Woodstock theater goes digital

Shawn Garman, manager of the Community Theatre in Woodstock, checks the new digital projection and sound system that was recently installed. Their first digital movie is scheduled to be shown tonight. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – When watching Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” at the Woodstock Community Theatre, moviegoers will notice greater depth of sound and a brighter image. The film will be the first to run on the theater’s first digital projector, which was installed recently in the largest 350-seat room.

Film formats have been converting over to digital for the past few years, making Woodstock Community Theatre one of the last few theaters on the East Coast to use 35 mm print film.

Manager Shawn Garman said that although the large print reels were much more cumbersome to ship, the new format won’t save the theater much money in that department. However, workers will only need a few sessions to train on the digital projector rather than up to two weeks learning how to operate the reels.

“The place it’ll really save us money is just training someone to learn how to run that equipment, because that old equipment is not easy to train people to run,” Garman said.

Garman said they have plans to convert a second screen over to digital by spring and they haven’t reached a decision about whether or when to shift the third screen over. All three theaters now have new Dolby surround sound systems, including the introduction of subwoofers.

The theater has already had to turn down certain films that were only released in digital format – not many of the summer blockbusters, but a few smaller films in recent months. Kenneth Garman, president of the family company that owns the theater, said they’ve in essence been forced to make the switch.

“Being a small community as we are, we have just put it off for as long as we could because it is a very expensive venture,” he said.

Tim Dalke owned the theater under Dalke’s Valley Theaters until the Garmans bought it from him around eight years ago. He said the projector heads date back to about 1936, when his grandfather built the existing theater. Since then, he’s had to replace almost all of the more than 1,200 parts in each projector as they wore out over the years.

Despite the time and effort put into keeping the old reels running, he said the quality and experience of the film is better for the audience in digital format.

“As long as the digital is running properly, it’s running more smoothly than what film presentation would have been,” he said.

Shawn Garman said he’s not sure whether he’ll throw away or display the old projection equipment, but the theatre was able to cycle out the old sound system and sell it for parts.

Garman said this phase won’t last as long as 35 mm film did, likening the digital switch to technology updates for cell phones and computers.

“Digital’s not going to last as long…the equipment itself might stay the same, but internally, I’ll be updating a lot more often,” he said.

He said the next major shift for theaters obtaining films will most likely be in the form of data sent from satellites, although that transition won’t come for quite a while.

“Everything’s going to feel like it’s changing a lot faster because they have all the theaters switched now,” he said.

Other future projects that Garman said he’s considered – contingent on cash flow once the new equipment is installed – include replacing theater seats and updating the lobby.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com