Lake Twin Theatre goes digital

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Twin Lakes Theatre projectionist Scott Dunkle places spools of film on the 30-year-old piece of equipment that will soon be obsolete in the digital age.For more than 100 years, movies have been filmed and viewed on 35mm celluloid film. But the familiar clicky clack of spools and levers, and the green and black ink from 150-pound reels of film will soon be extinct.

Studios like Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount have announced they will no longer release 35mm film prints. The movie industry is going entirely digital, and while directors like Christopher Nolan have made public protests against the transition — "The Dark Knight Rises" was made on celluloid — the change, analysts and theater owners say, is inevitable.

This means that movie theaters across the country like the Lake Twin Theatre in Lake Oswego are faced with the decision to adapt to changing technology or die.

“The digital age is here,” said Drew Prell, owner of Lake Twin Theatre. “If a theater is going to survive and stay open they need to convert to digital and that needs to happen sometime within the next 12 months.”

The Lake Twin Theatre was built as a movie house in 1940 by the Portland architect Richard Sundeleaf. The building was renovated in 1996 when Prell bought the theater. Today, the two-screen theater shows about 50 films each year and seats about 400 people. The theater projects movies on two 35mm projectors that Prell estimates are about 30 years old.

“They work fine, it’s just that it’s a dying animal,” he said.

Prell said the digital transition has been in the works for five to six years. He attributes the transition to the cost of printing and shipping celluloid and the high quality of digital films.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “The quality of the production is better. The digital prints don’t scratch and they don’t really wear out, which produces a higher experience for the movie goer.”

Hollywood studios aim to save billions with digital technology. It costs a studio approximately $1,500 to print one copy of a movie on 35mm film and ship it to a theater across the county in heavy metal canisters about the size of a small pizza.

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Projectionist Scott Dunkle must cut and splice celluloid film before placing it on the spools. Multiply $1,500 by 4,000 or so copies — one print for each screen across the country — and the millions of dollars add up. By comparison, a digital copy — one terabyte stored on a hard drive — costs a studio approximately $150 per film.

Twentieth Century Fox was the first major Hollywood studio to officially notify theater owners that it will distribute all movies in a digital format within the next two years. While studios stand to make a profit, small theaters are struggling to keep up with the conversion.

“The cost is motivation for the studios and producers to switch to a digital format,” Prell said. “The big downside, obviously, is that it’s expensive for theaters.”

Prell anticipates some single screen, art house and indie theaters may go out of business. Digital projectors alone cost between $65,000 and $85,000. That’s not including new screens and sound equipment to accompany the new technology.

In the coming months, the theater will install two new digital projectors, screens and sound equipment. Prell anticipates spending $120,000 on the digital projectors alone. Prell said he is aware of Virtual Print Fees — non-disclosure financial incentives paid by studios to help first-run movie theaters with multiple screens purchase digital equipment — but he is hesitant to limit his theater to blockbuster movies alone.

Instead, Prell hopes to showcase first run movies, as well as live opera and concerts from across the globe. He said ticket prices will increase slightly when the theater transitions to digital.

“We’ll have to make the digital conversion,” he said. “My plan is to remodel the theater starting at the end of January and have it finished by April 2013.”

Prell anticipates the theater will be closed two months for renovations. In addition to the digital conversion, the venue will boast new carpeting and paint. Renovation plans include leveling the auditorium floor and adding larger theater seats — slicing seating capacity from about 400 to about 260. The auditorium closest to the lake will host café tables and will be available by rental for business meetings, birthday parties, concerts and receptions.

Prell anticipates renovations will cost about $500,000. The city has already spent about $350,000 extending the theater from its north wall and other improvements as part of building Sundeleaf Plaza.

“The city of Lake Oswego has helped do some work already,” he said. “My part of the agreement was to upgrade the theaters and put in a little cafe.”

He also plans to add a full service kitchen — complete with a wood-burning pizza oven, though the menu has yet to be decided — cocktail bar and indoor and outdoor dining areas.

“I think the experience is going to be far greater,” he said. “It will be a café, movie theatre and a place where you can have a glass of wine or cocktail and go out on the deck ... we’re just adapting to the times.”

The Lake Twin Theatre is located at 106 N. State St., Lake Oswego. For more information, call 503-635-5956.

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