×

Digital screens boost alt options

Tech upgrades help keep up with audience demands

As arthouse exhibitors grapple with tighter budgets and a continued economic slump, many are debating the pros and cons of going digital.

With today’s cash-strapped indie filmmakers often opting to shoot and distribute digitally rather than on the more pricey 35mm, a growing number of niche exhibitors are making technological upgrades in order to accommodate the type of alternative fare their audiences demand.

“There’s this inevitableness of digital projection,” says Balcony Films’ Connie White, who books for several specialty cinemas. “Still, it costs roughly $100,000 for a (DCI-compliant) projector, which is astronomical for the indies.”

The not-for-profit Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, N.Y., is among the first to take the full digital plunge, outfitting its three theaters with Sony 4K DCI-compliant projectors alongside 35mm and 16mm projectors, which have become arthouse mainstays.

“More filmmakers are working in the digital realm these days,” explains the center’s founder and executive director Steve Apkon. “It’s imperative for us in exhibition to present those films properly.”

But until prices come down on state-of-the-art equipment, many art houses — whether not-for-profits or mom-and-pop shops — are going a less expensive digital route. Roughly 30% of the venues represented at this year’s Art House Convergence belong to the all-digital network Emerging Pictures, which offers specialty films as well as live opera and ballet in high definition. Emerging managing partner Ira Deutchman says would-be members typically need to spend $10,000-$35,000 to be network-compliant, depending on the state of their current equipment. Though the digital upgrades provide a high-definition image that is theatrical quality, they would not be considered studio compliant, meaning a studio-distributed film like “Black Swan” would still need to be shown in 35mm.

Still, many exhibitors contend that 35mm is the preferred format for the discerning cineaste.

“We want to do 35mm as much as we can,” says Stephanie Silverman, managing director of Nashville’s Belcourt Theater. “We actually publicize what format our films are being shown in, and our audience tends to prefer that format. So long as the studios will cut 35mm prints, we see no reason to upgrade.”

More on Independent Exhibition:
Niches go nonprofit | Getting the word out | Digital screens boost alt options | When tickets don’t cut it

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • westworld awakening art

    HBO Launches 'Westworld Awakening' VR Game With Survios

    Ever wanted to enter the world of “Westworld?” Now you can — except it won’t exactly be like you might have imagined it. Instead of being one of those guests living out their fantasies, you will be a host, slowly coming to grips with your life being an elaborate illusion. “Westworld Awakening” has been produced [...]

  • Spotify Announces Upgrades to Family Plan,

    Spotify Announces Upgrades to Family Plan, at No Charge in U.S. and U.K.

    Just days after reports emerged that Spotify is aiming to increase the price of its family plan in its home market of Scandinavia, the streaming giant announced an upgrade to the plan — with no price increase in the U.S. and U.K., where it remains at $14.99 and £15, respectively. A rep for the company [...]

  • Mike Vaughan

    Former Venmo COO Mike Vaughan Joins Stem's Board

    Los Angeles-based music distribution and payments startup Stem has appointed former Venmo executive Mike Vaughan to its board of directors. Vaughan was chief operating officer of Venmo from 2011 until earlier this year, and is now executive in residence at Oak HC/FT. “The music industry can benefit tremendously from innovation in the way money flows [...]

  • Streamy Awards

    Streamy Awards 2019 Return to YouTube for Exclusive Live-Stream

    The 9th Annual Streamy Awards will again be available to stream live on YouTube exclusively. The 2019 awards ceremony will take place at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills on Friday, Dec. 13 and will stream live globally on YouTube via youtube.com/streamys. Videos from the 2018 Streamy Awards received over 6.9 million views on YouTube. [...]

  • Stefan Heinrich Henriquez - Cameo

    Celeb Video-Shoutout Startup Cameo Hires Ex-TikTok Exec Stefan Heinrich Henriquez

    Cameo, a startup that lets consumers purchase video shoutouts from celebrities, tapped Stefan Heinrich Henriquez as chief marketing officer and general manager of international. Heinrich, most recently head of marketing for short-form video app TikTok, will lead the company’s global growth and branding and play a key role in Cameo’s continued global expansion. He’s based [...]

  • Curiosity Stream Altice

    Altice USA Pacts With John Hendricks' CuriosityStream Service

    Altice USA has set a deal with John Hendricks’ CuriosityStream to expand distribution of the science- and history-focused subscription streaming service. The deal will make CuriosityStream available to all Altice USA’s 4.9 million customers across 21 states, including a big cluster serving New York and Connecticut. Altice also plans to add the CuriosityStream app to [...]

  • No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

    Lionsgate Play Launching in India With Vodafone Idea

    Premium entertainment service, Lionsgate Play is launching in India through a partnership between telecoms operator Vodafone Idea and Starzplay, the subscription platform from Lionsgate subsidiary Starz. Lionsgate Play offers curated Hollywood content for the Indian consumers, with much of the content available in multiple Indian languages. It currently includes more than 7,500 television episodes and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content