Capitol gains: Erwin theater makes updates

Brad Hicks • Jun 28, 2012 at 10:22 PM

ERWIN — As the Town of Erwin gears up for the revitalization of its downtown area, one of the town’s oldest businesses has recently completed some upgrades of its own.

Last week, Capitol Cinema switched out the 35 millimeter film projectors in both of the twin theater’s auditoriums in favor of state-of-the-art digital 3D projectors. With the conversion to the digital projectors came the addition of Real 3D in both cinemas. Capitol Cinema owner Jan Bradley Hendren said upgrades taking place at the theater are all about giving attendees the large multiplex moviegoing experience at a smaller, hometown theater.

“For a small movie house like Capitol CInema I & II to have this right now, it’s unbelievable,” Bradley said.

The implementation of the digital projectors mean that much of the theater experience is essentially controlled by computer, Bradley said. Movies to be shown the theater will no longer arrive in large reels of film, but instead a hard drive containing the movie is sent to theater. That hard drive is then plugged into the digital projector and, within 15 to 20 minutes, the movie is ready to be shown.

Bradley said the new system also makes aspects of the movie going experience automated. She said the start times of the featured films can be programmed, the trailers that precede the movies are added as attachments to the featured film in the projector’s computer system, and that the system even dims the house lights.

The new digital projectors also marks the return of the silver screen in a literal sense, Bradley said. Silver screens were utilized when movies were first shown in theaters in the early 1900s because they provided the light necessary for the old carbon arc projectors. With 3D, 40 percent of light is lost, Bradley said. Because of this, silver screens, which are once again being utilized by theaters as 3D films have increased in popularity, had to be installed at Capitol Cinema.

As the use of 35 millimeter film is being phased out by film distributors, Bradley said it was necessary for Capitol Cinema to evolve to remain open. She said the use of film on reels will be nearly nonexistent by 2013.

“It was either make the investment or at the end of this year we were gone,” Bradley said. “There were no other options to that.”

But the new projection system was only part of nearly $250,000 worth of upgrades taking place at Capitol Cinema. Bradley said new custom seating has been ordered for the theater and should arrive in about 90 days. Capitol Cinema typically temporarily closes to coincide with the annual Unicoi County Apple Festival, and Bradley said the new seating may be installed at that time.

Bradley said there are also plans to install of satellite dish on the theater’s roof, which would allow it to host pay-per-view events, such as wrestling and boxing, and much of that content would be viewable in 3D. The new system would also allow for large video gaming events, Bradley said.

“It just opens up a lot more opportunities rather than movies,” Bradley said.

This is not the theater’s first go-round with significant changes. Bradley said the entrance was changed and ticket booth moved inside in 1982 when the theater moved to a twin multiplex from a single screen cinema. Renovations also took place in 2005 which included redoing the theater’s marquee and lobby area. Bradley said the latest upgrades are more about enhancing the comfort and enjoyment for moviegoers rather than focusing on the theater’s aesthetics.

“This actual investment in those things was double what we put into it in 2005 when we pretty much gutted it,” Bradley said.

With the reemergence of 3D and the high-quality look of movies shown on digital projectors, Bradley said she feels that theaters can once again offer entertainment seekers an outlet that can complete with high definition television.

“Now the movie is finally offering the television offerings, and people have realized they do want to get out of their house,” Bradley said. “My dad always said when the economy get tough, the movie business get better because it’s the one place you can get away. You’re not going to see the news, you’re not going to hear about all the bad events going on, and you can truly immerse yourself in that two hours of entertainment without any distractions whatsoever.”

Capitol Cinema is now in its third generation of ownership and is being primed for its fourth. Bradley’s grandfather Earle Hendren opened the Capitol Cinema in Erwin in September 1940. Her father, Joe Hendren, would later assume ownership until Bradley and her sister, Luann Hendren, became the owners. In May, Bradley bought out her sister’s interest in the theater. And Bradley’s two children, Alexa and Trey Parsley, currently work at the theater and will one day take ownership, Bradley said.

“This is probably the oldest single-family owned business in Erwin,” Bradley said.

Bradley said the aim of Capitol Cinema has always been to provide Unicoi County residents entertainment at an affordable cost. She said the upgrades at the theater will allow it to be able to continue to do so, adding that providing residents and visitors with something to do downtown is important to the area’s revitalization.

“We’re trying to make it so that it’s affordable entertainment for the family to be able to see this incredible technology,” Bradley said. “People come out and they are amazed. The patrons are amazed. They just can’t believe that is a movie instead of television.”

Even Bradley, who has been around the theater most of her life, admits she is impressed.

“I could watch it every day, and each time you see something that you didn’t really see before,” Bradley said. “It’s just wonderful.”

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