Hollywood’s switch to digital imperils Academy Theater

By Kristin Schuchman

“We very much wanted to honor the history and unique style of this building by creating a 1940s feel, but we also wanted the color palette to appeal to modern tastes. 

Ultimately, we decided to create an interior reminiscent of a vintage Technicolor movie – the colors are just a little brighter, a little sharper and a little more shimmery than the authentic 1940s palette was – reminiscent of films like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘The Red Shoes.’ 

Our hope is that when people enter the lobby, they won’t just feel like they have stepped back in time, they will feel like they’ve actually stepped back into a gloriously colorful 1940s movie.”


These words were spoken by Stephanie Brown, interior designer of Local Color, who in 2006 helped the owners of Academy Theater, Heyward and Julie Stewart, return the building to its former glory as a neighborhood movie theater.

The theater, originally opened in 1948, had been closed since the 1970s after a period of disrepair and neglect, but seven years ago it was lovingly resuscitated, offering second-run movies complete with Dolby sound, Flying Pie Pizza, a wide selection of wine and craft beers and even babysitting services.

Now the small cinema is hinged on a precipice, much like the matinees likely played in its 1940s heyday, and loyal Academy Theater fans wait to see how its drama will resolve itself.

If Academy is not able to raise $125,000 by the end of the year to purchase digital projection equipment, they may be forced to close their doors early next year.

Since all major movie studios are converting from film to digital in the coming year, forcing all theaters to purchase digital equipment to accommodate the digital format, nearly 1000 independently-owned theaters will close nationwide.

Academy Theater is planning a fundraising campaign through either Kickstarter.com or Indiegogo.com to purchase the required equipment. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are popular crowdfunding websites that finance projects likely to attract donations from a large number of people.

Investments can range from a few to tens of thousands of dollars and have turned hundreds of ideas into reality.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo share the same goal in helping convert dreams into real life through user-friendly websites and social media campaigns, but differ in that Kickstarter employs an “all-or-nothing” strategy, only awarding funds to a project if the entire monetary goal is reached while Indiegogo offers the project whatever money is raised whether the campaign reaches its goal or not.

At this point, Academy Theater owners Heyward Stewart and his wife Julie Stewart aren’t sure which platform they’ll use, but are convinced that they will employ one or the other.

Their campaign begins this summer and strives to reach half of the funds needed to purchase the digital projection equipment they’ll need.

Last year, the Hollywood Theater in NE raised more than $70,000 from 1,102 backers to fund a re-design of their historic marquis, garnering an appearance from Portlandia stars Fred Armison and Carrie Brownstein in their campaign’s promo film.

A handful of other theaters throughout the country have launched campaigns, many of which have been successful.

When asked his preference between film and digital formats, Stewart leans towards film. “A lot of efficiencies will be realized with digital,” he says.

“The studios will send us a hard disk, and we’ll plug it in” in contrast to a film reel spanning 14” in diameter and weighing as much as 50 pounds which is costly to ship.

Shooting and editing digital movies is far less expensive, and film degrades over time.

Stewart says that “film-heads” however, appreciate the warm glow of film and the analog sound that they argue is a closer approximation of reality.

Another downside is that once the conversion to digital is complete, classic movies on film will be much harder for theaters to acquire.

“I like the click-clack that film makes,” he adds. “I can hear it in my office every day. You’d think it would drive me nuts, but I love it.”

The public affection the Academy Theater has built since re-opening in 2006 bodes well for its chance of raising enough money from supporters. Many credit it (and Bipartisan Café) as catalysts for resurrecting the Montavilla business district.

Its loss will definitely deal a blow to the vitality of the district itself.


To find out about Academy Theater’s crowdfunding campaign, sign up for their newsletter by visiting www.academytheaterpdx.com or phone 503. 252.0500.

You’ll get updates about the campaign as it launches and a free bag of popcorn for subscribing.






Hollywood’s switch to digital imperils Academy Theater

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