With movie theatres all over Canada converting to digital projection, the demise of regular 35mm film prints is anticipated within 18 months.
It left Gerry Sellars, owner of Vernon Towne Cinema, with a big decision – whether to hold out as long as possible using existing technology, or re-equip his projection booth with the latest in digital technology.
Sellars’ choices were, either invest $100,000 in an entirely new projection system, with the inevitable steep learning curve, or consider closing the theatre.
Already, the Technicolor film laboratory in Vancouver had ceased making film prints and the film handling warehouses in Vancouver are closing their doors.
One major factor in Sellars’ decision was his connection with Shawn Greek, a technician with Calgary-based Maximum Project Management. An expert in digital theatre systems installation, Greek agreed to help Sellars amke the transition.
The decision was made, a contract was signed, “but I went through a few sleepless nights. First with the cash outlay, and then dealing with problems encountered with importing the digital server from the U.S.,” said Sellars.
Upon his arrival, Greek was pleased to discover the theatre’s projection booth was considerably larger than most. The extra room has allowed Sellars to preserve the vintage projection equipment and still have enough space for the new system.
“I felt it was important to preserve the historic projection room while still providing a completely modern movie viewing experience for our patrons,” said Sellars.
It also allowed Sellars to run all-day matinees during summer holidays while the new gear was being installed.
The projection room rarely drops below 100 degrees Fahrenheit all summer, so the work had to be done early in the morning or late at night.
Following the old adage “The show must go on,” Sellars said cancelling movies or temporarily closing was not an option.
Once everything was installed, Sellars tested the new system with The Magnificent Seven, the 1960 cowboy classic featuring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. He said the screen brightness was excellent with good contrast and sharp focus.
Sellars was delighted.
More configuration followed, along with training for the staff.
The standard distribution system for digital films is either by satellite reception or by delivery on hard drive. The new Christie digital projection system is designed to project movies from a special hard drive shipped directly from the distributor.
Sellars decided to also purchase a Geffen Pro Digital scaler which allows him to run DVDs on the big screen, giving any DVD presentation the big screen treatment. It means he can run any movie available on disc by arrangement with the film’s distributor.
“I can screen anything – classic movies, golden oldies, classic sci-fi, old newsreels, you name it,” beamed Sellars.
He can also screen films for local clients, and already enquiries are arriving.
Okanagan filmmaker Jim Elderton, who has screened his films at several theatres across North America, saw his work tested on the new system.
“The picture is stunning, and the sound is great. I’ve never seen it looking better.”