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Delano goes digital
Feb. 6, 2012

A behind-the-scenes look at the Delano Movie Theatre’s conversion from film to digital

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

DELANO, MN - In a time when it seems the cost of everything is going up, movie prices at the Delano Five Movie Theatre are doing just the opposite.

With the theatre’s recent conversion to digital films, the cost to see flicks will be dropping.

Last week, two of the auditoriums were converted, with the additional three being converted this week. Some digital films were shown last weekend, while the theatre staff is gearing up to have all five auditoriums digital by Friday.

To celebrate, the theatre will be giving away a free 50-ounce popcorn to everyone who attends a movie Saturday, Feb. 11.

“All movies, all day,” theatre manager Greg Edmonds said.

Movie pricing will now be $5 for matinees (all ages) and $7 (adult evening), reduced from $6.50 matinees (all ages) and $8.50 (adult evening). Bargain Tuesday pricing will be eliminated, but the senior citizens special on the second Tuesday of the month will remain through May.

The conversion process

According to Edmonds, converting an auditorium from film to digital is a multi-step process.

The early part of the two installation weeks, workers removed the old machines and placed the new ones. Also taking place in the early parts of the week was the installation of digital audio equipment and hard drives that store the films.

Mid-week, the staff works with the installed equipment to set the specs and fine-tune the image and sound.

“Also during the week, electricians and a film equipment installer/contractor will be out to perform specialized tasks,” Edmonds said. “Going forward, just as with 35 mm, Thursdays will be preparation nights for opening weekends.”

Staff also works to dismantle projection parts, bases, lamp houses, projector heads, and the power supply, which served as a “giant surge protector,” Edmonds said.

The heavy bases are replaced with a modern stand, and projectors are replaced with digital equipment.

As for sound, Edmonds said three of the Delano Theatre’s auditoriums already had digital sound, but said they’re going to be upgraded with new Dolby processors, so it’s going to sound more clear.

“The other two theatres have been running analog all these years, so that will be a major change,” Edmonds said.

Up until this point, movies have been shipped in large boxes to the theatre from California.

“They would come on reels that are about 20 minutes each,” Edmonds said. “A two-hour movie would have about six reels.”

In the old days, Edmonds explained projectionists would put one reel in a projector, and then there would be a second projector right next to it that shot out of the same window. A little black dot would come on the screen and signify the change in reels, and the projectionist would go back and forth during the duration of the movie.

A platter system was developed, which allowed projectionists to assemble the film reels as one roll. The entire film would then be run through the projector and shown on screen. As it’s being projected, it also winds itself up automatically, so projectionists never had to rewind a movie.

When a movie’s run at the theatre was done, staff would then have to break it back down into the individual reels and ship it back to Hollywood or to another theatre.

As far as picture quality, Edmonds said, when a moviegoer is watching film, he or she notices it has a grainy or textured look.

“Traditionalists kind of argue that is looks good that way,” Edmonds said. “But, with the digital, it is going to be crystal-clear, picture perfect. There will never be any focus problems.”

Edmonds said the old machines sometimes left scratches or lines on the film, which won’t happen now. Framing will also be more accurate.

“I, personally, really, really treasure the way film is, but I also understand that some of the machines, as they wear and tear, they start to do more harm than good in some cases,” Edmonds said. “We want to make sure that the customers are getting the ultimate viewing experience.”

Projectionists at the theatre will be given the opportunity to work now at the lower level of the theatre, as the process now is mostly automated.

Movies will come in files that are about 184 gigabytes per file. Movies typically will consist of two files. Each of the theatre’s projectors has a hard drive that is three terabytes.

Once the film, trailers, ads, and light-dimming cues are programmed through the central server, it is then sent to the projector to be shown.

Customers will also notice a brighter image, as the new bulbs are as bright as 4,000 watts, compared to 2,000.

“Customers will also notice a certain sharpness around edges of structures, and especially close-ups of faces,” Edmonds said.

He added the cost of converting to digital movies varies, since some theatres have to install new exhaust systems as the new equipment runs warmer than the old projectors.

A look back at the Delano Theatre

The Delano Theatre was constructed in May 1984, with two auditoriums. One of the films that played opening weekend was “Footloose.”

“The good version,” Edmonds quipped.

An additional auditorium was constructed in 1987, and two more auditoriums and a lobby extension were completed in 1991. Stadium seating came in the early 2000s.

All eight of the theatres across the area owned by Mike Muller Sr. are being converted to show digital movies. The theatre in Waconia was the first, Delano was second, and Monticello will be next.

Muller’s other theatre locations include the Lakeville 21, Rogers 18, White Bear Township 17, Monticello 15, Willow Creek 12, East Bethel 10, and the Waconia 6.

Muller started in the movie theatre business in 1948, working for her grandfather in Annandale. He became a theatre owner in 1978.

He has an estimated 10,000 movie posters locked away, and said a prized piece of memorabilia is from one of the actors who played Jason Vorhees in the “Friday the 13th” series. When the actor came to Delano, he signed a hockey mask with the personalization, “Mike – I know where you live.”

Like Edmonds, Muller said he is excited to be able to give customers the “ultimate movie-viewing experience.”

“The image on screen will be perfect all the time,” Muller said. “No scratches, no focus issues, perfect image, perfect sound.”

Muller said the theatre’s conversion to digital will also allow is to get more movies immediately upon release.

What about 3D?

Edmonds said at this point, one auditorium is being prepped for an eventual conversion to 3D.

“In order to fully go 3D, the projector will need to be modified, which will not happen right away,” he said. A screen upgrade is also necessary, which Edmonds said will happen now as part of the switch to digital.

He said the focus will continue on 2D because 3D movies still aren’t living up to the hype as “Avatar” did.

“Tickets for 3D are generally higher-priced than 2D, and we do not want to charge extra money for lesser quality,” Edmonds said.

Edmonds, originally from Illinois, joined Muller’s Theatre Group in spring 2008, left for a short time, then returned and was the assistant manager at Willow Creek. He started the midnight retro program there, which ran 1980s films at midnight on weekends. When the opening in Delano became available, he accepted it and has since moved to Montrose to cut his commute time.

“I think this is an exciting time, not only for the Delano 5 Theatre, but also for the community of Delano,” Edmonds said. “We are always looking for ways to maximize the entertainment value for our customers and, in the next month, we are serving up a ‘double whammy’ of value.”

Edmonds said the theatre is making an enormous improvement in the quality of the presentation, and the management is lowering its prices.

“Either of these changes by themselves, I think, would still be big news – but put them together, and I hope what we have done is reminding the community that going to the movies is not only an amazing, eye-popping social experience that cannot be matched in any home theatre, but that it doesn’t have to break the bank.”

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