The two-screen Ramsey Cinema is facing the same fate as other small, independent movie theaters across the country: Go digital or go dark.
When the projectors stopped rolling on Aug. 19, generations of local families who had visited the 86-year-old movie house seemingly lost their neighborhood theater.
Its owner sold the building. The new owner wasn't sure what would come of it.
But on Monday, Laura and Dave Rose and Karen Emmert, owners of neighboring Planet Swirl -- who are calling themselves The Ramsey Theater Group -- signed a five-year lease for 125 E. Main St. And on Tuesday they launched an online campaign to raise $125,000 to upgrade the 35mm film equipment to digital.
Independently owned movie theaters have steadily been disappearing from Main Streets throughout North Jersey and the nation. Many have been bought by corporations -- the former Bergenfield Twin, on Washington Avenue, is now a five-screen corporate-owned cinema.
Meanwhile, the few that have survived have kept up with technology upgrades; among them are Westwood Cinemas in Bergen County and Hawthorne Theaters in Passaic County. The Teaneck Cinemas closed, but was revived and rehabilitated by a new owner hoping to bring it into the digital age.
The Ramsey Theater Group is using Kickstarter to collect pledges through Nov. 5. Certain dollar amounts entitle the donor to receive movie tickets and popcorn, tickets to the grand opening gala, advertising on the big screens and private movie showings, among other things.
The group must raise the entire amount -- or it collects nothing. The money is not deducted from the donor's credit card until the goal is met.
"That's how Kickstarter works," Rose said.
"It's not just a blind donation," Emmert said. "It's a value for a value."
Kickstarter is a website where people can raise money for a variety of projects including book publishing, music and technology endeavors. Kickstarter applies a 5 percent fee to all money raised, and the payments -- if the goal is reached -- are processed by Amazon, which charges a 3-percent to 5-percent credit card processing fee, according to its website.
Just converting the theater's giant HVAC-size projector to a mini- fridge-size digital projector is estimated to cost about $120,000, Rose said. Aside from that, they hope to install new seats -- which run about $40,000 -- redo the concession stand for about $15,000 and install new carpeting and bathrooms.
"We chose $125,000 because we're being cautious," Rose said, adding they hope to exceed that amount. "We really want to do this the right way."
As of Jan. 1, the film industry will stop distributing movies on 35mm film and switch to digital.
The changeover is a cost savings for movie distributors and will help fight piracy, said Matthew Latten, owner of the soon-to-reopen Teaneck Cinemas.
Latten, whose father has been in the movie theater and projection business his entire life, said the changeover will do little to enhance the moviegoing experience for film buffs and little for the movie house owner.
"There's no chance of a film breaking, and the sound is always impeccable," he said, adding that the pre-shows are better quality and the movies will always start on time when there's a digital system running them.
But 35mm, he said, has deeper blacks and better colors. "To most film buffs, 35mm will always look better than digital."
From the film industry's perspective, digital gives the movie production houses a "big brother" ability they don't have with film stock, he said.
"With 35mm print you could run the movie anywhere," Latten said. "A crooked usher at the end of the night could start a movie at 2 a.m. and sit down and videotape it perfectly."
'It's in town'
Latten is in the final weeks of restoring and upgrading the Teaneck Cinemas. It will be one of two independently owned movie theaters in Bergen County when it reopens.
Westwood Cinemas, on Center Avenue, is the other. It has grown from two to six screens and underwent an upgrade to digital and 3D equipment about 18 months ago.
"Anything you can get at a mall theater, you can get here," said Roger Tashjian, of 201 Marketing and Media, who works for Westwood Cinemas. "There's no difference except it's in town."
Being in town is what kept people coming to Ramsey Cinemas despite its outdated decor, Emmert and Rose said.
The viewing rooms, one with nine rows of seats and the other with 10, were a place parents could feel safe dropping their children off.
"I'm not dropping my kids off at the mall," Emmert said. "Here, they can walk and have pizza. There are other mothers around. People they know."
Since launching the campaign to bring back the theater, people have stopped in Planet Swirl to share stories of seeing 35-cent movies and buying a 10-cent banana as a snack.
"There's a history here," Emmert said. "And they want to keep it."
"It's almost like the theater was a person," Rose said.
How to help
* The Ramsey theater Kickstarter campaign had raised $19,691 through 147 pledges, as of Thursday night, toward its $125,000 goal.
* The deadline to contribute is Nov. 5 at 7:57 a.m.
* The minimum pledge is $1.
* For more information visit: kickstarter.com/projects/ ramseytheatre/bring-back-a-beautiful-new-and-digital-ramsey-thea
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