(Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
(Staff photo by Ken Ritchie/kritchie@madisoncourier.com)
The owners of the Ohio Theatre reached their fundraising goal earlier this month to help secure financing for digital equipment - but that's just the first step in the theater's conversion process.

Laura and Tony Ratcliff secured $25,500 in July after a nearly two-year "Save the Ohio" digital conversion fundraising campaign. Now work begins to find financing for the rest of the $85,000 needed to make the transition from the film projector currently used to a digital projection system.

"We're very, very happy we've reached this point," Tony Ratcliff said.

Still, the initial $25,000 fundraising goal was just the first in many steps of the conversion process.

"Now we start the next phase," he said.

They've already worked to expand the projection booth where the film projector and the digital projection equipment will be housed, and the Ratcliffs know which company they hope to work with to purchase the equipment.

The Ratcliffs also have begun to send out applications for financing, but they know finding a loan for the equipment isn't going to be easy.

"It's not like buying a car," Tony Ratcliff said.

Instead, the Ratcliffs are attempting to get financing on very specialized equipment that is a depreciable asset. The film projector currently used in the theater has been used since the late 1930s, but the new digital equipment has a much shorter lifespan.

The Ratcliffs don't know how long it might take to secure the financing, but at least they aren't facing a definite deadline for the end of 35mm film like they were two years ago.

The Main Street movie theater's owners first began the campaign in August 2012 after movie companies announced plans to end the production of 35mm film by the first quarter of 2013. That deadline was extended - then done away with - but the movie industry still pushes for the digital conversion.

"None of them wanted to be the bad guy" and totally do away with film, Laura Ratcliff said.

Instead, the movie industry just cut back on the use of the 35mm film.

Most of the movies released by major movie companies are on removable hard drives now, but a few major blockbusters can still be found on the 35mm film.

The local theater owners have already felt the impacts of being one of the few remaining film projection theaters.

Other limited-release and independent movies aren't available to the Ohio Theatre anymore.

"That stuff they're not even releasing on film," Tony Ratcliff said.

"I see notices for smaller theaters closing every week," Tony Ratcliff said.