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Digital Or Death

July 29, 2012, 10:04 PM by Kelly Bartnick

Digital Or Death
MITCHELL, SD -

These days, no one is immune from a high-tech makeover.

Silver Screens across KELOLAND are quietly making some big changes behind the scenes, as the movie industry makes its own digital switch and because of that the smallest of them could be snuffed out.

Nostalgia comes by the carload in Mitchell. For three months each summer, under the stars, life slows down as people turn off the highway and into Hollywood.

“There's only five left in the state. We're the only one in a major city, and the only one on I-90 in South Dakota,” Jeff Logan with Logan Luxury Cinemas said. “This drive-in has been mentioned in Time, but there's also a European travel guide that lists this as one of the places to visit in America as you drive across the country.”

And Logan says tourists join the locals here seven days a week May through September, watching tinsel town’s latest flicks in a place where little else has changed.

“This is the original building. We've remodeled it a lot. Expanded it where we could. But it was built by three good old boys, three local boys,” Logan said.

The Starlite Drive-In has no shortage of Nostalgia, but it might be short on time, squeezed out as a casualty of the digital age of motion pictures.

“2013 could be the last year/season for the majority of the 400 surviving drive-ins in the U.S.,” Logan said.

The reason is the projector and the huge trays of film beside it. Movies, previews and even the famed nostalgia reel all wrapped together are played frame-by-frame. But it's how movies have been shared since the theatre began.

“Carload night, and Friday and Saturday night is also a big one because we have the new movies,” Starlite Drive-In employee Terri Jacklin said.

Going digital will mean no more trays, no more film, but also more money.

“The economics don't work out so well, so everyone is struggling, thinking ‘how can we continue and make this huge investment and still make it,’” Logan said.

Logan says a new projector costs up to $70,000. And the change would require thousands more in additional upgrades.

But for now drive-ins and small theatres alike are in a holding pattern, waiting on an industry slowing squeezing out film, wondering if they'll be next.

But the bulb in Mitchell still burns bright and movie studios are also mulling plans that could help small theatres like these make the switch. That's an idea the industry is waiting on, hoping for some new solutions to keep this old standby alive.

Logan also owns the theatres in Huron and Mitchell and the Dell Rapids Movie House. He has already switched those facilities to digital.

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