Garden Cinemas goes digital

Recorder/Paul Franz
Garden Cinema owner George Gohl with one of the new digital projectors that plays movies from hard drives instead of the traditional film projector, at left, that it replaced.

Recorder/Paul Franz Garden Cinema owner George Gohl with one of the new digital projectors that plays movies from hard drives instead of the traditional film projector, at left, that it replaced.

GREENFIELD — All but the smallest of Greenfield Garden Cinemas’ seven theaters have switched to digital projection, and one of its owners says local moviegoers are thrilled.

“They come out of a movie commenting about how crystal clear and wonderful the picture is,” said George Gohl, co-owner of the Garden Cinemas.

“We knew this switch would be coming down the pike, so we started investigating in 2010,” said Gohl. “We got in just in time, so we’ll get help paying for the conversion from the movie studios because they are the ones encouraging everyone to make the switch. It’s going to cost them a lot less down the road, so they’ve agreed to help.”

So far, it has cost Gohl and his partner, William Gobeille, $375,000 to switch six theaters to digital, and it will cost another $60,000 when they go digital in Cinema 3.

Gohl said the two men have secured financing for the first six and are looking into financing conversion of the last one.

“The studios have promised to pay 80 percent of the cost,” said Gohl. “But, we had to commit by the end of September and we’ll have to convert the last theater by April 1.”

That means, Gohl and Gobeille will be responsible for $87,000 of the total for conversion, and the movie studios involved in the deal will be responsible for $348,000.

“They know that they will be saving a lot of money when all is said and done,” said Gohl. “They knew they had to spend money to make it.” He said movie studios will also save money on the cost of film.

“It would cost $1,500 to $2,000 or more to create (a copy of a) film, while it takes about $100 to create a digital hard drive,” said Gohl.

“The movie studios will save tens of millions of dollars over the next six or seven years,” he said. “That’s quite an incentive for them to get us to switch.”

“There’s not going to be any film stock available sometime in 2013 and anyone who isn’t digital is either going out of business or going to have to convert very quickly,” said Gohl.

He said film manufacturers have stopped making film because it is easier and cheaper to go with digital.

“Studios send us film and the package weighs between 40 and 50 pounds,” said Gohl. “Digital weighs about 8 pounds. That means much lower shipping costs for the studios and us.”

Gohl said theaters needed a projectionist with film and that person would unload the film, put it on the projector, run the film and deal with any problems during a showing, take the film off the projector, and box it and ship it back to the studio. He said that meant it was also more expensive for individual theaters.

“Then the studio would send it out to another theater and the process would start over,” said Gohl. “With digital, they ship it to us, we load it into the computer, which we call the ‘Black Tower’ or ‘Hal 2000,’ and we push delete when the run is over.”

Gohl said he’s had one bad experience since November, when six of his theaters went digital.

“During one showing, the movie froze,” he said. “I had to reboot the computer and find the spot where it had stopped. I’m still learning, but there haven’t been any major problems.”

“It takes 30 minutes total for set up and take down versus the hour to hour-and-a-half it took to set up and take down film.”

Gohl said it’s nice not having to worry about film breaking during a showing.

He said theaters can also receive movies via satellite, but Garden Cinemas is not doing so at this point.

Fundraising via gift cards

He said Greenfield Garden Cinemas will do some fundraising beginning in January to help pay for its part of the conversion.

He also suggested that people buy gift cards, even for themselves, over the next few months.

“That would give us some money up front and the customer could use the gift card at any time,” he said.

Greenfield Garden Cinemas has also teamed up with Hope and Olive restaurant and Magpie Woodfired Pizzeria on Bank Row to offer a “dinner and movie night” to customers. For $45, people can get a $25 cinema gift certificate and $25 dinner gift certificate.

Gohl and Gobeille have renovated their theaters over the past couple of years and have been working on bringing the interior and exterior of the building up to code.

Gohl said they will renovate the lobby in the future.

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