Movie-goers may notice a change in their movie experience at the big screens in Cottonwood Cinema 4 this week.
Cottonwood is one of 11 Polson Theatres Inc. -owned theaters making the transition from 35 mm movie film to digital. Polson Theatres general manager Gary Dupuis of Polson said the $2.7 million digital transition will enable the viewer to see a brighter and clearer picture, and it will enhance the featured movies' sounds.
Dupuis added that going digital was necessary in order to keep Cottonwood open.
"By 2014, film will cease to exist," he said. "Basically it's a way to keep the door open. It's a necessity that has to happen."
Polson Theatres owner Howard Pickerill of Polson and Cottonwood manager Priscilla Jiron of Havre said 35 mm is becoming outdated and harder and harder to find.
Dupuis said digital movies hit the mainstream theaters about four years ago. Since 35 mm film and the equipment and projectors used for the film won't be used anymore, theater employees will also have to learn how to ready movies to be shown to the public.
Dupuis said the digital movie content will be on a hard drive, where it will be "ingested" or downloaded onto a server. The theater will then be emailed a series of keys to open the files and play the content.
Barco projectors, computer servers and other equipment have been purchased for all four theaters at Cottonwood. Theater 4 was closed Thursday while the installation took place. Later that evening, the equipment was installed and work then moved to Theater 3. On Friday morning Dupuis said that by Wednesday all four theaters at Cottonwood should be up and running digital movies.
If the installation runs smoothly, movie-goers will hopefully notice the change.
Dupuis said that with the 35 mm film, if the movie content gets scratched, nothing can be done to mend it onscreen. But with digital, the movies will always stay exactly as they had arrived.
Another advantage is the weight of 35 mm versus digital. A 35 mm movie can weigh about 80 pounds, whereas digital weighs less than 10.
The arrival of digital could in the future pave the way for Cottonwood to install silver screens to show 3D movies and have access to live satellite feed to show Broadway plays, operas, concerts and more to the public.
"That would bring a little different content (to Havre) once in a while," Dupuis said.
However, that will be for the future. Polson Theatres is focusing on the digital transition for the time being.
"We are a small independent operation, and we will still continue to play the mainstream movies," Dupuis said.
Digital technology will also allow Cottonwood to bring more independent films to area viewers because Dupuis said many independent film companies produce digital films today because it's easier and cheaper than with 35 mm.
During the transition, Dupuis added that employees will be in training to learn about the new digital process, and he encouraged movie-goers to be patient.
"The technician is a new installer. The disadvantage (with the digital transition) is when there is a problem with the projector," Dupuis said. "It could take a couple of days to fix instead of a couple of hours.
"Understand that with the technology … equipment can fail at any point. Just be patient. We will get our help trained as well as we can in the initial start-up. It just takes a little time to understand the equipment."
Other Polson-owned theaters that are transitioning to digital are: The Showboat Cinemas in Polson, Entertainer Cinema in Ronan, Mountain Cinema 4 in Whitefish, Big Sky Cinemas in Dillon, River Cinemas in Salmon, Idaho, Glacier Cinemas in Cut Bank, Roxy Cinema in Shelby, Valley Cinemas in Glasgow, The Prairie Cinemas in Wolf Point and Judith Cinemas in Lewistown.
Dupuis added that the Polson theater should be 100-percent digital by Thanksgiving.
He said with the $2.7 million project, prices to go the movies won't change much, if at all. If it was decided to change the price, he said it would go up 25 or 50 cents.
With going digital, customer satisfaction is No. 1 for the Polson Theatres general manager.
"We want to have quality movies and get them in a timely fashion. Cottonwood is our number one grossing theater. It does very, very well," Dupuis said. "For us it all boils down to customer service and providing people a pleasant environment and quality presentation."