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Block Island's Empire Theatre must convert to digital projection or close. Hollywood subsidizes multiplexes, but not indie theatres.
Block Island's Empire Theatre must convert to digital projection or close. Hollywood subsidizes multiplexes, but not indie theatres.
283 backers pledged $60,178 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

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The Empire Theatre on Block Island, RI, built in 1882, is at risk of closing down unless we can convert from film to digital projection equipment by Labor Day, 2013. Help save this family-owned historic landmark theater!

Funding Campaign launched: July 6, 2013
Funding Campaign Ends: September 3, 2013

The Empire was built in 1882, making it one of the oldest theatres in New England and a Block Island institution. Hollywood has announced that by the end of 2013, movies will no longer be projected using 35 mm film. In fact, the Empire won’t get any new films from our distributers after Labor Day 2013 because our attendance drops sharply and all new 35MM films will go to higher grossing theaters. The vast majority of today's theaters -- 88%, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners -- have made the jump to digital projection.

The Empire Theatre, Block Island circa 1890.
The Empire Theatre, Block Island circa 1890.

All theatres must convert to digital projection equipment or close.

This technology change is very expensive. For large multiplexes, 70% of the cost of the conversion to digital projection is subsidized by the film industry. Without this subsidy, the multiplexes would have to close. For small single screen theaters like the Empire, that subsidy is not available. It is reported that approximately 1000 independent theaters across the country will close because they cannot afford to convert to digital projection.

Our current 35mm film projector in use since the 1960s.
Our current 35mm film projector in use since the 1960s.

To raise the funds for the Empire, we have launched this campaign on Kickstarter. The way Kickstarter works, if we don't reach our goal of $55,000, then we get nothing and your pledge is cancelled. Through Kickstarter, we ask you, Empire supporters, to help us keep the doors open by making a pledge. In return for your support, we offer some great incentives.  

Please help us by spreading the word! Send this link to your family, friends, colleagues, classmates, teachers, acquaintances. Post it on your Facebook. Tweet about it. And encourage others to do the same. Our Kickstarter campaign can only be as successful as we are in getting the word out.

Here are some quotes from our patrons:

I love the Empire theater. To me the Empire theater is a work of art in itself. The character it has is amazing - the barn like cathedral ceiling with the rafters, the ropes and pulleys to open the small windows to let the heat out and the breeze in, the wooden floors, the beautiful not perfect chairs, the old posters, the stage and roller skating sign on the back wall. Sometimes I go to see a movie there even if I only have a slight interest in the movie because I want to be in the theater. Like seeing a game at Fenway Park. With all the advanced technology of the sterile modern movie theater (which I also love) this is a refreshing other time experience that in my opinion is extremely important to preserve. The Island would not be the quite the same without it.” Steven Wright, Comedian

In 2003 when I saw Freaky Friday here to a packed house of all ages, this place gave me the feeling, lost for so long, of what it had been like going to a local single-screen movie theatre as part of a community. With the almost Draconian restrictions against “development” rightfully promulgated by conservationists, here’s the last place in the world you will ever see a multiplex, and I say whoopee to that!” Gerald A DeLuca, Theater Historian

Go Digital Or Go Dark

Empire Theatre before and after the 1993 restoration.
Empire Theatre before and after the 1993 restoration.

When we bought the theater 21 years ago, it had been closed and condemned for 7 years. We restored the theater and have been operating it ever since.  

Other communities have rallied to support and save their local independent theaters, including the Jane Picken's Theatre in Newport.  The Empire is hopeful that with your support we will be able to continue to bring films to Block Island for many years to come.  

What are the benefits of digital projection?

Since the Empire Theatre is not insulated and heated, for 130 years the building has been closed for the winter. Currently, the local community has to travel to the mainland to see new movies in the winter. However, digital projectors are portable, so we could move the digital projector to the local school, community center or church and provide entertainment year-round. We hope to bring a much needed cultural outlet to the island. We will have the ability to bring the community together to see not only Hollywood movies but sports events, operas, plays and other cultural events. What a relief for the island's winter cabin fever! 

Original ticket booth from 1882, recently restored.
Original ticket booth from 1882, recently restored.

History of the Empire Theatre

Around 1850 Block Island's economy began shifting from fishing and agriculture, to catering to vacationers traveling to Block Island seeking it's cool summer beaches. 

First constructed in 1882, the building’s original purpose was to offer roller-skating, a popular pastime at the time. Advertisements for the rink described the "Perfectly Smooth Hardwood Floor" a "stone’s throw" from the hotels the Manisses and the Ocean View.

Around 1890, the skating rink was converted to a live theater with a raked stage. Soon the Empire started showing silent films, and then "talkies." The theatre continued operating over the summers as both a cinema and occasional playhouse until it was closed and condemned in 1986.

Original 1880s sign advertising roller skating at the Empire.
Original 1880s sign advertising roller skating at the Empire.

Gary Pollard, the current owner, purchased the derelict building in 1992 and completed a number of large renovations. After a seven year slumber, the theater opened its doors under Pollard’s stewardship in 1993. 

"Today the Empire stands as a one of the very few classic rustic movie theaters remaining in the United States.  She still serves as an anchor on Water Street and also as a proud example of historic preservation at its finest." 

Block Island Historical Society 

Catching bubbles from our bubble machine.
Catching bubbles from our bubble machine.

