At first glance, a public notice seeking financial assistance to support a movie theater's technical upgrade may seem strange, but think again.
Movie theaters across the country could close if they don't go digital by the end of the year, and buying digital equipment is an expense that many smaller cinemas cannot afford, said Mark Loudin, president of MDL Holiday Cinemas on Baughman's Lane in Frederick.
Traditional 35 mm film has been an industry standard since about 1910, but the movie industry is phasing out the film reels in favor of digital media, which means cinemas need new projection equipment, computers, a sound system and even a different screen, according to The Associated Press. The financial burden is huge for the small theater.
The cost of converting to digital averages about $70,000 per screen, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners, and about 60 percent of the nation's 5,750 theaters have switched to all-digital equipment.
MDL Entertainment Inc. recently bought one digital projector for $65,000, but the business cannot afford a second one, Loudin said.
Loudin posted this letter on the cinema's website, seeking the public's help:--
"Dear Friends of MDL Holiday Cinemas,
We are in need of charity for specific upgrades at the Holiday Cinemas. The theatre is on a low budget and has a major problem that is coming in the near future. The most specific problem is that we need to go digital by the end year of 2013 and if we do not go we will be forced to close as film companies are not using film for their movies any longer. I have purchased one digital projector which was $65,000 but we can not afford a second one. I am asking for the public's help in donating any monies you can to help us go digital and keep Holiday Cinemas up and running. All monies will be specifically deposited into one account and be used ONLY for digital upgrade, once we achieve in getting the digital equipment I will stop all donations as it is only for this purpose.
I would like to thank all of Frederick and surrounding counties that have been part of my family and coming to the Holiday Cinemas and supporting us, we thank you sincerely as we would not be in business if it wasn't for the customer base that we have.
Mark Loudin, MDL Entertainment, Inc. president"
Since Loudin posted the letter about two weeks ago, the cinema has received about $700 in donations from the public. Social media will also be used to get the word out, and the theater's employees are letting customers know about the problem without pressuring them to donate money, Loudin said.
Many of the larger cinemas don't have to come up with the money to buy the new equipment, Loudin said, because they have arrangements with certain corporations that allow them to get the equipment at virtually no cost.
"It's a serious thing, and it's sad," Loudin said, that the smaller cinemas have to buy the new equipment.
"At the same time, I don't want to pressure people coming to the theater to give anything. If you want to help the theater, you can," he said.
Holiday Cinema is the lowest-priced theater in Frederick County as far as sub-run theaters, Loudin said. Sub-run theaters show movies two or three months after they are released.
Loudin has worked with MDL Holiday Cinemas for more than 21 years, and his family has owned the business for 11 years. Business is good, he said, and the theater has a loyal following. Fortunately for him, Frederick County officials' decision to eliminate the amusement tax will allow him to help pay for the first projector, Loudin said.
"We try to keep fees down as much as possible, but you can only do so much," Loudin said. The cinema makes a little money from the box office, but the theater's main income comes from the concession stand, Loudin said.