Idaho opera house struggling to go digital

Pricey technology might not even last more than 10 years

By Matthew K. Jensen

The Herald Journal

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15 2013 9:54 p.m. MST

Projectionist T.J. Biggs oils a projector to prepare a movie at Worm Creek Opera House in Preston, Idaho, on Jan. 5.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

PRESTON, Idaho (AP) — Preston's Worm Creek Opera House is under pressure from a rapidly changing motion picture industry that is forcing movie theaters around the country to phase out aging film projectors.

The small performing arts center is home to the Franklin County Theatre and Arts Council, the Preston Community Orchestra and the only cinema auditorium in the county that shows Hollywood releases three nights a week.

Theater board member Paul Swainston said as of Jan. 1, the Fox film corporation said it would no longer distribute film prints. In January 2014, he said, it's rumored the movie industry will end 35mm film distribution altogether.

"The problem that's arisen is the industry has decided to go totally digital," he said. "There are over 1,000 theaters in the country that are figuring out how to get a digital projector."

And the units aren't cheap.

Swainston said a new digital projector for the 250-seat Worm Creek Opera House will cost between $65,000 and $70,000. The arts council has raised $14,000 and is looking to additional fundraising and grants to bridge the gap.

"To apply for a major grant, they want you to have 25 percent before they allow you to apply," he said. "We're not there yet, but we're working our way up."

For now, the theater will make do showing movies using two 1930s-era Christie projectors that have been upgraded over the years to keep them working.

"We've been running the same projectors for 25 years, but that's not going to happen anymore," said Swainston. "These new projectors are kind of like computers — the old ones are completely worthless."

And unlike the 80-year-old Christie projectors, whatever the council decides to purchase could be around for only a decade or so.

"They tell us we can expect the projector to last 10 years before the technology changes and it won't work anymore," he said.

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