The Clint Eastwood sports drama “Trouble with the Curve” is the latest film showing nightly at Eatonville’s Roxy Theatre. But a drama of a different kind is unfolding behind the scenes at the historic Mashell Avenue movie house.
Hollywood is moving away from 35mm film – the kind the Roxy is equipped to show. And the theater’s owners say they don’t have the roughly $70,000 needed for digital equipment.
Without help covering the cost, they’ll likely have to dim the lights for good, said Mike Wood, who owns the theater with partners Dean Waddle and Ken Kerr. Wood said it’s possible digital will be the only format available by the first quarter of next year.
The Roxy isn’t the only small, independent theater facing an uncertain future over the looming switch. One frequently cited industry prediction has some 10,000 screens potentially going dark as a result.
Digital is cheaper for movie studios. But the changeover “is a huge ordeal for small theaters because it’s incredibly expensive,” said Rocky Friedman, who owns the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend.
Friedman turned to his community for help early this year and raised more than enough convert his two-screen theater, he said.
Some Eatonville residents are hoping to see the same outpouring for the Roxy. A committee has formed with the goal of raising the needed funds.
The single-screen theater is part of the small town’s history, said Karen Woodcock, who’s leading the committee.
“People say, ‘My parents went to this movie theater, my grandparents went,’” she said. “You realize it’s been a part of your town for so long, but you don’t (always think about) the history – the generations that have gone through.”
The Roxy opened in 1942 and operated for decades before closing in the late 1970s. It briefly reopened a few years later but largely was closed until the 1990s when Wood, Waddle and Kerr came along.
The partners renovated the theater and reopened its doors about 16 years ago. Films have played there nearly every day since, from Harry Potter to Eastwood.
In recent years, though, the theater hasn’t been as busy as it once was. Wood said the Roxy needs about 140 customers a week to break even, but “I don’t think we’ve done that since the first week of Batman.” (That would be Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” which opened in July.)
The poor economy has eaten into disposable incomes. And the ways people watch movies are changing.
“The business is not what it was when I first got into it 20 years ago,” Friedman said. “Netflix didn’t exist 20 years ago. People are watching movies in the palm of their hand.”
He still sees a place for theaters like his and like the Roxy. They can be cultural and social hubs, he said.
“As much as the business has changed, people still love going to movies, they love that communal experience,” he said. “I think it’s extremely important.”
Wood said the Roxy is a gathering place for local kids, a spot for them to go and have fun – and that’s part of its value.
It’s part of the heritage, too.
Tom Smallwood, an Eatonville native and former mayor, remembers heading to the theater as a kid on Sundays with his pals.
“It didn’t matter what was playing. It was just the thing to do,” he said.
Now, his grandkids go to the theater when they’re in town, he said.
“I think we’ve got to do everything we can to save it,” he said. “It’s been there forever.”An account has been established at First Citizens Bank to help the Roxy Theatre in Eatonville convert to digital. Donations can be made at any branch. Sara Schilling: 253-552-7058 sara.schilling@ thenewstribune.com @TNTschilling blog.thenewstribune.com/street