Blacksburg’s Lyric Theatre is in the midst of making a giant technological leap forward.
For decades now, The Lyric has used 35mm film reels to entertain Blacksburg residents and Tech students, but now it, like other theatres nation-wide, has to either adapt to digital projection or risk closure.
The transition to digital projection has increasingly become more important as fewer and fewer new releases are being printed on 35mm film at all.
General manager of The Lyric, Flavio Carvalho, has been overseeing the revamping, and gave a peek into the collective conscious of small town theaters.
“This year, everyone has to go digital or they're going to suffer,” Carvalho said. “Financially speaking, there are two ways to do it: you can buy it outright, or you can have some financing through the distributors as well, but the problem with doing it that way is they want to control your content, and we’re not going to do that.”
According to USA Today, about 78 percent of movie theatres had made the transition as of 2012, still leaving a fairly large part of the market scrambling to catch up. Costs for a new digital projector often amount to about $60,000 per machine, and for theatres that can't afford the equipment, it leaves them with one choice: closing.
Luckily for the Blacksburg community, the Lyric's financing of the transition, while strenuous, has been manageable.
“The order is in, we still have a little bit to pay at the back end of it, but (the projector) is ours," Carvalho said.
The Lyric is a nonprofit organization that runs largely on volunteer efforts, donations and supporting memberships that give people reduced entry fees. They have been allocating funds for the purchase of a new project for over a year.
Having overcome the financial concerns, The Lyric can now look forward to the many benefits the projector will provide for viewers.
“The quality will be pristine and there’s a chance that we can get more movies, sooner, because right now, print availability is on the decline," Caravalho explained.
Caravalho continued to express relief from leaving 35mm prints behind.
“It’s not unusual for us to get (the film) already scratched. And there were a couple of movies last year that we wanted, but we couldn’t get them. They didn’t have them in 35mm print,” Caravalho said.
Not everyone is necessarily ecstatic about the switch. Barbara Brown, a projectionist at The Lyric, has become accustomed to the 35mm charm over the three-year span of her employment.
“It will make my job easier in a sense because I won’t have to go upstairs to thread the film, but it stinks because that’s the part of the job I like,” Brown said.
Luckily for Brown, The Lyric sees its old machine as an opportunity to continue to show the films it has already acquired.
“We’re not going to take out that projector; we’ll keep maintaining it and keep it functional," Brown said.
The projector switch is scheduled to happen before the end of the month and digital films will be showing by early March.