Hollywood ending? Colorado theaters scrambling to meet digital deadline

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(Photo: CPR/Pat Mack)
<p>Joshua Wakeland, a lead projectionist, and Ryan Oestreich, director of the film center, for the Denver Film Society.</p>
Hollywood Ending? Colorado Theaters Scrambling to Meet Digital Deadline
Joshua Wakeland, a lead projectionist, and Ryan Oestreich, director of the film center, for the Denver Film Society.

Hollywood film distributors are phasing out 35 millimeter prints in favor of hard drives. Wakeland, a big guy, with casual clothing and a goatee, think character actor, plans to keep working here even though he won’t build and platter reels of film to project anymore and even though he won’t even have to push a button to start the digital projectors.

"Most projectors can run on their own schedules so you don’t even really need to be there," Wakeland said.

Now it’s time to introduce the leading man of our story, Ryan Oestreich. He’s fit with wavy hair. And he even has dimples when he smiles. He’s director of the society’s film center in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. He says film distributors will save $1 billion a year by using reusable hard drives instead of film prints that cost about $1000 bucks each. But the film society needs $300,000 to convert to digital even though there won’t be a better picture quality to tout.

"Here’s the kicker. It doesn’t do anything for your business," Oestreich said. "You can’t go out and say we can market we have these new projectors. You have to convert just to stay in business. That’s it."

The film society wants four digital projectors for its film center, Red Rocks and Starz Denver Film Festival premieres. So far, it’s raised half of the amount needed. It’s started an online, crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter to raise the rest. And it’s posted a few videos on that website that play off a film at Red Rocks favorite, The Big Lebowski.

"If you will it dude, it is no dream," one Lebowski wannabee tells another.

The second wannabee responds: "The dude abides."

The plot thickens in Act Two of our story, set in a theatre in the small town of Westcliffe. The Jones Theater traces its history back to the Silver Boom in the 1880s. So when it was almost converted into a laundromat, our leading lady, Anne Kimball Relph, bought it in 1992.She formed a nonprofit to preserve it, and now the arts center stages live productions and shows films. It’s the only movie house in town.

"It’s 125-miles round trip to another movie theater so it’s very important for teenagers who can’t drive or are just learning to drive not to have to drive back up the hardscrabble after dark to see Superman," Relph said.

Now with the tension built, cue the cliffhanger.

Westcliffe has raised $40,000 of its $55,000 goal so far and hopes to raise the rest by fall.

The Denver Film Society’s Kickstarter campaign to raise $150,000 ends Friday. It’s all or nothing. And if the society can’t raise the money for digital projectors?

"I don’t want to think about that," Oestreich said.

He says he’s confident the online campaign will succeed. But if it doesn’t, he’ll use the $150,000 already raised offline for one or two projectors.

"So that we can maintain a certain amount of programming," he said "But that means the rest of our programming is completely handicapped."

For one thing, the Society wouldn’t be able to bring back the best films of the year at Oscar time.

And now the final act of this script, and perhaps the interactive part. You can help write the ending of this story. Dozens of theaters across the state are raising money for new projectors, hoping for a Hollywood finish with visions of lots of contributors rolling by in the credits.