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PR movie theater trying to avoid digital doom

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At first it sounds like a plot for the latest summer, sci-fi blockbuster popcorn movie as owners of small theaters battle against extinction from the digital invaders on some futuristic version of Earth. Can they survive?

Even legendary movie inventor Thomas Edison probably could not have foreseen the day when films no longer would use film.

Movie studios are phasing out the 35mm prints that have endured for well over a century in favor of digital copies “unspooled” at the local cineplex.

That is putting pressure on smaller individually owned theaters such as Cinema 6 in Port Richey that face huge expenses to upgrade to digital projectors.

Yet Chanel Casteel and the other owners of Cinema 6 have persistence of vision to keep the doors open at the second-run theater at 9510 U.S. 19. Where else can West Pasco residents still see flicks on a 24-foot screen for $3 a pop for tickets? Or get snacks at the concession stand for about half the price?

Many theaters owned by chains have already made the conversion, such as Regal Hollywood 18, owned by the Regal Entertainment Group.

“Our projectors are from the 1970s,” Casteel said.

The cost to install digital projectors could run as high as $268,000, Casteel calculates. Plus the theater requires rewiring for digital sound.

Studios used to release about 3,000 movie prints a year nationwide, but that number has shrunk to about 200 now, Casteelsaid.

There was a time when Regal Hollywood 18, just north of Cinema 6, could pack up the 35mm print that had finished its first run and truck it over to Cinema 6 for the movie’s second run. Theaters used to get a window to show movies before they became available on cable TV channels and on DVD.

“We didn’t get ‘Frozen’ until after the DVD” of the Disney animated hit already was for sale or rent for a month, Casteel recalled. Redbox rentals become part of the competition for the theater in that scenario. Another, similar late arrival was Sandra Bullock’s “Gravity,” about a shipwreck in space.

Cinema 6 hopes to get a big bounce in attendance from students on summer break.

“If we don’t have a decent summer, we’ll have to close our doors” at the end of August, Casteel said.

A Kickstarter fundraising campaign continues through June 21 under “Keep Cinema 6 Open.”

Casteel details the dilemma for the venerable family theater.

“West Pasco’s only affordable theater will close without your help,” she wrote on the cloud-funding website. Read more at www.kickstarter.com/projects/1611709293/keep-cinema-6-open.

The theater set out a large donation box in the lobby where fans can drop dollar bills or change to support Cinema 6.

The theater hopes to step up birthday party rentals and its movie club promotion.

“I believe in karma, what goes around comes around,” Casteel said.

Cinema 6 owners have supported numerous charitable events with free tickets or other promotions.

She worries about the theater’s four employees should the worst come to pass and the doors close. It’s still tough to find a job these days, she commented.

Many employees worked at the theater while attending college.

So it remains to be seen if Cinema 6 will unspool its last reel of film later this year or if the flickering lights will continue to break through the darkness to beam digital images onto the large screen.

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