Beginning in January 2013, the distributor of many of Ragtag Cinema's highest grossing films such as Little Miss Sunshine, Black Swan andBest Exotic Marigold Hotel will replace 35mm film with the Digital Cinema Package (or DCP) as their exclusive format for the distribution of movies. Other major distributors have indicated they plan to finalize this conversion in the following 6 to 12 months. This means that, in less than a year, film as we have known it will nearly cease to exist. Without the proper projection equipment to exhibit movies in the new digital formats, Ragtag's economic viability will be severely compromised. Ticket sales from these high-profile films pay the operational costs of the cinema and enable us to show smaller independent and foreign films as well. Additionally, these ticket sales also provide the funding necessary to host the many free screening events we offer in collaboration with other arts, civic and educational groups throughout the year. But there's even more! These bigger films provide financial support for our educational outreach program. In short, the 10 or 12 most-popular films each year facilitate the special programming that further enriches our community's culture. Without those "big" (by indie film standards) features, our mission-based programs are at risk.
The primary reason for this conversion is economic savings for the distributors. It is much more affordable for them to make digital hard-drives of movies instead of film prints. However, the digital projection systems required to exhibit DCP are very costly for theaters. Ragtag Cinema has been quietly saving for this conversion since 2010, knowing this conversion would take place sometime in the not-too-distant future. Now that nearly every cineplex in America has gone digital, the tipping point has been reached. In recent months, the studios began to send a clear message that cinemas who have not yet converted to DCP technology will no longer have access to new release films. Now that a deadline has been clearly defined by the distributors, we must work aggressively to achieve this goal by the end of 2012.
We are fortunate to have started raising funds earlier than many independent theaters, and have already completed the first phase of this conversion. In February of 2012, Ragtag Cinema purchased and installed a DCP compliant projector for our large theater for $80,000. But a full digital system is required to exhibit movies in DCP format. This means we need another $20,000 to purchase the server and sound system that must accompany that projector. We will also need to purchase a complete system for our smaller theater within the next few months. Estimates for that installation start at $60,000.
Like nearly every independent theater in this country, we now find ourselves racing to raise the funds necessary to make this technological leap. We must literally transfer our projection system into the age of the robots. Thus we have created a campaign for the need to convert to 21st century technology with the theme "RAGTAG NEEDS ROBOTS."
Risks and challenges
We are members of a group called The Art House Convergence, which is a consortium of 100+ independent theaters. We've been talking with our peers over the past few years about how to address this challenge.
We've also researched the distributors' offers to help theaters with plans to provide financing, but these options aren't available without some strings attached. Taking this route would certainly diminish our reputation as a truly independent cinema. Our programming would be limited to some degree, by the distributor serving as the middle man. It is important for the continuation of our mission, that we fund this new technology independently.
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