Empire Theatre lives to move into the digital ageKickstarter campaign succeeds
Gary Pollard is breathing a sigh of relief. A crowdfunding campaign to help purchase new digital projection equipment for the Empire Theatre reached its goal of raising $55,000 well before the deadline of Sept. 4.
When the Kickstarter campaign ended at 9:08 a.m. on Wednesday — exactly 60 days to the minute after it began — the campaign raised $60,178. This will allow the venerable theater that he has owned since 1992 to show new theatrical releases, which will only be available in a digital format after the end of 2013. He said he also will be able to show films during the winter on Block Island now that he can purchase the equipment. Without the new equipment, Pollard said he would have had to shutter the old moviehouse.
“It was very stressful,” Pollard of the campaign. “It started out gaining momentum (in July) and then in the middle it started to slow down. We didn’t know what the outcome would be.”
Now that the campaign is successful, Pollard said he was happy he took the 60 day fundraising option that Kickstarter allows, rather than the recommended 30 day option. Thirty days is often more popular because it lends a sense of urgency to the campaign.
Pollard said his booking agent alerted him to the fact that films were headed in a digital direction more than a year ago. Soon after, Pollard said he started doing research on other independent cinemas to see how they were going to make the shift. The “Go digital or go dark” slogan that was used for The Empire Theatre campaign was originated by another independent cinema but soon adopted by others that were in a similar predicament. They also had the old 35 millimeter projectors that would soon be out of date.
Pollard also heard that movie studios were helping to fund the transition, but in order to receive a subsidy he said there was a stipulation that he couldn’t fulfill.
“One of the requirements was that we would have to commit to showing the same movie two weeks straight,” said Pollard. “That would mean we would only show four films over the entire summer. Now we run about 20 films.” With such a small market, Pollard worried what his box office would be like if he had to show a dud for two weeks.
Then he looked into Kickstarter, which is easily the most prominent of the mechanism that is now called “crowdfunding.” The site allows donors from all over the world to subsidize projects they find appealing with large and small donations. Donations usually come with an incentive. For instance, Pollard and his wife Jessica were offering mugs, pieces of actual 35mm Hollywood films, photos of the theatre and other swag to incentivize donors.
Pollard is now looking into a venue at which he can show movies in the winter (The Empire is not heated.)
He said he will also lower the price of tickets so that he “can make a go of it. If it works it works,” Pollard said. “If not, I won’t continue it. I’ll make it as appealing as I can.”