Comments from Mike (saps)

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Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Onarga Theater on Jul 25, 2012 at 11:12 am

Article from News-Gazette (IL) 7/22/12

Onarga Theater owner Randy Lizzio needs $65,000 to buy a digital projection system to keep his movie house going. But he wouldn’t think of asking a bank for a loan.

After all, the Onarga Theater, which shows first-run movies, barely breaks even.

So like the owner of the Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In Movie Theatre in Gibson City, Lizzio has turned to raising money for a digital fund.

So far, he has brought in $7,700, with about $2,500 of that coming from a taco dinner and a silent auction of donated and new items at the community center in Onarga.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We’re hoping in the process prices will come down a little bit, and hopefully, we’ll be able to meet our goal,” Lizzio said.

Mike Harroun, owner of the Harvest Moon, needs to raise even more, roughly $165,000, for digital projection systems for his two screens as the film industry moves permanently from film to all-digital releases.

So far, his digital fund is about $7,000 — and nearly $80 of that came from three Bloomington girls who gave Harvest Moon the profits from the lemonade stands they put up twice in their town.

“They wanted to keep the drive-in there because they really love coming there,” Harroun said.

Sanford Hess, operator of the Art Theater in Champaign, which turns a profit, but not a big one, knew he couldn’t afford an $80,000 digital projection system. (The costs of the systems vary according to the size of the theater, distance from the screen to projection booth and other factors.)

So last year, he recommended that a community cooperative form and take over the Art. An interim board of directors was established and set a goal of raising $100,000.

The elected co-op board recently reported that it has unofficially reached its goal — unofficial because shares ($68 each) purchased since July 4 have not yet been counted. The board is now taking applicants for a manager and expects to take over the theater in mid-August, four months earlier than expected.

The Art is among a few smaller indie theaters that apparently have survived the digital tsunami. Others haven’t been so lucky.

“It’s like a train that’s been rolling down the tracks for six years,” Hess said. “Everybody saw it coming, and finally it’s here. A lot of theaters will close. It’s unfortunate.”

Indeed, the National Association of Theatre Owners predicts that 20 percent of North American theaters, representing some 10,000 screens, will not convert to digital and will likely disappear from the American landscape.

Already, two area movie houses have shut down: the double-screen Gem in Villa Grove last year and Hoopeston’s Lorraine Theatre in April. Both buildings are for sale.

Soon after the closing of the Lorraine — an art-deco house built in the 1920s for stage events and movies — a Hoopeston resident named Scooter (his legal name) established the Friends of the Historic Lorraine Theatre Facebook page, mainly to gather ideas from the “Cornjerker Nation” on how to preserve it.

‘Unacceptable loss’

Why does saving small-town and indie movie houses matter? Michael Hurley, an owner of two independent theaters in Maine that have already undergone digital conversion, gave an answer to that in a commentary he wrote for Indiewire, published in February:

“I think of the millions of dreams and careers that have taken flight in a movie theater. I know that the economic development power of movie theaters has been profound. People want to live where there are theaters. For the same reasons that every successful city center, mall and downtown works to attract and keep a movie theater, small towns all over the world stand to lose a foundation that has kept them connected to the world. I believe the loss is unacceptable.”

And contrary to what some believe, the U.S. government, unlike some other countries, does not offer grants to help movie houses with digital conversion. Historic theaters in the United States don’t even qualify for tax credits for purchasing digital projection equipment, Hurley wrote.

Hess said people on both coasts are making the decisions that hurt small-town movie houses and drive-ins, mainly by arranging digital-projection system financing agreements that are available to only certain types of theaters.

The Art, Onarga and Harvest Moon do not qualify.

Via the agreements, Hess said, a third party basically buys the digital equipment on behalf of the theater. The third party is paid back by the movie studios over a period of time. The agreements don’t always finance all the costs of digital conversion and carry restrictions and requirements.

