The soothing clickety-clack of a film projector unspooling Hollywood’s latest offering is becoming a thing of the past. In Sedalia, it’s already in the history books.
Galaxy 10, on West Highway 50, moved fully into the digital realm earlier this year. June 14 marked the last day that owner/manager Seth Wagenknecht and his staff had to lug around giant film canisters, splice together reels of film and spool them through projectors.
It was also the last time local theater-goers could spot those two dots in the corner of the screen every 22 minutes, indicating a splice. And it was the last time they could see grain in the image.
“It’s a cleaner, brighter picture,” Wagenknecht’s sister, Janie Dunn-Rankin, said on Wednesday as the theater swarmed with fans of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “Django Unchained,” “This Is 40” and other holiday blockbusters.
As Wagenknecht undergoes cancer treatment, Dunn-Rankin is visiting from Florida to help with the family business, which dates back to 1927 in Sedalia.
“The film industry made the decision for us,” she said of the digital conversion, which comes with a price tag of $60,000 to $80,000 per projector. “It’s less expensive for them to produce a digital hard drive instead of miles and miles of film. At 24 frames per second, some of these movies ran seven reels that you had to splice and put together. And now you have one hard drive that you download into a central library system.”
About 80 percent of American movie theaters have made the digital switch, and most of the remaining 20 percent will soon convert or be forced to close. The website Indiewire estimates that 1,000 small theaters will go out of business because they can’t afford the expensive conversion.
Galaxy 10 has been on the cutting edge since it opened as a six-plex in 1998. Wagenknecht outfitted the theaters with top-of-the-line Kinoton projectors, and they were still working smoothly up until the end, along with the Dolby Digital sound system that remains in place. Although the Kinotons are now worth their weight in metal and nothing more, Wagenknecht kept four of them around in case he needs to screen an old-fashioned film in the future.
Wagenknecht purchased Galaxy 10’s first two Barco DP 3000 projectors — each priced at more than $100,000 — in December 2009 for the release of “Avatar,” and the other eight were added in June. Three theaters at Galaxy 10 can show 3D movies as well as 2D. And the digital system is capable of screening the new high-frame-rate movies; however, “The Hobbit” was made available to Galaxy 10 only in the traditional 24 fps format — only 400 screens received the 48 fps version.
Dunn-Rankin said the old film-projector system was much more labor-intensive. When glitches come up in the brave new digital world, it’s often just a matter of rebooting the computer.
“We actually download (the movie) into an LMS — a library management system,” she said. “It’s basically like putting a disc in a computer and downloading something.”
Her family has seen just about every era of American cinema. Wagenknecht’s and Dunn-Rankin’s grandfather, Joseph T. Ghosen, opened the Star on Second Street in 1927, followed in 1936 by the Uptown Theatre on Ohio Avenue. (The Uptown still stands, although it is currently vacant and owned by the city.)
Their parents, Margie (Ghosen) and John Wagenknecht — still popular fixtures around the lobby of Galaxy 10 — owned and operated the State Fair Cinemas four-plex, and Seth took the reins in 1989. He then designed and constructed Galaxy 6 on the site of a former drive-in theater in 1998 and added four more screens in 2005.
While the nuts and bolts of screening a motion picture have changed, the moviegoing experience is essentially the same, Dunn-Rankin said. And that’s why her family keeps making the upgrades.
“I think movies will be around a long time,” she said. Even with home theaters becoming more popular and affordable, “people still love to go to a destination, they like to be with other people, and there’s nothing like that popcorn you can get at the theater. There’s still a special niche in being part of a big-screen experience.”