Despite costs, Caribou Theatres upgrading to digital

Posted Aug. 14, 2013, at 11:51 a.m.

CARIBOU, Maine — At the beginning of the year, Arlen Dow, co-owner of the Braden Theater in Presque Isle and the Caribou Theatres in Caribou, upgraded the Braden Theater’s projection system to digital, replacing the old 35mm films that used to be shown for the better quality of downloaded digital movies. At the time of the Braden upgrade, Dow did not believe the same would ever be possible for the Caribou facility.

However, with the production of 35mm film coming to an end this year, Dow was faced with a tough decision.

“I was either going to have to go ahead with the upgrade or close the Caribou Theatres,” Dow said.

Dow was fortunate enough to be able to get onboard with the Virtual Print Fee program for the Braden Theater. With VPF, theaters that qualify pay a total of $60,000 over the course of several years, rather than having to come up with the full $100,000 it costs to upgrade all at once. Criteria such as ticket sales and number of movies shown is used to determine which theaters qualify for VPF — criteria the Caribou Theatres facility does not meet.

After weighing what it would cost to maintain the two apartments that are above the Caribou movie theater with the main part of the building closed, and after discussion with the city of Caribou about efforts that are being taken to revitalize downtown, Dow decided that, even without the VPF assistance, closing the Caribou Theatres was really not an option.

“A small town cannot have a Main Street without its own movie theater,” Dow said.

Coupled with the fact that closing the facility would leave a great deal of Caribou residents without a movie theater option, Dow decided to go ahead and purchase digital systems for two of the theaters in the Caribou four-screen facility.

“Kids who aren’t old enough to drive and older people who don’t want an encounter with wildlife won’t make the trip to Presque Isle to see a movie,” Dow said.

The digital systems are currently in the process of being installed and should be ready to show their first movies by this Friday, Aug. 16.

“The quality of digital is different — much better. With 35mm, you have 24 frames per second, but with digital, you have 30 frames per second. After 35mm runs a couple hundred times, you get scratches on the prints, they get blurry. With digital, movie officials claim you can run them a couple thousand times,” Dow said.

And, according to Dow, the digital projection system is more reliable and easier to maintain.

“We have to keep all sorts of parts in stock for 35mm projectors. With the digital system, if something goes wrong, we call for help and it will probably be just a matter of rebooting,” Dow said.

The digital system also does not require someone to baby-sit the movie each time it is shown.

“We download it, program for when we want it to be shown, and that’s it, we don’t have to touch it again until we stop showing the movie,” said Dow.

Even with the upgrade, the current $5 ticket price and relatively low concession stand prices will remain the same in Caribou, just as they did in Presque Isle.

“Right now it’s just under $10 per person to come to a movie and get the whole experience — ticket, popcorn, candy and drink,” said Dow. “There are not a lot of movie theaters in existence today that can make that claim.”

Because he does not want to have to increase ticket prices, Dow has no plans for showing 3D movies.

“The cost of upgrading the system and maintaining glasses would be too much. Before you know it, I would have to charge $10 a ticket just to recoup my cost,” Dow explained. “Most 3D movies are kids’ movies, so by the time a couple brought, say, three kids to the movies, it would cost $50 or $60 just to get in.”

Dow says that the upgrade in Presque Isle did increase the Braden’s business, and he hopes the same will be true for Caribou. The Braden and Caribou theaters are the only facilities north of Bangor to show digital movies.

Movies are shown at the Caribou Theatres every day at 7 p.m. Late showings are 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Matinees are available at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For a listing of what movies are playing, visit www.cariboutheatres.com or call 496-3545. The office can be reached at 493-3013.

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