GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Gettysburg's Majestic Theater has been a popular place for the movie-going public since it first opened in 1925.
But like other small town theaters, it now finds itself in the middle of a challenging media shift.
The movie industry is abandoning 35mm film production and, by the end of 2013, all new movies will only be distributed on highly secure digital hard drives.
"If the Majestic is to continue showing award-winning movies such as "The Artist," "Midnight in Paris" or "The Conspirator," it will have to scrap its 35mm projectors and install two Digital Cinema projection systems which will cost around $125,000," according to executive director Jeffrey Gabel.
"We must convert or close our theaters," he added.
The conversion will also include a Digital Light projector to show live HD telecasts of the Metropolitan Opera and the popular Summer Classic Film Series.
A capital campaign — "Save Our "Downtown Movies" — has been launched to raise money for a digital projection system to be installed before the end of 2013.
Gabel, who has been a lifelong lover of 35mm film, admits that Digital Cinema offers a sharper and brighter picture. "It's the future of visual presentation," he said.
It's more economical, too.
Analog films need to be "made up" by connecting the reels that come in canisters from the movie studio. A skilled projectionist takes about an hour to assemble one film, whereas digital films need only the click of a button to accomplish the same task.
Studios must also ship the films to theaters, incurring large shipping costs. Digital projectors circumvent that because the file is downloaded before it is scheduled to play, for next to no cost.
The bad news is that the cost for purchasing projectors for Digital Cinema falls on the theaters.
Always optimistic, Gabel is confident movie lovers will come to the aid of their cinemas.
As an independent theater, the Majestic cannot do what the Regals and AMCs do in putting in a capital infusion from the main office, so instead will rely on a digital cinema campaign to generate the money.
"Save Our Downtown Movies" launched in May with the theater's community advisory committee pledging $30,000.
Throughout the summer, appeals are being sent to major donors, with campaign naming opportunities ranging from $10,000 to $20,000.
In September, the committee will go to the public for support with posters around town, nightly video appeals in the cinemas, and a direct mail drop of 5,000 brochures to its ticket buyers.
"We hope that with the gifts received through our faithful donors, we can reach our goal of $125,000 by the end of this calendar year and be able to install the new equipment by August of 2013," said Gabel.
To help oversee the installation, a volunteer technical committee was also formed that includes film experts and theater managers who have already installed digital cinema systems.
Owned and operated by Gettysburg College, the Majestic is a well-loved cultural treasure, attracting 45,000 visitors annually to its diverse line-up of professional touring artists, community artists, nightly fine arts film series, visual art exhibits, educational programs and summer festivals.
While the College underwrites a portion of the theater's annual operating expenses, the Majestic relies upon its patrons and community to fund the programming services.
About 80 percent of the Majestic's audience is from Gettysburg and Hanover; 17.5 percent from Biglerville, Arendtsville, Fairfield, Littlestown, East Berlin, Chambersburg and Emmitsburg, Md.
Since its $16.5 million renovation in 2005, as many as 15,000 film goers annually attend the theater's nightly line-up of first-run American independent films, foreign language films and documentaries.
In its fourth week of showing "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," a British comedy-drama which Gabel describes as a "really good film with an all-star cast" the Majestic broke all box office records.
"Almost 1,600 people came to see the film already, which is twice the amount that Frank (Theaters) has done with the same film," Gabel said Monday morning. "It's all about the ambience. People want to come out to support the 87-year-old tradition of downtown films in Gettysburg."
It could also be the Majestic's famous 'cuddle seats' — cozy double-wide theater seats — that has patrons lining up by the front door.
"We have couples who arrive early just to get their favorite spot before the film begins, and we have guests who stick around afterward to discuss the film," Gabel said. "We work hard to know our patrons and call them by name. It's our return customers who are the heart of our business."