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Transition may prove fatal for theater

Posted: Friday, Feb 15th, 2013




KEMMERER — Local residents have learned to live without a lot. Nearby, that is.

From groceries to services to everyday recreation, many travel to, or import from, adjacent and faraway communities to fulfill their needs.

Generating enough income to sustain operability is a challenge for business owners. For example, there is no longer a bowling alley in town for residents to enjoy because after a boiler mishap, the math simply doesn’t add up to repair and re-open.

And now the movie theater is in serious jeopardy.

The Victory Theater, located on the J.C. Penney side of the Triangle, is staring its digital future right in the face.

Fred and Parry Baldwin, the theater’s current managers have been managing the facility since the previous manager, Mandie Dovey, relocated to another state.

The Baldwins were originally interested in purchasing the theater, but that didn’t work out the way they’d hoped. It doesn’t generate enough income to qualify for a loan. So they’re managing it instead.

The owner, Bill Kellen, would like to sell it, but the theater’s income will remain a problem, and only become worse if the transition from film to digital can’t be made.

The theater could actually close.

“I don’t think people realize that this is even—that there’s a possibility of it closing,” said Baldwin. “They don’t realize that that’s going on.”

Right now, movies shown at the theater are shown from actual film reels, which are spliced together, wound up and around some very large equipment and projected onto the theater screen. The number of movies that can be shown is limited to two with the theater's current equipment.

The industry as a whole is, for the most part and with the exception of small local theaters like the Victory, already “gone digital.” Most productions are digital releases; the film copies available within a given service area are limited. The Kemmerer service area is large, and includes Salt Lake City. Theaters compete for that limited number of film releases.

As Baldwin put it, the Victory is “on the descending side of film production.” The medium will soon be obsolete.

“When we can’t get films, that’s it,” she explained.

The pricetag for the transition to digital is not cheap. Baldwin estimates a cost of about $40,000; $35,000 for the digital projector — down from $75,000 — and $5,000 for installation. This isn’t an easy challenge, given the already poor income-to-expense ratio the theater faces. Kellen had already made a large investment when he purchased it in 2003, not all of which he’s yet realized in return. It’s difficult to rationalize another expensive investment if a sustainability is not possible.

The situation isn’t without some irony. If the theater can survive the transition, it could potentially increase income. A digital projector would increase the number of different movies that could be shown at a time, in addition to adding “alternate content,” like fights or performances, to the theater’s repertoire.

As an example of the uphill battle the theater faces, Baldwin ran down the costs of bringing "The Hobbitt" to town.

As she explained it, to get the movie as a new release, the fee is large. That would have been $3,000 up front, after which the distributor takes a large percentage of ticket sales as long as the movie is showing. She estimates the Hobbitt “take” at 60 percent. So after making back the $3,000 fee – if it can even be made back – they still only keep 40 percent of ticket sales for that film.

So they balanced the cost against the return, and waited several weeks for the price of the film to come down, in addition to negotiating film availability with other theaters’ schedules within the service area.

Baldwin said that making that original fee back is a challenge. Adding more showings hasn’t demonstrated increased ticket sales; adding a time doesn’t necessarily add more total people.

She further discussed the avenues she and Kellen have already and are currently exploring.

A potential deal with the library didn’t go as anyone had hoped. Discounted copyrights for which the library qualifies are void if the video is shown at the Victory.

She and Kellen have both spoken with the South Lincoln Economic Development board, and have continued discussion with the board scheduled. Baldwin has discussed the theater’s predicament with the Kemmerer/Diamondville Chamber of Commerce and she and Kellen have also spoken with Kemmerer city administrator Rebecca Davidson, with whom Baldwin said she would also be following up.

A raffle is the immediate route Baldwin plans to take. With community support, in the form of donations and raffle ticket sales, she hopes to inform and raise money simultaneously. And with demonstrated effort and results, she hopes other avenues of support might become available. Kellen has thought about including several collectible movie posters in the raffle cache.

And, as Baldwin reminded the Gazette, the theater isn’t limited to being a movie venue. It’s relatively frequently rented out for private parties, and has been host to Target group activities and birthday and family parties. Residents can support their local theater in more ways than just buying tickets.

It’s very important to the Baldwins that the theater survive. They are personally vested in the theater's success and sustainability. As Parry pointed out, the community can’t really afford to lose another business or social outlet.

“Now we don’t have a bowling alley. We just want the community to have something,” she stressed. “If it did close, it would be [difficult] to get back again.”

Read more about the theater and its progress making the transition in the Feb. 21 issue of the Gazette.











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