Kiggins Theatre seeks online crowdfunding for a digital upgrade

Owner Dan Wyatt says the historic theater must convert or stop showing movies

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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On the Web

Click “Kigstarter Campaign” in the “The Present” menu at kigginstheatre.net

It's just a novelty. It's never going to last. Or will it?

That question has dogged every movie-technology upgrade since silents became talkies and black-and-white went Technicolor. And that's the question dogging a timeless movie-going couple in a frankly hilarious Kickstarter video -- a so-called "Kigstarter" video -- posted by downtown Vancouver's historic Kiggins movie theater.

The Kiggins is looking for an $85,000 kick from Kickstarter — which means you — by Monday if it is to join the 21st century and upgrade its movie-showing equipment from celluloid film to digital.

It's not an elective decision, according to Kiggins owner Dan Wyatt. Wyatt said the Kiggins must "go digital or go dark" because the movie industry has decided to stop making and distributing 35 mm prints.

In other words, old-fashioned film is a novelty. It's not going to last. No more deliveries of extra-large-pizza-sized canisters containing film that gets threaded through enormous reel-to-reel projectors. Sometime this year, Wyatt said, the entire industry will drop that classic format and instead start plugging sealed hard drives into state-of-the-art digital readers.

The upgrade is meant to save the industry money and curtail piracy, Wyatt said.

"It'll all be encrypted," he said.

But it's sure not saving independent movie houses like Kiggins any money. Wyatt said he's facing a bill of approximately $85,000. Otherwise, the whole movie-showing future of the Kiggins is in question. Wyatt said he's been trying to keep his fundraising campaign positive — the clever Kigstarter video really is a hoot — but the bottom line is not so happy.

"If we don't convert, we don't get movies," he said. "That's not by choice."

To accomplish the equipment upgrade, Kiggins is looking to this community for help. Wyatt wishes he didn't have to resort to a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, but the bottom line is that the Kiggins' movie-showing revenues can't handle that big onetime bill.

"We've had a lot of expenses going into the business and rebranding it," said Wyatt, who bought the Kiggins last year and has transformed it from a purveyor of third-run mainstream fare to a creative art-house cinema that punches up its showings with everything from singalongs and costume contests to trivia nights and other special events.

Even so, Wyatt said, the community has not showed up the way he wished it would.

"We were hoping for more of a revenue turnaround, but we haven't really seen that revenue," said Wyatt.

That's why he turned to Kickstarter, which has helped some other "beloved community theaters" make this expensive transition, he said.

"I put this off as long as I could. This is the right time to not put it off anymore," Wyatt said.

To help out, visit the Kiggins' site, kigginstheatre.net, or go directly to the Kickstarter site at http://kickstarter.com/projects/1115015686/help-support-the-kiggins-theatre-to-go-digital.

As of Monday evening, the Kickstarter campaign was more than halfway to its goal, with 443 backers pledging more than $59,000. A couple of those pledges have been in the $10,000 range, Wyatt said.

"We've gotten a couple of really big donations and we've gotten another potential one or two," Wyatt said. He said he plans to spend this week spreading the word to his downtown business neighbors that they can earn a year's worth of pre-show onscreen advertising by pledging $1,200.

If you want to pledge a little less, you can name a Kiggins seat for $500. If you want to pledge a lot less — from $150 down to $15 — various packages of movie tickets, popcorn and candy, T-shirts and more are available.

But if you want to pledge a whole lot more — $10,000 or upwards — you can buy naming rights for the box office or even the whole auditorium for a five-year term.

"We're within $30,000 of our goal," said Wyatt on Monday morning. "This is something we need to do to continue to be a movie house."