By Garrett Estrada
Ely Times Staff Writer
Movies at the Ely Central Theater are about to become brighter, sharper and sound clearer. A new projection screen, digital projector and sound system will all be installed by April 18 as part of a 20 year vision by new owners Don Purington and Chris Lani to turn the theater into Ely’s entertainment hub.
“It’s bringing this place into the twenty-first century,” Lanni said. “It’s going to be an amazing leap in our ability to present films.
For those that still prefer the classic look of 35mm film, Purington said not to worry. The current film projector will still remain active and the theater will still have the ability to screen movies sent in large round canister instead of hard drives, but with movie studios increasingly phasing out the dated technology, those movies could become more and more sparse. At least ticket prices will remain the same.
The switch from 35mm film to digital will result in an estimated “10 fold increase in resolution” as well as a “four to five times brighter” picture when combined with the new screen when it debuts with the blockbuster superhero movie Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
According to Purington, the switch will also make it much easier to present multiple films a day, even varying which are shown for what time period. An example he gave had the Central Theater possibly showing matinee screenings of a family friendly animated film such as Mr. Peabody & Sherman, while later at night showing an “R” rated film such as the violent action film 300: Rise of an Empire.
Multiple screenings of the same movie have been possible in the past with 35mm film, but process of preparing the film reel twice in one day was so labor intensive and time consuming, it often wasn’t worth the work according to Lani. Conversely, the conversion to digital opens up a wealth of new possibilities for the theater and the use of its large screen and seating area, something the new owners have given quite a bit of thought to.
“I think the community will be pleasantly surprised by the variety,” Lani said.
The variety Lani refers to includes the possibility to live entertainment such as concerts and stand-up comedy. The new owners point to how Ely could be positioned as a rest point between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City for traveling entertainers.
“We actually almost landed Willie Nelson last year,” Lani said, adding that he plans on bringing aboard a new booking agent who has experience in “dealing with single screen theaters like us” and booking live entertainment.
While that could take some time to develop, Purington and Lani have many more ideas about how the unique space could be used for more community driven events. Everything from watching live sporting events to hosting school plays, political events, birthday parties and even video game tournaments have all been discussed as being possible in the near future.
“It’s just a matter of adding more opportunities for things to do in the community,” Purington said.
“It’s important that we provide something for the youth other than movies to participate into,” Lani added.
Another avenue that the duo are exploring are expanding the concessions area to serve more than just movie theater staples like popcorn and candy. Hotdogs, pizza, maybe even beer or wine could all become menu items for movies or special events if the two could secure a liquor license somewhere down the road.
Another major project is the look of the theater itself. Purington said that he doesn’t want all the updates and additions to take away from the building’s historical aspect. Part of his 20 year plan for renovating the theater would include restoring the neon lighting above the marquee as well as green initiatives like converting the building’s heating to biodiesel.
For as many plans and ideas as they have, Purington and Lani both know they have a lot of work to do, but they are joined by a commitment to the business and a passion for driving the Ely Central Theater forward.
“There is a revival of wanting to go out to a public space. This theater can do a lot of things that no other space in this community can do. It is a completely unique place. By stepping into an ownership role, we can take control of the creative vision of this place. Even with its limited model right now it has been successful. So if we can add to that and not overextend ourselves, it could be tremendous,” Lani said.