On April 11, Raymond Theatre’s old 35mm projection system went out, and in came a new “d-cinema” format. Specifically, the old Simplex E-7 projection system – one that predates the latest version, which was put out in 1951 – was removed and replaced with a NEC Model NC1200C digital system.
It enables the theater to continue operating as a movie theater. That’s because after this year, movie distributors will release no more 35mm prints. Instead of reels, movies will be delivered on a hard drive with a “key” sent separately to unlock the encrypted content for the agreed upon time.
Miles McRae of McRae Theater Equipment, Seattle, accomplished conversion over a two-day period. McRae said it was the 50th or 60th such conversion he has done in old theaters over the past four years. Moviemakers are moving entirely to “d-cinema” format, meaning that theaters that want to provide the latest and greatest in movies must have digital equipment to do it.
Before the digital system could be used at the Raymond Theatre, old equipment had to be removed, including the original projector pedestal s that were installed when the building was new in the 1920s.
“Whoever installed the original equipment was probably very enthusiastic,” McRae noted. He pointed to orange diamonds painted on the dark green concrete floor in the projection room. Ten-inch anchor bolts connected the pedestals to the concrete at the diamonds. McRae set aside the old equipment to make room for the NEC model, which takes far less space in the projection room.
While conversion to digital is vital for small, local theaters, it is also costly at $60,000 for the new equipment. McRae has converted many a theater in recent years, “from here to Montana to Alaska.”
Conversions take place in communities where the theater “is a loved and valued thing,” he said. He mentioned the Rose Theater in Port Townsend, the Blue Mouse in Tacoma, the Olympic in Arlington and the Lincoln in Mt. Vernon.
Raymond falls in line with all of the above, witnessed by a local fund drive over the past year that brought in the needed $60,000 through grants and private donations. In fact, Raymond is one of very few theaters in the state that received 100 percent contributions from the community, according to Anne Steele, theater manager.
Without local support, “you’d have to sell a lot of popcorn” to make it happen, McRae said.
The theater is popular locally for a number of reasons. It shows new films and old classics regularly, boasts a good (Dolby) sound system, and provides a venue for a variety of other events, from private birthday parties to stage productions by Raymond High School to professional performances by international entertainers. Sunday Afternoon Live brings in the majority of the major entertainers who, upon visiting the theater, often comment about the excellent acoustics in these old-time theaters.
Patron costs remain low at the Raymond Theatre. For movie runs, customers of all ages pay the same fee of $5 for 2 p.m. matinees and $6 for 7 p.m. evening performances. Popcorn begins at $2 for small, compared to three times that at regional movie houses.
McRae has been working with theater projection equipment since 1974, after coming to Seattle from Kansas City to visit an aunt and uncle. His uncle, a mechanical engineer with Boeing, had a side interest in Redmond’s Cinemond Theater. McRae’s first job, in those early years, was as an operator. He earned his keep during college years at Bellevue Community College and the University of Washington by working in theaters.
He later bought his uncle’s theater business, which has been keeping him busy the past several years. He also keeps a hand on projection equipment working as a silent movie operator at the Paramount in Seattle.
In Raymond, the first movie to hit the digital big screen was “The Host” through a special showing on April 11.
For up-to-date movie information at the Raymond Theatre, call for a recorded message at 942-4127.