Tangled in film

Retro Cinemas 4 faces threat of closure due to digital conversion
Jan. 20, 2013 @ 09:14 AM

The lone theater in Forest City is under threat of closure in the coming month because of a new mandate requiring first-run movie theaters to convert to digital projection.

Michael Packett, owner of the Retro Cinemas 4, said that it will cost him $75,000 per camera or, $300,000 to replace all four of his analog projectors with new, digital ones.

"This is not something that we did," Packett said. "It's something Hollywood did to save money.

"It doesn't save me money and it doesn't save the consumer any money either."

Smaller theaters across the country are grappling with trying to find a way to make the investment to switch to digital.

Film distributors decided, in May 2012, to stop supplying movies in 35-millimeter film due to a lack of availability of the film and the cost savings associated with sending first-run movies digitally.

"It's a vicious circle and that's really the best way to put it," Packett said.

Theaters have until the end of April to make the conversion. If, at that point, that has not been done, those theaters that haven't converted can either run older movies or pack up shop and close.

And, Packett said that closing the Retro Cinemas 4 will do more damage to the community than anything else.

"When you go see a movie, you go to dinner or go shopping," Packett said. "If the theater shuts down, it will affect the whole community."

Once Packett realized that he would be forced to make the conversion from film to digital, he said he immediately circled the wagons and tried to develop a plan to make the switch. He said he did what any businessman would do in that situation ... he went to the bank.

But, the response he got was 'no.'

"They want to try to help you but when you're financials show that you don't make enough to pay the debt ...," Packett said.

It isn't that the Retro Cinemas 4 doesn't make money. In fact, Packett said that is quite the contrary. He said that the business is profitable, but that is not enough to pay for a $300,000 loan. He has invested in stadium seating, a 3D lens and upgraded analog projectors.

"Every bit of money we make here we put right back into it," Packett said.

Now, Packett is doing what he said he wasn't going to do ... he is going to the community to ask for support. He is starting by raffling off his Harley Davidson motorcycle and a 1968 Camero.

In addition, he is also showing Christian-based movies free on Sunday during matinee showings. The Family Christian Bookstore made the donation of the films that Packett said he will show for free on Sundays — including an all day showing on Jan. 27.

Packett hopes to draw on the community support he received when he re-opened the theater in May 2009. Prior to the re-opening, he said volunteers came to help get the theater ready by doing things like laying carpet.

In the end, he said he firmly believes he will raise the money necessary to make the digital conversion and keep the Retro Cinemas 4 open.

"I know God had his hand in this because this theater should not have opened," Packett said. "I do believe we are going to raise the money that we need."