Visit our website for more historic photographs and information about the Empire Theatre:     www. empiretheatreblockisland.com

 Frequently Asked Questions of the Empire Theatre Kickstarter Campaign

1. Question: If the project is not fully funded, will I get a refund? Answer: When you make a pledge of support, your credit card isn’t charged until Labor Day when our campaign ends, and only if we reach our goal of raising $55,000.

2. Question: Why should I support a for-profit business?
Answer
: We believe that we are part business, part community service, part historic preservation society. All upkeep of the 130-year-old building, all historic landmark renovations such as hand painting the original ticket booth, all preservation of artifacts such as original posters and signage for display, are the burden of the owner. Due to this excessive overhead, and also due to the very short season on a remote location, we have difficulty keeping the business open. We think the community has to decide what having a historic theater on their island is worth. Kickstarter does not normally accept small businesses, but it does support independent theaters for these reasons.

3. Question: Don’t you make a lot of money on a $12 adult ticket?
Answer:
Theater owners have to send the film distributors half – or sometimes more than half – of what we get in ticket sales.  Profits also come from concessions. Which is why we ask that you do not bring your own snacks and drinks into the theater, but people regularly do. One couple had a pizza delivered to the theater for themselves! The staff intercepted it and ate it.

4. Question: What exactly are you going to buy with this money? Answer: There are four companies making industry approved, state of the art digital projectors. We have researched them all and are ready to purchase one when we have raised the needed funds.

Risks and challenges

The risks and challenges surrounding the digital transition are minimal as we have done extensive research on the equipment and installation process. If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, we expect to install the projector this Fall. The real risk is NOT funding this project which would jeopardize the success of keeping the Empire open as a movie theatre.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    1 large soda and 1 large popcorn. 1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses

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    10 backers
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    Pledge $25 or more About $25

    For Out of Town Backers: A pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses. 1 large soda and 1 large popcorn donated to Harbor Baptist Church on Block Island.

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    17 backers
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  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    A mug with the Empire Theatre logo,1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses, 1 free ticket, 1 large soda, and a large popcorn.

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    35 backers
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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $50 or more About $50

    For Out of Town Backers: A mug with the Empire Theatre logo,1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses.
    1 large soda and 1 large popcorn donated to Harbor Baptist Church on Block Island.

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    25 backers
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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    1 foot of 35 mm film from a feature film as a momento of a bygone era. 1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses, a mug with the Empire Theatre logo. 2 free tickets, 2 large sodas, and 2 large popcorns.

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    31 backers
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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    For Out of Town Backers: 1 foot of 35 mm film from a feature film as a momento of a bygone era. 1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses, a mug with the Empire Theatre logo. 2 free tickets, 2 large sodas, and 2 large popcorns donated to Harbor Baptist Church on Block Island.

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    22 backers
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  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    An unframed 8 x 10" black and white historic reproduction photo of the Empire Theatre. 1 foot of 35 mm film from a feature film as a momento of a bygone era, 1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses, 2 mugs with the Empire Theatre logo. 4 free movie tickets, 4 sodas, 4 large popcorns.

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    7 backers
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  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    For Out of Town Backers:An unframed 8 x 10" black and white historic reproduction photo of the Empire Theatre. 1 foot of 35 mm film from a feature film as a momento of a bygone era, 1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses, 2 mugs with the Empire Theatre logo. 4 free movie tickets, 4 sodas, 4 large popcorns donated to the staff at the Block Island Early Learning Center.

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    8 backers
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  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    An unframed 11 x 14" Malcolm Greenaway limited edition photo of the Empire Theatre, an unframed 8 x 10" black and white historic reproduction photo of the Empire Theatre, 1 foot of 35 mm film from a feature film as a momento of a bygone era, 1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses, 2 mugs with the Empire Theatre logo, 10 free movie tickets, 10 large sodas, 10 large popcorns.

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    10 backers
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  10. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,000 or more About $1,000

    1 Empire VIP pass for a year's free tickets for 1 person, with unlimited free popcorn and soda, an unframed 11 x 14" Malcolm Greenaway limited edition photo of the Empire Theatre. An unframed 8 x 10" black and white historic reproduction photo of the Empire Theatre. 1 foot of 35 mm film from a feature film as a momento of a bygone era. 1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses, 2 mugs with the Empire Theatre logo.

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    5 backers
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  11. Select this reward

    Pledge $2,500 or more About $2,500

    2 antique (1890's) original Empire Theatre seats, for pickup only, one official 3 minute 35mm movie trailer from our archives. 2 Empire VIP passes for a year of free tickets, with unlimited popcorn and soda. An unframed 11 x 14" Malcolm Greenaway limited edition photo of the Empire Theatre. An unframed 8 x 10" black and white historic reproduction photo of the Empire Theatre. 1 foot of 35 mm film from a feature film as a momento of a bygone era, 1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses, 2 mugs with the Empire Theatre logo.

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    2 backers
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  12. Select this reward

    Pledge $5,000 or more About $5,000

    4 antique (1890's) original Empire Theatre seats, for pickup only. 1 official 3 min. 35mm movie trailer from our archives. 4 Empire VIP passes for a year of free tickets, with unlimited popcorn and soda. An unframed 11 x 14" Malcolm Greenaway limited edition photo of the Empire Theatre. An unframed 8 x 10" black and white historic reproduction photo of the Empire Theatre. 1 foot of 35 mm film from a feature film as a momento of a bygone era, 1 pair of vintage paper 3-D glasses, 2 mugs with the Empire Theatre logo.

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    2 backers
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Funding period

- (60 days)