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Majestic Theatre saved by new technology, old friends Print
Written by Seth Mensing   
Wednesday, 25 July 2012
“It’s just been amazing”

For Mark Drucker and Ali Keagle, owners of the Majestic Theatre in Crested Butte, the choice was not a simple one. They could invest more money in their business than they had, or they could close the theater’s doors and walk away from their dream. Then the unexpected happened.

 

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It’s a tough time to own a theater, Mark says, especially in a small, rural town. Competition for people’s attention comes from all angles and even people wanting to see a movie have a lot of options that don’t require a trip to the theater.
On top of that, the National Association of Theater Owners predicts that up to 15 percent of small theatres across the country won’t be able to afford the impending conversion to digital from film technology that’s been at the bedrock of the movie industry for more than a century. Had it not been for a community intervention and some extremely generous patrons, the Majestic might have been among them.
“Right now by the end of 2012, beginning of 2013, 35mm prints will be totally unavailable,” Drucker says. The upgrade to digital technology is a pricey one, with 10 percent, or about $22,000, required up front. Drucker says it’s the biggest investment theater owners have had to make since production companies added sound to film in the 1920s and speakers had to be installed.
That reality hit the Majestic hard earlier this year when the National Association of Theater Owners started telling its members if they weren’t making a plan to convert to digital, they were making a plan to go out of business. Then Twentieth Century Fox wrote to say they’d no longer be producing film copies of their movies after this year.
But the idea wasn’t new to Keagle or Drucker. They knew when they opened the theatre seven years ago the change was inevitable.
“Over the past two years it’s been increasingly difficult for the Majestic to get our hands on certain titles,” Keagle says. “The change to digital has already been happening and there are fewer 35mm films available.”
The writing was on the wall, but the cost was high—too high for Mark and Ali to take on themselves. They’d heard of a theatre in Colorado Springs that had waged a successful pledge drive and raised enough to install the equipment.
Crested Butte has always been a generous town and the production companies were offering a subsidy that would pay for the upgrades over 10 years, if the equipment were installed by September 30. So they decided to try their luck.
First, the Majestic needed to raise $22,000 for the up-front costs and they gave themselves 30 days to do it. They put the word out to the community and donations from $15 to $2,000 started coming in from locals, second-home owners and people passing through. Some of the donors were from town, but many were from Texas and Oklahoma.
Mark and Ali reached their goal in just two and a half days.
“That was beyond our wildest imagination,” Drucker says.
“We’re so grateful for that and we’re still blown away,” Keagle adds. “The rewards people got for pledging went into effect earlier in the summer, so all summer we’ve been having people use their rewards, getting to know the people who are helping us stay in business. It’s just been amazing.”
But the rest of the $215,000 bill (although the production companies would ultimately subsidize it) would have to be paid for with borrowed money. For that the Majestic found help from Tina Kempin at the Crested Butte Bank, then at Region 10, a regional non-profit focusing on economic development, and finally from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority.
From all three, the Majestic raised enough to make the upgrade to digital. Then their landlord, Roscoe Development, allowed adjustments to the lease that gave ground to such big investment.
“I really can’t speak highly enough of the Crested Butte Bank,” Drucker says. “They’re a big part of making this happen with the leap of faith they took on us. Without their willingness to work with us, our options would have been limited.”
There’s more security in the future for the Majestic and its employees now. And the old days of sitting in a dark booth watching the flicker of a film making its way from reel to screen might be missed, but not too much and not right away.
“If you had asked me a year ago, I would be really nostalgic about it,” Keagle says. “I do enjoy my time in a booth—it’s peaceful and it’s special to work with film. We’ve had a lot of problems with our equipment just this year and I’m not nostalgic at this point.”
The Majestic’s sister theater, the Ruby Cinema in Gunnison, was built with digital equipment. Keagle says it will be nice to provide their patrons with the same consistency and quality they provide for people down valley.
“Any sense of nostalgia I had is gone already,” Drucker says. “I’m ready to move on.”
He says the movie going experience at the Majestic will be noticeably better after the new equipment is installed over three days in late August. The movie picture will be crisper, the new screens will be cleaner and the sound will be the best available.
“Going forward, we’re excited about future opportunities other than the standard Hollywood releases,” Drucker says. “There’s a segment called alternative content that can include live opera, sporting events, concerts. We’re also going to have the ability to bring in more independent films without the current cost or risk that we face now with 35mm. So I think it will broaden our programming overall.”
For a couple of movie buffs who lived in town when there was no movie theatre, working to keep the theater’s doors open with creative content playing on the screen is a fitting gift for a town that gave Mark and Ali so much.
“I’m not sure how many communities there are where a for-profit business could get this much support and encouragement,” Keagle says.
The Majestic will be closed August 27-30 for upgrades.

 
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