The operators of the Virginia Theater in Downtown North Baltimore have announced that tonight is the final showing of a first run movie, at least for the time being, due to major movie studios monopolistic demands of digital conversion.
Doug Wickard, who operates VMP (Virginia Motion Pictures), with his daughter Jaimye, says that he faces having to pay about $40,000 to upgrade the projection equipment to a new digital format, that the major movie studios have converted to, over the past couple of years.
These studios have all but stopped offering films on celluloid reels, as had been in use for more than 100 years. These new digital prints are stored on hard drives which offer a major cost savings for the billion dollar studios, but are killing small town, single screen theaters across the nation, including the Virginia, which was opened in the late 1930's.
Venues, such as VMP, are most in danger, as they struggle to come up with the price of conversion. Many of these are old-school movie palaces are in small towns, such as North Baltimore, with most being mom-and-pop-owned businesses that lack the cash and resources of big chain cinemas.
It has been up to the individual theaters to figure out how to pay for their own conversion. Some have turned to Kickstarter to raise funds on-line, though it's hard to find nationwide donors to pay for local theater conversions. Still, several dozen theaters have successfully raised conversion funds this way.
Some have held on-site fundraisers, using the church-raffle model. Others have used a combination of approaches, taking pledges from locals as well as charging patrons an extra 25 cents per ticket.
Like many theaters across the nation, the Virginia is a small-town theater, that can be an economic anchor, that fosters business development and create jobs.
As for the future, Basic Truth Church has offered two free movies, the past two months, that have brought in 160 patrons the first night and standing room only for "God's Not Dead", shown last week. BTC does plan to offer another free movie toward the end of August (TBA).
From VMP: "If you have any gift certificates or passes please use them before then. We will also reimburse anyone who still has gift certificates after the theater closes. Thank you everyone for your continued support. Again, we are still looking into converting to digital, so hopefully we will reopen again."
Tonight's showing is at 7:00 - showing of "Planes: Fire & Rescue".
Basic Truth Church packed the theater for "God's Not Dead".