Letting Hollywood Theater’s screen go dark once again isn’t something theater manager Chad Hunter is willing to allow.
Unfortunately, that fate is again becoming a real possibility for the Dormont landmark—the only single-screen, independent movie theater in the South Hills—if the theater can’t raise the necessary $75,000 to buy a digital movie projector.
“Increasingly, it’s cheaper for studios to produce movies digitally and distribute them that way,” Hunter said. “The writing is on the wall for it … Small theaters are not part of the studios’ financial formula and we’re falling through the cracks.”
Hollywood Theater frequently shows movies on 35mm film, a format that used to require 2,000-foot film reels to be shipped and delivered to theaters.
When that format is unavailable, theaters can purchase the rights to show the movie on DVD or BlueRay, and for several other titles.
But in July, the Hollywood Theater staff and board members learned that Fox Studios, which owns the rights to “Rocky Horror” and numerous other titles, would only make movies available to theaters in digital format.
“We’ve had this issue with first-run movies for awhile, but it didn’t hit us as much because we’re mainly a second-run theater,” Hunter said. “First it was Fox, but we’re expecting the rest of the studios to follow throughout the year. We don’t know exactly when that will happen, but it’s coming.”
The Hollywood’s goal is to raise $75,000, which would pay for a new, CDI-compliant digital projector, a continual maintenance plan for the projector, and upgrades to the electrical and sound systems to support the new equipment.
Hunter said so far, the Hollywood has raised $10,000. He highlighted the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign in a recent blog entry.Click here to contribute to the campaign and see campaign information on the Indiegogo website. Information also is available on The Hollywood Theater of Dormont Facebook page, or The Hollywood Theater website.
It’s an intimidating undertaking, especially since the non-profit Friends of Hollywood Theater already is fundraising for the theater's daily operating costs.
The Hollywood also does not have a full-time staff. At 30 hours a week, Hunter and operations manager Ben Prisbylla are considered part-time, and so are two assistants who help with events. Volunteers handle the rest.
Hunter is working with the Friends of Hollywood Theater to research possible grants or corporate sponsorships that could support the theater as well.
Friends of Hollywood Theater President Scott Jackson said it’s a group effort to save the theater, which he considers an anchor of Dormont’s business district for the amount of foot traffic the theater brings to local businesses.
“We’re doing a lot of community outreach. We’re partnering with local businesses for fundraisers and events. All of these events, all of that outreach, it all goes away without the theater,” Jackson said. “I don’t really see anyone else coming in and trying to do this. I think if this doesn’t work out, this is the last gasp for Hollywood Theater.”
In addition to supporting other local businesses through partnerships and advertising inside the theater, the Hollywood has also brought large-scale notoriety to Dormont.
Most notably, key scenes of Stephen Chbosky’s 2012 film “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” starring Emma Watson, were shot at the theater in 2011. Unfortunately, as a first-run film available only in digital format, the Hollywood has not yet been able to show the film.
The theater also hosted the Pittsburgh premiere of “Christmas in Compton” in November, which was a fundraiser for the American Red Cross. In December, “The Last Unicorn” writer/animator Peter Beagle held a three-day event, with proceeds benefitting the theater.
Hunter said he finds the whole situation a bit ironic, considering that his background is in film preservation, and he’s trying to move the theater into the digital age. He said he hopes 35mm film always can be shown at the Hollywood, but he knows the theater won’t be able to survive on it for long.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the industry is going,” he said. “If the theater wants to stay open, this is what needs to happen.”
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