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Massive Fundraising Effort Under Way for Hollywood Theater

Hollywood Theater must raise $75,000 for a digital movie projector, or face going dark—possibly for good.

Letting Hollywood Theater’s screen go dark once again isn’t something theater manager Chad Hunter is willing to allow.

Unfortunately, that fate is again becoming a real possibility for the Dormont landmark—the only single-screen, independent movie theater in the South Hills—if the theater can’t raise the necessary $75,000 to buy a digital movie projector.

“Increasingly, it’s cheaper for studios to produce movies digitally and distribute them that way,” Hunter said. “The writing is on the wall for it … Small theaters are not part of the studios’ financial formula and we’re falling through the cracks.”

Hollywood Theater frequently shows movies on 35mm film, a format that used to require 2,000-foot film reels to be shipped and delivered to theaters.

When that format is unavailable, theaters can purchase the rights to show the movie on DVD or BlueRay, and for several other titles.

But in July, the Hollywood Theater staff and board members learned that Fox Studios, which owns the rights to “Rocky Horror” and numerous other titles, would only make movies available to theaters in digital format.

“We’ve had this issue with first-run movies for awhile, but it didn’t hit us as much because we’re mainly a second-run theater,” Hunter said. “First it was Fox, but we’re expecting the rest of the studios to follow throughout the year. We don’t know exactly when that will happen, but it’s coming.”

The Hollywood’s goal is to raise $75,000, which would pay for a new, CDI-compliant digital projector, a continual maintenance plan for the projector, and upgrades to the electrical and sound systems to support the new equipment.

Hunter said so far, the Hollywood has raised $10,000. He highlighted the Go Digital or Go Dark campaign in a recent blog entry.

Click here to contribute to the campaign and see campaign information on the Indiegogo website. Information also is available on The Hollywood Theater of Dormont Facebook page, or The Hollywood Theater website.

It’s an intimidating undertaking, especially since the non-profit Friends of Hollywood Theater already is fundraising for the theater's daily operating costs.

The Hollywood also does not have a full-time staff. At 30 hours a week, Hunter and operations manager Ben Prisbylla are considered part-time, and so are two assistants who help with events. Volunteers handle the rest.

Hunter is working with the Friends of Hollywood Theater to research possible grants or corporate sponsorships that could support the theater as well.

Friends of Hollywood Theater President Scott Jackson said it’s a group effort to save the theater, which he considers an anchor of Dormont’s business district for the amount of foot traffic the theater brings to local businesses.

“We’re doing a lot of community outreach. We’re partnering with local businesses for fundraisers and events. All of these events, all of that outreach, it all goes away without the theater,” Jackson said. “I don’t really see anyone else coming in and trying to do this. I think if this doesn’t work out, this is the last gasp for Hollywood Theater.”

In addition to supporting other local businesses through partnerships and advertising inside the theater, the Hollywood has also brought large-scale notoriety to Dormont.

Most notably, key scenes of Stephen Chbosky’s 2012 film “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” starring Emma Watson, were shot at the theater in 2011. Unfortunately, as a first-run film available only in digital format, the Hollywood has not yet been able to show the film.

The theater also hosted the Pittsburgh premiere of “Christmas in Compton” in November, which was a fundraiser for the American Red Cross. In December, “The Last Unicorn” writer/animator Peter Beagle held a three-day event, with proceeds benefitting the theater.

Hunter said he finds the whole situation a bit ironic, considering that his background is in film preservation, and he’s trying to move the theater into the digital age. He said he hopes 35mm film always can be shown at the Hollywood, but he knows the theater won’t be able to survive on it for long.

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the industry is going,” he said. “If the theater wants to stay open, this is what needs to happen.”

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Robert January 10, 2013 at 01:16 PM
OMG is that still there? I always thought it would make a great bowling alley.
Erin Faulk January 10, 2013 at 01:30 PM
Funny you should mention that, because Dormont Lanes recently closed, too.
James Hughes January 10, 2013 at 01:36 PM
I hope Robert was joking. It is hard to tell, because it wasn't funny. I really hope that the money can be found to upgrade the equipment, and soon. The Hollywood is a local asset, and it is also the only reason I've been to Potomac in the evening or weekend since I was 20. Scott and Chad...keep fighting the good fight!
Erin Faulk January 10, 2013 at 01:39 PM
Thanks, James. This theater is so important to the community, it would be a terrible thing if it were to close because an equipment upgrade was hard to come by. Here's hoping for the best.
John Spoon January 10, 2013 at 02:17 PM
Wait, when did Dormont Lanes close? I thought I heard pins falling there over the holiday. Maybe it was a ghost.
Erin Faulk January 10, 2013 at 02:23 PM
A few readers emailed me just before Christmas and told me it was closed, then I got a note this week from a reader who tried to schedule a party there—when she called, apparently she got a voice mail that said the lanes were closed. I haven't had a chance to look into this closely yet. Has anyone been there recently?
Chad Hunter January 10, 2013 at 04:08 PM
Our historical sources tell us that we were first Murray's Bowling and Billiards, then it became The Hollywood Bowling Alley, then finally the Hollywood Theater. We can still find traces of the old bowling alley electrical switches deep in the bowels of our basement.
Glenda Cockrum January 10, 2013 at 04:09 PM
I hope they have better luck than we are at the Ambridge Family Theatre (www.ambridgefamilytheatre.com) ; we are also "going dark" unless we get the funds for an upgrade! It is a hard time for "mom and pop" businesses everywhere, but small hometown theaters are "stuck between a rock and a hard place" because we can't get product (35m m films) due to the industry basically forcing us out. OUr theaters are a labor of love, not money makers by any tretch of the imagination!
Chad Hunter January 10, 2013 at 04:14 PM
Glenda, I would love to speak with you about our similar struggles. Could you e-mail me at info@thehollwyooddormont.org? Thanks!
Joyce January 12, 2013 at 07:16 PM
you need to get on one of these celebrities causes or something. What about those guys who are always on the films talking about the restoration and preservation? I know they are trying to get donations for that, but if the films are restored and people want to see them, they need a place to show them. The Hollywood is perfect for that!

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