Film projector goes digital

Roberto Campos

As the lights dim, everyone settles into their seats with popcorn and drinks in hand, waiting for the movie to begin. It’s an experience that’s familiar to many people, and one that’s started to change as more and more movie theaters gravitate towards presenting movies in a digital format.

Over winter break, USI opted to install a digital film projector in Forum 1 to replace its 35 mm film projector that was used to show a variety of movies on campus.

“It’s kind of unusual for the university to be right in line with an industry rather than catching up, so it’s very exciting,” said Eric Braysmith, an instructor of English at USI. “What’s interesting is that by the time that we started working towards purchasing the projector and installing it, that is the time that the movie industry tipped towards changing to digital.”

Braysmith teaches an Introduction to Film class on campus in Forum 1, and for the first time, he has started to show movies in a newer format than the previous movie industry standard of 35 mm film. It’s a standard that had been around for more than 100 years.

“For years the movie industry has talked about making this change from a film to digital format and finally, in the last six months, they’ve forced the issue and done it,” Braysmith said. “Once the industry makes this decision to jump formats we have to follow suit, or we won’t have any films to play because the theatrical films will all be digital and not 35 mm.”

The digital projector, which cost around $70,000, is something that’s “cost effective” in Braysmith’s opinion. As USI strives to become a 24/7 campus, showing movies was viewed as another opportunity to offer students more engaging experiences on campus.

“This is something that’s expensive in the beginning, but the ability to play a lot more films more often, and the number of students you can serve with hours of activities, makes an expensive projector not so expensive when you prorate it like that,” Braysmith said.

The timing for a digital projector couldn’t be better, Braysmith said, because the movie industry keeps moving forward and the university wants more activities for students.

“Everybody wins in this situation,” Braysmith said. “For me, it’s a great teaching tool. For (Activities Programming Board), it’s exactly what they need. And for the students, they get to sit down and watch movies the way they’re supposed to be seen – uninterrupted, start to finish – and they get to do that for free.”

APB played a key part in helping to find funding to purchase the projector. APB hosts a free weekly event called Cinema USI in Forum 1 and uses the new digital projector to showcase popular movies that students can enjoy.

“APB has had a film program for awhile, but it’s just been so-so,” said Kathy Jones, USI’s program adviser for student activities. “We would just show movies very inconsistently and we would just get any movie we could to show. We’ve really grown since those days. We show movies on a consistent weekly basis and try to make them movies students want to see.”

An advantage to having a digital projector at USI is that APB and Braysmith can now show movies that are currently playing in movie theaters. Movies that APB has lined up for its Cinema USI events this semester include “The Hobbit,” “Skyfall” and “Django Unchained.”

“One thing we do more of now is we pay attention to what movies are doing well in theaters,” Jones said. “If a movie does well, we will try and bring it here and advertise it early so students can see the movie for free rather than spend money at the movie theaters.”

APB has experienced success from this strategy. The first Cinema USI event this semester showcased the movie “Pitch Perfect” and filled almost every seat in Forum 1.

“When I heard about what movies Cinema USI would be showing, I was really excited,” said Briana Maddox, sophomore theatre arts major. “Some of the movies I haven’t seen in theaters, and I’m waiting to see here at USI because they’re free and it’s just like going to the movies.”

USI Cinema hosts its free showings at 9 p.m. on Thursdays and at 6 and 9 p.m. on Saturdays in Forum 1.

This week’s movie is “Wreck-It Ralph.”