Vincent Smith, Indian Lake Theater’s projectionist, mans the controls of new digital projection technology.
There are few who will argue with the definition of the Indian Lake Theater being “the cultural cornerstone of the community,” as proclaimed by the theater’s business manager Frances Armstrong.
“Digitization was a necessary step to keeping our cornerstone alive,” he said.
In fact, the restoration of the Indian Lake Theater is seen as the spark that has ignited the continued effort to revitalize and enrich the town and surrounding community.
Originally built as a movie house in 1938, the theater showed films for nearly seven decades before closing. In spring 2007, a local volunteer organization completed its purchase of Indian Lake’s 250-seat Main Street Theater. Their vision was to show films and stage theatrical and other productions year-round for the 1,400 residents of the community. It reopened in 2008.
Certainly, there was the respect for the past that the restoration of the Theater represented. But recent moves by the film industry made it clear that the Indian Lake Theater could not operate while relying on the projection technology of the past. The industry was moving to distribution of digitized “films” to capitalize on current technology to benefit their bottom line.
The plain truth is that the film industry has little operational or financial incentive to care about a single screen, small community theater, so the Indian Lake community decided their theater was too precious to lose and that if you can’t beat them, you better join them.
In 2012, the Indian Lake Theater became part of the “Go Digital or Go Dark” campaign spearheaded by the Adirondack North Country Association, with a goal of raising thousands of dollars to switch from film to digital projectors by the end of 2013 or shut down. It joined the movement with nine other theaters in the region: the Hollywood, Au Sable Forks; the Palace, Lake Placid; Ogdensburg Cinema, Ogdensburg; the Strand, Old Forge; the Strand, Schroon Lake; the Strand, Plattsburgh; the Glen Drive-In, Queensbury; Cinematheque, South Glens Falls; and the State, Tupper Lake.
On June 14, the Theater officially made the transition when two children — chosen from the audience — started the first digital movie, “Epic.”
The digital project will cost about $80,000, and the Theater received help through a matching grant from the Charles Wood Foundation and donations, which are still needed.
Though digitization of the Indian Lake Theater will not add directly to the bottom line, it will bring some definitive operational benefits along with noticeable improvements to the theater-going experience for patrons.
Theater Director Danielle Shaw said it used to take five to six weeks of lead time to secure a movie in film, and it will now be reduced to as little as two weeks lead time for digital movies. This will result in “fresher” films being made available.
Shaw promises that patrons will experience a noticeable improvement in picture clarity and in sound quality versus what was possible from the previous film projection technology. And it will hopefully translate into increased patronage and ultimately contribute to the financial health of the theater.
Vincent “Vinnie” Smith has been working at the Indian Lake Theater for five years and has been the theater’s projectionist for more than two years. Every time a new film was delivered, it would arrive in four or five large film cans. Smith would take the serial film parts and go through the painstaking process of physically splicing them together into the total movie. He would then place the hand-assembled film on large spools and carefully thread the film through a behemoth of a projector. Once the film had finished its run, Smith would then have to disassemble the film back to the parts originally received, load it into the individual film cans and prepare it to be shipped back to the distribution outlet. Then there was the cost of shipping the heavy film-laden cans.
Smith, admittedly, will miss the hands-on experience that connected this young man to the history of all the projectionists that came before him. He prided himself in being able to assemble the films, then fine tune and tame the giant analog projector.
“There was a craft about it and a feeling of being connected to history” Smith said.
That being said, and as a child of the Digital Age, Smith readily recognizes that the theater cannot continue to exist if it remains completely a remnant of the past.
Now, the movies arrive in what amounts to a well-padded aluminum attaché case. Inside, is what amounts to a huge flash drive. The drive is inserted into a computer unit and through the use of a standard computer screen, mouse and password, a computer-literate “projectionist” is empowered to control the presentation of the show. It’s like “Back to the Future,” as the wonderfully restored Indian Lake Theater continues to show movies as part of its multicultural repertoire using today’s most advanced digital technology.
Smith, by the way, just graduated from the Indian Lake Central School a few weeks ago. He, too, is moving into the future, enlisting in the U.S. Navy and will be heading into the service soon. Smith will most certainly carry fond memories of helping keep the Indian Lake Theater running, especially during this critical transition from film to digital.
For more information, call the Theater at 648-5950 or visit online at www.indianlaketheater.org.