A man is traveling 300 miles down the Wabash River in a boat …
Box of popcorn. (Creative Commons / Flickr user Darren Hester)
A man is traveling 300 miles down the Wabash River in a boat …
A crash involving three vehicles near Muncie has sent as many …
About 300 Anderson residents came together Saturday to …
A central Indiana official says the tough conditions opponents …
A Purdue University official says the school has made fast …
Updated: Sunday, 12 Aug 2012, 3:28 PM EDT
Published : Sunday, 12 Aug 2012, 3:28 PM EDT
MADISON, Ind. (AP) - Generations of area residents have passed by a theater marquee on Main Street since 1938, yet changes to the movie industry could cause the marquee to go dark.
Technology advances in digital filmography may be a cost-saving way of business for major movie companies, but those same advances may cost others their entire business — especially small-town venues like the Ohio Theatre on Main Street. Ohio Theatre owners Laura and Tony Ratcliff face the challenge of updating with a digital conversion like other theaters across the country, yet the local theater lacks support of large movie corporations to offset the expensive conversion.
Still, theaters that are part of larger companies like the Great Escape Madison 6 on the hilltop also face the same uncertain future of conversion or closure. Calls to Great Escape corporate management about the hilltop theater's future were not returned.
"It's the biggest change since talkies," Tony Ratcliff said of the conversion. "Hollywood's pushing this."
The digital process began about five years ago with the introduction of 3-D movies, and the technology has continued to improve. With improvements that allow movies to be sent to theaters on reusable hard drives for digital projections, movie companies plan to end the production of the 35mm prints that have been used in theaters for the past 100 years by the first quarter of 2013 at the latest. The 35mm film prints have been used by movie companies since they were originally invented in the late 1800s by Thomas Edison and William Dickson for the Eastman Kodak Co.
The film projector that is used to show the 35mm films has been a resident at the theater for more than 80 years. The projector currently in use at the Ohio Theatre has been playing the reels of film rented from movie companies since the theater opened in 1938. When the Ratcliffs bought the closed theater in 1994, they found the projector sitting in the projection booth without any protection from the elements or dust. The new owners were able to get the projector running with a little bit of oil and cleanup.
"It'll run forever," Laura Ratcliff said. "We're not going to get rid of it."
Even though the film prints may become obsolete, a piece of history — the projector — will remain in the same area where the Ratcliffs hope to install a new digital projector and computer server needed to show digital movies. But the new equipment comes at a price — one that may not allow the historic theater, which also features live theater productions and other community events, to stay open and operational.
While other larger theaters have larger operating budgets and may receive a subsidy from large movie companies, the Ohio Theatre remains an independent entity from large conglomerate companies.
"It's all about numbers," Laura Ratcliff said. "We are a little tiny blip to these big movie companies."
Yet the theater is more than a blip to downtown Madison. About 30,000 people visit the theater each year to watch the movies, the Ratcliffs said. But people don't visit just the theater while in the area — theatergoers also stop in area shops and restaurants before or after a movie.
"It makes an impact on Main Street," Laura Ratcliff said.
The location's impact on downtown didn't begin with the opening of the Ohio Theatre in 1938, though. Two other theaters occupied the space that is now the Ohio Theatre in 1909, according to records at the Jefferson County Historical Society's research library. The Nickelectra and Little Grand theater occupied the space in 1909, hosting musical shows and other live theater events. By 1914, the Little Grand theater took over the Nickelectra to reduce competition and to double the size of the Little Grand. The theater operated under the name of the Little Grand theater until a fire in 1936.
The theater reopened under the new name of the Ohio Theatre in 1938 after renovations expanded the building to its current size and the iconic outdoor marquee was added. The theater operated under several owners throughout the year, but the movies went on until the theater closed for a few years in the 1990s.
The current owners renovated and opened the Ohio Theatre in 1996, and the theater remains the only one of many downtown Madison theaters to stay open and be used for its original purpose. At least three other theaters that once featured live music or theater productions closed as buildings were torn down or new businesses took over the space.
"It was the one that stood the test of time," Laura Ratcliff said. "We still have a lot to give the town."
Yet this next test the Ohio Theatre must overcome includes a price tag of more than $150,000 to convert the main theater and the balcony theater.
The Ratcliffs are taking one step at a time. The owners have begun a fundraising campaign to raise money to redo one part of the theater — the main house — with estimated costs of $85,000.
The digital conversion must include a new computer server, sound system,
cooling system, speakers and screen, Tony Ratcliff said, in addition to other updates in the projection booth to handle the new projection equipment.
"Just the projector itself is $45,000," he said.
The Ratcliffs hope to raise $25,000 by the end of August to help begin the process of looking into other financial sources to fund the project. Donations are accepted at the theater and online at www.savetheohio.com, where people can learn more about how to help keep the historic theater operational for years to come.
As the fifth set of owners at the Ohio Theatre, the Ratcliffs hope the theater survives the new era in movie projection to allow a future generation to have memories of attending the theater as a childhood treat or going to the Ohio Theatre on first dates, like many stories that have been related to them over the years.
"It's a living thing within itself," Tony Ratcliffs said of the theater. "We're just the current-generation caretakers."