The Ottawa clan didn’t have to drive to Olathe or Overland Park to enjoy the box office hit, which has grossed more than $223 million worldwide. They found what they were looking for — in three dimensions — on the new digital screen at the Plaza Grill and Cinema in downtown Ottawa.
The two-screen theater, 209 S. Main St., installed a new digital projector and screen Oct. 17-18, and added a 3-D lens Oct. 24 for the first showing of “Hotel Transylvania” on the same night the theater hosted its annual “Rocky Horror Picture Show” party on its other screen.
Plaza Grill and Cinema’s conversion to digital technology was a necessity, owner Peach Madl said.
In a film industry as fickle as the rise and fall of the stars on its silver screens, digital movies have become Hollywood’s gold standard.
“Our digital conversion was prompted by the lack of 35-millimeter film,” Madl said. “Studios are no longer making the [35-mm] film. Just this past year, we were not able to switch films because there was none available.”
Madl’s plight is not unique. The conversion from 35-mm to digital is taking place in independent theaters across America,
About 31,135 of the nation’s 39,908 movie venues — 78 percent — have made the transition to digital projectors, the National Association of Theatre Owners recently reported. The other 22 percent will have to make the switch soon just to stay in business, one industry member recently told USA Today.
New digital projectors range in cost from $50,000 to $70,000 each, according to industry estimates.
“The cost [to go digital] was $65,000 per screen,” Madl said of the Ottawa theater’s conversion last month. “We were not able to fund two screens, so we are working on different types of entertainment to try and make up for the lack of two.”
The Plaza Grill section of the combined restaurant and theater features a menu with appetizers, salads and a variety of sandwiches like the Kevin Bacon BBQ Cheeseburger and the Danny DeVito Dog, along with regular specials and a full bar. The restaurant helps supplement the cinema’s intake, and Madl recently began scheduling regular comedy nights at the theater in an effort to attract an audience to her entertainment venue in the community’s historic downtown.
While it took about 30 days to receive the new technology, the most difficult part was securing the financing, Madl said.
“The theater is a small-town theater, so it was not able to fund the projector,” Madl said. “Several members of our family worked on a plan for financing. You will see a serious reduction in twin theaters this year. The upgrades needed do not make sense for a small theater.”
But Madl said she is excited to be able to show movies in 3-D on the new digital screen.
“The difference in the picture has been earth-shattering,” Madl said. “They say the eye cannot see any more dimensions than digital shows. It is fabulous.”
The digital screen made a believer out of moviegoer Rohr.
“It’s really nice,” Rohr said. “It’s a big difference from what we had before — the way the screen looks.”
Rohr, who has watched 3-D movies at other theaters, said she was glad now to have that movie-going experience in Ottawa.
“To me, it’s a lot better, maybe just because it’s here locally and we don’t have to drive to do it,” she said.
Madl, who has operated the theater for six years, said her independent bijou has struggled through the tough economic times, just as many small theaters across the U.S.
“The 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 years were very hard, and we are trying to catch up,” Madl said.
The digital conversion being forced upon theaters has not made the financial road any easier. But Madl said the theater provides a vital outlet for Ottawa and the surrounding area.
“A theater is a place to escape the crazy world, laugh, cry and dream,” Madl said, “if just for a little while.”
Herald photographer Matt Bristow contributed to this article.