projector for a few years in case a movie comes out only on film.

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