Area holdout puts off digital decision one more season
Jan 26, 2013 (The Keene Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The digital dilemma has hit this region, too. The Milford Drive In Movie Theater, to the east of the Monadnock Region, went digital last year.
On the Hinsdale-Northfield, Mass., line, the Northfield Drive-In has held out so far.
"We just made the commitment to go another year with films," owner Mitchell Shakour of Keene said. "We just secured a box of arcs and carbons."
That bought Northfield another year of using its carbon arc projector, one of the oldest projection technologies anywhere.
"What we have right now in our booth is basically what Thomas Edison invented," Shakour said. "It's several generations behind what everyone else uses."
It also requires a special touch. Shakour has had the same projectionist for 35 years. But a switch to digital would make Paul Bader's job obsolete, pushing him into retirement.
"The word 'projectionist' will just go away," Shakour predicts. "Instead, you'll need a computer technician."
The cost of going digital would be even higher in Northfield than at some drive ins. Shakour said he'd have to completely overhaul his current projection room to accommodate the new equipment.
"You have to go to a clean room, like a computer room," he said. "Climate-controlled year-round, air-conditioned, no dust."
Northfield, being in a very rural spot, he said, would also need a new transformer to handle the power needs. Overall, with the $70,000-or-so cost of the digital projector itself, he said the switch could cost as much as $150,000.
"It may be the death knell for smaller drive-ins, because you have to figure out if it's worth it," he said.
The decision could have come already, he said. Early last year, Fox said it would cease making 33mm prints by the end of 2012. But the company backed off when other studios stuck with a plan to continue making them through this coming September.
"But looks like 2013 will be it, Shakour said. "We all hope for a miracle ... but I think they really are going to shut it down. This is just another thinning out of the herd."
Despite the cost, he hasn't ruled out converting.
"If I can break even, I might do it," he said, just because it's become a habit and he likes it. It also provides a good summer job for his kids.
Shakour, who took over the drive in -- and the old Keene Drive-In -- from his parents, said observers have been predicting the demise of the drive in theater for decades. The challenges have always been there.
"I'll tell you a secret," he said. "Every year, since I stared running the drive in in 1986, it's been one year at a time."
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N.H.) at www.sentinelsource.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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