Movie house goes digital

Surround sound specialists install the latest technology, Dolby 7.1, at the Montrose Theater while the digital projection system is tested out on the screen. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY STACI WILSON

The end of movies on 35 millimeter film prints is in sight.

Earlier this year, Twentieth Century Fox announced to theater owners that it will stop distributing 35mm films within the next one to two years.

That announcement sent many small theater owners reeling – including the Montrose Theater, owned by the Montrose Restoration Committee (MRC) which leases the day-to-day operation of the theater to an independent operator.

Theater manager Rena Scroggins said, “If one (studio) goes out, the others will follow. We all panicked because it seemed the studios were now behind the transition.”

Independent theaters that have not yet made the change to digital will be forced to do so to remain open, Scroggins said.

The “transition” is from 35mm film to digital is also a costly one.

MRC Administrative Director Joann Leonard said a $60,000 loan has been taken out to upgrade the theater to digital projection and surround sound.

Progressive Cinema Solutions’ Brad Steckroth, a digital systems engineer, set up the digital projection system Monday afternoon at the Montrose Theater while theater manager Rena Scroggins checks in on the installation progress. The digital system replaces the 35mm film projector used for years at the movie house. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

The new equipment was installed Monday and Scroggins trained on the new technology on Tuesday.

Leonard said, “MRC has made a major investment in the community to keep the Theatre open.” Donations of any amount toward the upgrade are appreciated.

On Friday evening, at 7:30 p.m., ‘The Hobbit’ will be the first film shown at the theater with the new system.

The digital projection system replaces the theater’s original reel projector. The reel projector will be donated to the Susquehanna County Historical Society, Leonard said.

Scroggins is excited about the change. “We will consistently have a bright, crystal clear picture. The best technology can offer on par with chain cinemas” she said.

“There will also be a difference in the sound,” Scroggins added.

The sound system will move from a monologue speaker to seven-channel surround sound speakers. Speakers will be located behind the screen and also on the sides and in the back of the theater.

Scroggins said movie-goers will “feel totally absorbed in the experience.”

In the film “Lincoln,” which is coming soon to Montrose, Scroggins said the upgrade will allow people to experience every nuance of the battle.

“They will still have the hometown theater experience but with a cineplex quality show,” she said.

In addition to increasing the look and sound of the movies, Scroggins also said the update to digital will allow for easier booking of new releases.

With the 35mm film, an actual reel of the movie had to be available in order to show it. “It will be less difficult to find movies,” she said.

The upgrade also adds versatility to other programs, private parties and group presentations that can be held at the theater. Scroggins said, “It expands what we can do.”

“Across the board, everything we offer, the new technology ups it a notch,” she said. “I see more people being served by this.”

The tech upgrade isn’t the first improvement the MRC has made to the building since acquiring it in the mid-1990s from Pump N Pantry. Upgrades have included a new roof, air conditioning and heating system, new seats, new carpeting, handicapped accessible bathrooms, as well as wheel chair access and seating.

The lobby, marquee, concession area and ticket booth still need upgrading, Leonard said.

Rena Scroggins says good-bye to the old 35mm film projector that will no longer be used at the Montrose Theatre which is upgrading this week to a digital projection system and surround sound speakers. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

The Montrose Theatre opened in 1920 as the Ideal Theater. The first movie to show to an overflow crowd was “Blind Husbands.”

Ownership of the movie house changed hands several times and underwent a significant renovation in 1940 after it was purchased by Clifford, Flynn and Company – reopening in 1941 with a Gene Autry feature, as well as a “Three Stooges” showing.

That remodel added the neon marquee, as well as the illuminated displays for coming attractions.