Village Picture Shows to close -- for digital refit

MANCHESTER - Starting this weekend, Manchester's only movie theater will go dark for about a month, but for a happier reason than seemed likely earlier this year.

Village Picture Shows successfully completed a $175,000 fund-raising effort on March 15 to purchase new equipment to convert the theater to a digital format increasingly favored by moviemakers. The theater exceeded its goal, netting about $195,000 through a campaign launched on the Internet-based Kickstarter Web site and in conjunction with the Manchester and the Mountains Regional Chamber of Commerce.

"I was stunned - absolutely stunned - I never thought that many people cared about the theater," said Shelly Gibson, a co-owner of the theater. "Going over the target is good, because it means we get to have the best equipment and not have to worry about cutting corners."

The funds will allow the theater to install new screens, projectors, sound systems, Internet servers, and some upgrades to its seating and lobby area, Gibson said. The movie industry is rapidly evolving away from its long reliance on 35 mm film stock in favor of a computerized, digital format that in theory will lower distribution costs as well as enhancing the artistic possibilities inherent in the new technology.

Currently, plans call for the theater to close down Friday, April 5, until Friday, May 3, when the theater hopes to reopen with its new equipment up and running. All the equipment has been ordered and the theater is now waiting for the money to be released by Kickstarter, Gibson said.

Assuming there's enough money leftover to allow for the seating renovations and other enhancements, the thing that most movie patrons are likely to notice that is different will be the larger size of the screens. They will be about three feet higher. They should also provide for sharper film images, and will also be able to handle three dimensional movies. About 1,000 pairs of 3-D glasses are also on order, she said.

"The idea is that we should be able to get any first-run film we want," she said. "Let's hope that we can - we're still a small market." That part of it should become clearer by the end of the summer, she said.

The theater will also be trying an experiment with an "alternate content" company with an eye towards bringing in video productions of ballet, opera or other independent movies. The success of that will hinge on its popularity - or the lack of it - on the part of the public.

When the theater does reopen in May, there will be recognition given to those who supported the upgrade to the theater. Had the campaign not been successful, the theater would likely been forced to shut its doors, Gibson had indicated in an earlier interview.

All told, about 1,200 donors made contributions between Kickstarter and the chamber of commerce, Gibson said.

About 50-60 percent of them were local donors from the general Northshire area, and the rest from surrounding areas and from states further way, such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as a sizable number from Florida. Visitors and summer residents were well-represented, Gibson said.

"We had some very large donations come in from our summer folks," she said, adding that the average donation, including the money that came in via the chamber of commerce, was more than $200. About 40 people gave at least $1,000. More than 400 people gave at least $15; of that group, 104 gave at least $50, according to Kickstarter. Fifty-one donors contributed $500 or more, and another 366 gave $100 or more.

Depending on the size of the donation, those who supported the effort will receive considerations, ranging from having their name on a plaque in the lobby to two movie passes for a year plus free advertising for a year on the movie screens. The latter package came with a $5,000 donation, of which there were six, according to Kickstarter.

Interestingly, the majority of those donors found their way to the Kickstarter site by following links posted on Facebook pages by friends and supporters of the theater, Gibson said.

"We had friends and family posting to Facebook pages; local kids posted - a lot of donations came from people who had never set foot in the theater, and probably never will," she said.

Like Gibson, Berta Maginniss, the executive director of the Manchester and the Mountains Regional chamber of commerce, said she was pleasantly surprised that the fund-raising campaign turned out to be so successful. Helping the theater make its goal was so important, that had the effort not been successful, the chamber would have gotten to work trying to find another investor or group of investors to open another movie theater, she said. But right from the start, the initiative looked promising, she said.

"You could tell almost instantly it was going to gain momentum," she said.

Maginnnis noted that along with visitors and community members, several local schools - including Burr and Burton Academy, Maple Street School, the Manchester Elementary -Middle School, Long Trail School and the Stratton Mountain School - also helped out.

While the bulk of the revenue sent to help the theater convert to the new digital technology may have streamed in online, the chamber also found that some donors were more comfortable helping out the old-fashioned way.

"Some people were uncomfortable going online - some like to write a check and get a receipt," "We felt we were an important partner and were happy to help out."

Kickstarter is not the only "crowdsourcing" fund-raising Web site that Village Picture Shows could have used, but Gibson was attracted to it by the "all or nothing" aspect of the funding. It was either going to work completely, or not at all.

"I thought it was going to be a huge stretch," Gibson said. "I thought that if the community wants the theater, and they want to fund the projectors, then I will commit to running the business side of it. We're busy right now compiling the list for all the rewards to be distributed in May, and we're also contemplating what we'll be doing for the reopening."


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