“Shit,” was all Joey said.
Word was it would be a couple years before 35mm prints were going to be something we’d tell out grandkids about. Nope. Here we were, in the first part of 2014, and we had just received word that after 110 years, theaters were no longer going to be getting film to show movies starting…NOW. There we stood, with our pants around our ankles, with no proper modern system in sight. The digital age had descended upon us with guns drawn in a surprise attack and taking no prisoners. No one was to be spared.
I echoed Joey’s sentiment and said flatly, “We’re boned.”
Independent cinemas around the country had started shuttering-up as briskly as BlockBuster and Hollywood Video did when the NetFlix tsunami crashed onto the home entertainment scene. Movie theaters have one product, and that is what is on the screen. Nothing in the snack bar sells if no one is in the theater to see a movie. If the mechanism that projects movies has been rendered obsolete, then there is no way to play something that sells tickets and popcorn. The 75-pound cans of film that littered the floor of our projection booth had evolved into plastic hard cases sporting hard drives. Thus, many historic and once viable theaters slid into the ocean of obsolescence. Poof! Gone! Unable to adapt, they perished. Here we sat in the primordial ooze watching everyone else grow legs and head toward land to show off their opposable thumbs.
Extinction was lingering on the horizon for the Darkside unless we got in something modern to play the big studio movies. I made calls; visited people; crashed parties; snuck around uninvited; made promises; and, by the skin of my teeth, got a brand new Digital Cinema Projector installed in one auditorium at the Darkside just as the last 35mm prints vanished from the exhibition circuit. Suddenly we were playing 12 Years a Slave, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Chef; whereas the week before, we’d been shut out of the current blockbusters due to our lack of equipment. Hallelujah!
Reality crashes: Now we had to pay for the damned thing. Research was my new job; and I did a ton of it, if such a thing could be measured by mass. Things were so desperate I almost resorted to attending mass for any help that might be available—violating the agreement between God and me not to bother each other unless the stomach flu is involved. After days of discussion and weeks of indecision, Joey and I launched a KickStarter crowd-funding campaign. It was all the rage and seemed to generate a level of success that made it a little easier for me to humble myself enough to pass the hat.
We had until August to raise the money to pay for the new projector projecting in Auditorium Four, or it would be repossessed, which would pretty much kill my chances of ever getting a projector loan in the future. The thing about the KickStarter is that we had to raise ALL the funds, or we got NONE of them. We needed $36,000 to pay for the new DCP. We asked for $45,000 to pay all the fees and for the premiums we’d be giving to those who donated. When Joey and I pressed the go button on this fundraiser, we knew we were basically reapplying for our jobs. If this failed; the Darkside would join the ranks of cool theaters Corvallis used to have, Joey would have to get a job, and I’d be picking up cans along Highway 34.
But, it worked! Our KickStarter was set for 30 days to reach our goal. Something no one saw coming is it took only 15 days before we had reached the goal and thus, Joey and I were rehired by the good people of our community to run an art house cinema.
But, wait, there’s more…
People continued contributing even after the KickStarter was done kickin’. It seemed we impressed a lot of the populace with the swiftness of our success. This led to something that had never happened in the history of the Avalon/Darkside experiment: We had an excess of funds. We have done so much with so little for so long, we were, quite frankly, overwhelmed by the task of using the new money...ethically. We were not able to use the nuevo dinero to pay off old debt or for new motorcycles (I mean, really?). It had to be used for bringing the Darkside into the new digital era, as we had promised. And we would be held accountable to the IRS; KickStarter; and most importantly, accountable to the people who trusted us with everything from checks that had three zeros after a nice number to one and five dollar bills scrounged from the bottom of a dirty messenger bag by the kid who never forgot I gave him a long-forgotten coat from the DS Lost and Found on a wet Oregon night. It was more than just money. It was faith. Faith that had been put into the hands of Joey and me by a community who exhibited the kind of trust that no one who wants to remain a member of this community takes lightly. Not fucking this up was a responsibility that penetrated my snarky exterior and became the guiding light of every decision we would make. I lost the luxury of my acerbic affect and marginal blurt filter. I had to grow up. Well, sort’a. Who am I kidding?
