With dollars in, theater upgrades under way

The Lyric Cinema Café in Fort Collins and Kress Cinema in Greeley are doing a lot more than upgrading their projectors, thanks to money raised via the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

Shifts in technology have forced the theaters to upgrade from their 35-mm projectors to digital, a costly change that left both venues wondering if they’d be able to remain open when the film industry makes the move entirely to digital film production.

The Lyric launched its Kickstarter campaign over the summer with the intention of raising $150,000 for the purchase of two digital projectors. The total cost of the two projectors was estimated at between $120,000 and $130,000 at the time.

In addition to raising the money for the projectors, the Lyric needs to pay Kickstarter its share, usually about 15 percent of the total raised.

By the time the campaign ended, the Lyric had received so much support that it exceeded its goal, raising about $170,000, according to Ben Mozer, owner of the Lyric. In addition, after the campaign was over, Mozer found projectors at a lower price and was able to purchase both for about $97,000.

The additional money was used for a series of badly needed improvements to the small theater at the corner of Mountain Avenue and Walnut Street in downtown Fort Collins.

Regular wear-and-tear has occurred in the theater since it opened in April 2007, Mozer said, and only one renovation has happened in the intervening years, and that was more of a team-building exercise for employees than a construction project, he said.

About 18 months ago, Mozer and his employees re-tiled a portion of the floor in the building. Professionals now have been hired to make upgrades to plumbing and electrical systems.

New floors and ramps were installed, as was a poster case to display the artwork related to which shows are playing at the theater at any given time.

All of the seats in the two different theaters housed in the Lyric also were replaced. One of the theaters holds 81 seats, while the other holds about 50, according to Mozer.

And then, of course, there are the projectors.

Mozer welcomes the switch to digital, in part because of the pure ease of the technology.

Gone will be the days of hooking up an 80- to 100-pound reel, a “monstrosity of a movie,” in Mozer’s words, to a projector from the 1940s. Instead, films will be stored on hard drives, a format that is much cheaper to produce and reproduce, not to mention store, transport and play for audiences.

The 35-mm medium has been in use about as long as movies have been in existence, Mozer said.

“I can’t think of any other industry that’s still using the same technology they were 110 years ago,” he said.

The Kress is a little bit further away from getting its work wrapped up, having ended its Kickstarter campaign in November.

Kress owner Linde Thompson said she was still trying to pick the best equipment for the theater, which will only require one projector. The Kress’s Kickstarter campaign raised about $84,000, Thompson said.

In addition, the theater received about $6,000 in donations from other people who wanted to help but were uneasy about donating online, she said.

The Kress will also be seeing some renovations resulting from the extra dollars. New furniture and possibly a dishwasher will be coming to the theater in the coming weeks.

Thompson said she hopes to have her new equipment installed and running sometime in February.

The theater opened about four years ago and shows three or four films per month, Thompson said. During the theater’s peak season, typically around the month of December, the theater sees between 300 and 400 patrons a week.

The upgrade will help improve the variety of movies that can be shown, Thompson said. Availability of films will rise with the changes, as digital becomes the industry standard.

The national film community, however, has expressed some distress over the shift to digital, voicing concerns over what will be lost from classic films in a more modern medium and that those classics will be harder to find.

Mozer, however, sees the shift as a window of opportunity for the local film scene to make a comeback.

For independent filmmakers, producing work in a digital format is easier than 35 mm.

Mozer is working on an independent film with two other local filmmakers, and said the idea of building a local film industry becomes more possible with digital.

“We can put the emphasis back on local film,” he said. “It can take control back from the big studios.”

Molly Armbrister covers real estate, banking and health care for the Northern Colorado Business Report. She can be reached at 970-232-3139, marmbrister@ncbr.com or twitter.com/MArmbristerNCBR

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