Clark: Writing truly was on the wall for State Theatre

01/30/2014 12:00 AM

01/29/2014 3:22 PM

When the folks at the State Theatre said they’d be out of the film game if they couldn’t raise $200,000 to convert the 80-year-old historical venue to digital projection – and do it fast – they weren’t kidding.

And, happily, the community didn’t let them down.

The State raised nearly all of the money needed and converted to digital at the end of last year. Just in the nick of time, it seems.

A wire story moved last week that confirms what State Theatre General Manager Sue Richardson and its board knew was coming when they kicked off their Going, Going, Gone Digital campaign in October. According to the Los Angeles Times, Paramount Pictures has stopped distributing movies on film and officially has gone to digital only.

It’s a historic step for Hollywood and sets the stage for other studios to quickly follow suit, the Times story said, and accelerate the total phase-out of 35 mm film.

“Paramount recently notified theater owners that the Will Ferrell comedy ‘Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,’ which opened in December, would be the last movie that ... it would release on 35-millimeter film,” the Time reports. “The studio’s Oscar-nominated film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ from director Martin Scorsese is the first major studio film that was released all digitally, according to theater industry executives who were briefed on the plans but not authorized to speak about them.”

“That would mark the end of an era: Celluloid has been the medium for the motion picture industry for more than a century,” the story continued.

Indeed, Richardson said in The Bee earlier this month that the State has used celluloid film to project its movies since it opened on Christmas Day in 1934. But because digital prints can be transferred electronically without the need for physical reels, the newer technology costs distributors less – and also provides a clearer picture on screen.

Before the upgrade, the 560-seat Modesto theater had only a 35 mm projector and a small digital projector that plays DVDs and Blu-rays. The State serves the city’s moviegoing public by bringing in art-house films that the city’s cineplexes rarely offer.

Richardson knew the effect not switching to digital would have had on the State. “Quite literally, there would have been very few films, and the State as you now know it would not exist,” she said in The Bee earlier this month. “We would still be a performing-arts venue, and a rental facility, but the film program and our Youth Education Program would be greatly diminished, if they existed at all. As far as we were concerned, going dark was not an option, but many small independent theaters have done just that.”

Indeed, the Times reports that “the phase-out of film continues to put pressure on many of the nation’s community theaters that struggle to finance the purchase of the digital projectors. Those theaters are at risk of going out of business if they can no longer obtain film prints of movies. As of last year, about 1,000 independent theaters had not transitioned to digital. Some are turning to their communities to raise funds for digital equipment.”

Which is exactly what Richardson and the State’s board did, to resounding success. Although they also turned to crowd-funding Internet site Indiegogo, 95 percent of the money was donated by members of the community. Earlier this month, the State still needed $37,000 to pay off its digital conversion obligation. Richardson said in an email earlier this week that number was down to $26,000, “which is amazing,” she added.

But the fundraising continues and the State still needs more goodwill from the community. Richardson said people can help the venue complete its effort by either sending a check to the State Theatre, P.O. Box 1492, Modesto, CA 95353, or by going to the website and clicking on the Digital/Donate link to make a donation through PayPal.

“It’s all set up for either one-time gifts or monthly donations and it’s quite easy, which is great,” Richardson said in an email.

With the Paramount Pictures move, the Times story said other studios likely now will more rapidly “jump on the digital bandwagon.”

That should make the Modesto region proud of backing the State Theatre’s commitment to keep movies coming to the community, which otherwise would be all but shut out of most art-house, foreign and documentary films.

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