The six-inch thick concrete walls housing the projection booth in the Struthers Library Theatre are built to contain a fire from the old cellulose nitrate 35 mm film that went out of production long ago.
Cellulose nitrate film stock was so flammable it could burn underwater and the Library of Congress warned that it "...cannot be extinguished after burning has begun."
Digital projectors don't have that problem.
Times Observer photo by Josh Cotton
In with the new
Struthers Library Theatre Facility Manager Bob Priest, left, and John Spare, entertainment equipment technician, use the new digital projector system.
The 35mm film era officially came to an end at the theater in downtown Warren with the last showing of Woody Allen's "To Rome with Love," in September. The old projector weighed nearly 1,500 pounds and was state of the art technology when it was purchased nearly 20 years ago .
As film technology changed so did the industry, and now so has Struthers Library Theater.
The new digital projector is roughly the same size as the old one, but that's where the similarities stop. Instead of three to four reels of film, movies come in a hard drive that are activated for viewing in California. For every viewing the theater is allowed a certain amount of time. For example, a movie playing on Friday and Wednesday nights will not be able to play on a Saturday.
"It's very tightly electronically controlled from the other end," Marcy O'Brien, the theater's executive director, said. "The quality of this picture is far superior to any 35 mm out there. It is so crisp, it's beautiful."
Increased control on the part of Hollywood and the decreased production and transportation costs will push all movies from the industry to digital by the end of 2013, and more than half the movie houses already are, she said.
Where projectionists once practiced their finely honed skills, seamlessly and unknowingly splicing reels together from a platter, a computer will now run the show.
"This computer runs everything, we turn it on and it has all the prompts to tell you everything, what to do next," O'Brien said.
But O'Brien said the quality of the picture is far greater than that of the 35 mm projector and will also allow the theater to show a vast array of new films.
"We can run our own films through the Blu-ray, we will be able to stream live," she said. "We needed quality and this is the new state of the art. That's what we had for our old system, the 35mm. We're looking forward to all capabilities of this. Now when we have corporate meeting here or something and they have a film, they are going to have something substantial. They're not going to have it on a set-up screen, they're going to have it on the full screen and it's hooked up to our new sound system."
Events that have been discussed like the Academy Awards, the Kentucky Derby, NASCAR and other television shows are now capable of being viewed on the new system.
"Why not?" she said. "We'll be planning those."
The digital projector uses a custom-made lens and requires a 4,000-watt light bulb that throws an enormous amount of heat that has to be exhausted from the booth.
"Think of the back of your average movie theater," she said. "That's sort of typical and those systems can be purchased for a lot less than this one. And that's a good thing because a lot of the megaplexes are looking and having to buy 10, 15, 20 of these to stay in business. They have a year and they have to have one like this."
When installing the new ventilator the staff discovered just how thick and stubborn six inches of concrete can be.
"The problem was this thing was really built to be a fireproof room. The ceiling, the floor and the walls are poured cement," she said. "We didn't realize that wall was six inches of poured cement. It took hours to get through it. They built it that way from the very beginning."
Getting the old projector out and all 700 pounds of the new one up three floors of stairs and in the room was almost just as difficult.
"It had to come completely apart," O'Brien said of the old 35 mm projector. "They had to take it out in pieces."
The stairs leading to the projector booth along with the banister, the door and the door frame all had to come off.
O'Brien said they will hold onto the old projector because they are looking to start putting together a theater museum.
"Because we're starting to acquire enough artifacts, and we're a historic theater, we really should be taking care of those kinds of things. What's going out of service now is going to be a serious antique 40 to 50 years from now. It's a whole era that people won't know anything about, so it's up to us to preserve that. And we feel very strongly about that."
Funding for the new projector was provided by a combination of grants from the DeFrees Foundation and Friends of the Library Theater.