Theater owners face real-life drama as 3-D roll-out coincides with economic crisis

By Kay Nolan,  April 20, 2010

Kay Nolan is a contributing writer for This article ran in the April 20, 2010 issue.

Perhaps someone will one day make a movie about it: How theater owners, from mom-and-pop operations to big cinema chains, were caught up in an exciting, yet hair-raising adventure when groundbreaking technology swept their industry during the worst recession in decades. In Wisconsin, theater owners say digital film and the 3-D phenomenon has them scrambling to install new equipment — investing hundreds of thousands of dollars – in hopes of a happy ending.

Those in the throes say the transformation has not been without drama. Movie theater owners have been campaigning for big Hollywood film studios – for whom digital technology slashes costs — to help theaters pay for expensive upgrades. In the meantime, theaters have run up against financing roadblocks, waiting lists to purchase 3-D projectors and screens, and royalties demanded by manufacturers that lease the equipment. With competing studios rushing to release 3-D films faster than cinemas can install screens, theaters are forced to forgo some titles or end a film’s run sooner than they’d like.