But, there we were on a warm, summer night, basking in our gratitude. After the final payment was sent for the DCP, a band of us Darksiders found ourselves sitting in lawn chairs on the field of the Motor Vu Drive-In Theater in Dallas, drinking champagne with Jeff (the owner), toasting the success of our campaign. As we watched the movie on the outdoor monster screen in the still, starry night, I thought the hard part was done. It is not often I am that viciously wrong.
The next morning I got to work. New theater seats are expensive. Like stupid expensive. So, when I got the call that there were cheap, nicer theater seats to be had; I rallied the troops. Well, troop: Joey. I bought 100 new(er) theater seats for less than my yearly coffee budget. The caveat was that we had to perch outside a corporate theater every morning, like caffeine-deprived vultures, and pick through the bones of the old seats making way for the new, before the old were tossed into a dumpster large enough to dry-dock a battleship. It took a couple of weeks. Joey and I would show up before the garbage truck and load seat backs, bottoms, and standards into the back of either a 25-foot U-Haul or my anemic, high-mileage, Astro van. So far, Auditorium Four is the only one where we have assembled all these parts into seating with the cup-holders and no squeaking. It’s no small task but very satisfying to see a sea of matching seats rather than waves of mismatched chairs of different colours from different eras.
Even after piling up the remaining new seats pieces around Auditorium One, we still had funds left! So back to wheeling and dealing, which seems to have become my new job. Well, I landed a used DCP system for another auditorium. This time we have to install it, and Joey and I started the task of making Auditorium Three able to project both 35mm film and digital product—though not at the same time. (We do a lot of work with OSU, and they often want to screen 35mm films that have not been digitized yet; so, we wanna hang onto one 35mm film system. Plus, I have a 35mm print of Hell Angels ’69 that demands the highest in projection quality.)
Joey and his wife decided to breed nine months before this job. With his new son, Henry (pix up on the snack bar wall), and an existing three-year-old daughter, Niko, we’ve fallen a little behind. I, of course, take no responsibility for the lack of progress on that front. However, with his new son home, healthy, and happy, we are ready to leap back into the job.
I was sitting across from Monty and Breezy in a mediocre Chinese buffet, picking at grilled shrimp with chopsticks, when my phone rang. I had to put a bookmark in Monty’s story about driving back to Oregon from Arizona with a package that might have contained illegal substances that he’d been asked to deliver unopened. My movie booker was on the phone. He reiterated that none of the big theaters would touch the intellectual commentary on Kim Jung-un by the cinematic scholars Seth Rogan and James Franco. Seems the North Koreans threatened some sort of havoc if it played, not understanding that if the United States can survive Dr. Strangelove, they shouldn’t be too concerned about their ability to survive The Interview. President Obama shamed Sony into trying a little harder, and their response was to ask if we’d play it. This was no time to stomp my feet at being picked last. We might be scrawny, but we’re in the game! Once again, the pause button on the installation job of the second DCP was pushed. We had a theater to get ready for the onslaught of people desiring to be culturally enriched by The Interview. But not before we opened the box upon which Monty’s dog, Spice, had slept all the way from Arizona. Alas, it was only motorcycle sidecar parts, nothing to be sold for a third DCP.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about our KickStarter experience is the communication process to the 740 good people who pledged to the campaign through KickStarter. KickStarter allows you to send out one survey to ask folks to choose their loot and how they want it delivered. One. Yep, it went sideways. Since KickStarter inundates pledgers with an ungodly amount of unwanted emails, many of our pleas for proper info got understandably ignored. So, the fantasy of fulfilling all the orders by the end of September vanished as fast as summer weather in October. We are starting a new year and getting ready for yet another T-shirt order. (If you are one of the unfulfilled, email us directly or pop in, please.)
2014 started with the coyotes circling, waiting for us to stumble one last time on the arid desert floor of the New Age of Cinema Exhibition. We were out of water, and the Sun of Change was beating down on us like a desiccating demon. Then, we crawled up the last sand dune and rolled into the oasis of crowd funding. Just like my penchant for bad analogies and hyperbole, we were sure there would not be enough. But, the water was deep, and we replenished. We stand on the cusp of 2015. We have new equipment, seats, kids, and hope.
And maybe, a little faith.