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Can an improved sound system, new marketing strategies and holiday movies revive Forest Theaters popularity?


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Robert Perkins, owner of the once-thriving Forest Theater, hopes internal improvements and a flood of new, high-profile movies--from Enders Game to Thor to 12 Years a Slave to The Hunger Games, will draw people to the theater during the upcoming holiday season.Pacific University student Alejandro Boloña lived on the edge of downtown Forest Grove for two months before noticing the Forest Theater, which sits just blocks from where Boloña spends all his time.

“If it hadn’t been for this project, I wouldn’t have known this theater was here,” said Boloña, one of several business students who are helping theater owner Robert Perkins promote the Forest as part of a class project.

As Boloña’s obliviousness shows, they have some hurdles to overcome.

According to Perkins, the 67-year-old Forest draws only 20 or 30 people on its busiest days — in a theater that seats 340.

“It’s painful,” said Perkins, who also owns Cornelius 9 Cinemas. “This is a real nice little facility that nobody knows about.”

Chris Redmond of Forest Grove — who remembers her first trip to the Forest decades ago to see “Snow White” with her now-adult son — blames the skimpy attendance on “all the megatheaters” that have popped up.

The crowds were a decent size years ago, before Cornelius 9 and Movies on TV, she said.

With its discount prices, the Forest also faces competition from relatively recent cultural changes such as the popularity of home entertainment centers, online movies and cheap DVDs.

Perkins still believes a movie theater offers something people can’t get from their big-screen TVs.

“We laugh louder, we cry more, if it’s in a communal environment,” he said. “Entertainment is heightened by participation. That’s what theater offers — without distractions, without phones, without someone ringing the doorbell.”

Now he’s trying to figure out how to draw former customers back to the Forest and how to hook new ones.

The Curse of the Forest

One of the theater’s problems was waiting for Perkins when he took over the Forest around January 2006.

The previous owner had made “improvements” that unintentionally muffled some of the movie dialogue.

Although Perkins has fixed the sound problem — making some major changes this past summer — he believes some former patrons haven’t returned because they still think the sound is bad.by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTOS: CHASE ALLGOOD - At 32.5 feet wide and 15 feet tall, the Forests screen (here showing Captain Phillips) is bigger than many megaplex screens. Only one of Cornelius 9s screens is bigger.

On one hand, Perkins acknowledges, the Forest is still using older speakers, so “it’s never going to be as good as Cornelius,” which has updated speakers and was built to THX specifications.

But Perkins has effectively improved the Forest’s sound quality over time, culminating with the long-postponed switch this past summer from 35 mm film to digital projection — and a corresponding Dolby amplifier that can feed off a digital system.

“It’s like the difference between an 8-track tape and a CD,” he said.

Other improvements over the years include Perkins’ installation of sound panels that he drove up and collected from a shut-down theater in Bellevue, Wash.

He also added subwoofer speakers that would capture bass frequencies.

When he first bought the theater, he said, “everything was high-pitched, there were no bass sounds.”

This summer’s new equipment — transferred from Cornelius 9 — is the biggest transition.

As a last measure, Perkins had a sound technician tune up the theater’s speakers and make sure they were perfectly aligned. Before that, the speakers were “good, but they weren’t perfect,” he said. “Now they’re as good as they can be.”

The Return of the Forest

Besides fixing the sound, Perkins also adopted a $5-per-ticket policy this past summer. The cheaper prices for tickets and for concessions are intended to help make up for the Forest’s lack of other things, he said.

He has also worked to improve the theater’s interior, which lacks carpeting in the auditorium and has a large rectangle of hazard tape that looks like a construction zone, but is really just a “moat” separating alcohol-allowed seats from all the others.

Perkins upgraded the seats back in 2009, and recently created a new operating plan which will allow him to get rid of the moat Dec. 1.

In addition, with help from the Pacific business students, Perkins is working on creating a Facebook page so people can easily see what’s new at the Forest each week.

One of the students has also talked about rounding up volunteers to sell movie tickets out front in the box office, the way the Forest used to sell them when it drew decent crowds. In these meager years, patrons have had to buy tickets inside, at the concession counter.

Perkins is also trying to lure Pacific students with fad shows like the TV zombie series, “The Walking Dead,” which he recently began offering Sunday nights at 9 p.m.

The Forest Meets the Holidays

He’ll get some help from the upcoming holiday movie season, which has so many movies coming in that the “big movies” will move faster from Cornelius 9 to the Forest, Perkins said.

“Ender’s Game” comes to The Forest Friday, Nov. 29, “12 Years a Slave” arrives Dec. 6, “Thor, the Dark World” Dec. 13 and, at some point, “The Hunger Games II” and “The Hobbit.”

Moviegoers attending “Captain Phillips” last week all said they had no problems hearing the movie dialogue and that they’d all been attending movies at the Forest for a while.

Steve and Barbara Huso of Cornelius like supporting the Forest because it’s locally owned.

Rosalia Snow of Hillsboro said, “It’s fun to watch a movie on the big screen. You can’t get that at home.”

Chris Redmond actually likes the somewhat quieter sound system at the Forest. “I don’t like theaters where they play the films so loud you can hardly hear yourself think.”

Beyond that, she said, “There’s something about the theater that doesn’t translate well to a TV.”

Perkins hopes the theater’s improved publicity, sound system, price breaks and appearance will usher in a new era at the Forest.

“Holiday movies are coming, and they’re coming in great numbers,” he said. “Then we’ll really be able to measure and see the impact of the changes.”




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