So Harroun, Lizzio and Hess have been forced to be creative to try to continue to provide services they feel are important to their communities.

Harroun, for example, believes there is nothing more American than going to a drive-in movie. So far, though, only six of the nearly 400 drive-ins nationwide have been able to convert to digital, he said.

“A lot of mom-and-pop ones — they’re going to close,” he said. “They can’t afford to convert; the money’s not there. I have a tremendous business and can’t afford it.”

Angels needed

While Hess tells people to go to Harvest Moon now because it might not be around much longer, Harroun believes he will raise the money for the digital conversion at the theater he has owned for 23 years.

“I’m positive I’ll keep the drive-in open. I just got to keep everybody on course,” said Harroun, who also owns Angel Services, an automotive repair and sales shop in Onarga, where he lives.

For its digital fund, the Harvest Moon so far has sold T-shirts, and purses and wallets made of film. Harroun also plans a family-friendly concert with various acts, including a headliner, on Sept. 8 at his drive-in 30 miles north of Champaign.

He’s selling $10 chances to win a 1967 Mustang he donated to the cause. The name of the winner will be drawn at the September event.

Like the Onarga and Art, Harvest Moon shows first-run movies seven nights a week. Admission is $6 a head with kids younger than 4 admitted free.

All three theaters also pride themselves on selling concessions at lower prices than the multiplexes; the Onarga Theater even sells fresh, homemade caramel corn.

Lizzio, who with his wife, Cheryl, bought the 215-seat Onarga four years ago, has been taking cues from the JEM Theatre in Harmony, Minn., when it comes to raising money for digital conversion.

The JEM turned to the community; it responded, donating more than $40,000 to the theater’s digital fund.

Lizzio points out that Harmony and Onarga are around the same size. Harmony has 1,020 residents; Onarga, 1,368.

“They’re like a success story; they were trying to raise the money, and they actually did it,” he said. “It’s very possible to do this because it’s been done by other places. Even in this economy.”

However, Lizzio realizes he and others in the same ship are running out of time. Though he’s upgraded his movie house, including the addition of digital-ready sound, he needs a digital projection system. Fox Movies has said it will not produce any 35mm films in 2013 and beyond; theater owners believe other movie studios are roughly on the same track.

So Lizzio, who also owns a sign shop in Onarga and recently started a promotional go-kart business, plans to step up fund-raising efforts in September. One will be the screening of the 1949 Gene Autry movie “Loaded Pistols.”

The single-screen Onarga Theater, which shows first-run movies seven days a week and charges $5 admission with kids 3 and younger admitted free, also sells T-shirts and on-screen advertising. All the profits from those sales go into the theater’s digital fund.

Lizzio said the majority of his fund-raising efforts will continue to be geared toward giving people something for their money, though the theater has received some no-strings-attached donations.

“I’m still positive,” he said. “I guess you have to go out, you can’t just sit back and wait and hope that people will donate. You have to be constantly out there to make more people aware of what you’re trying to do and educate them on what’s going on. A lot of people don’t know.”


Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Viewmont Mall Cinema on Jul 24, 2012 at 5:46 pm

There is the Great Escape IMAX 14 now open in Dickson City, which I’ve been to several times and really enjoy. Link

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Visual Arts Theatre on Jul 20, 2012 at 8:19 pm

I always thought this theater was a bit of a pain in the neck, and that BoxOffice article reminded me why — short lobby, steps down into lounge, entrance in the back, frosted white glass here and there — I never got its supposed charm.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Kenmore Theatre on Jul 20, 2012 at 6:52 pm

I always loved that style of letters on the this RKO theater. I first saw them when I was 10 while waiting outside a bank for my grandmother to complete her business. (Reflections in a Golden Eye was playing…I finally saw it years later, and oh, boy, would that have changed my life if I’d seen it at that tender age!!) It was love at first sight for those block letters. I think the Kenmore used them all the way to its closing, but I’m not sure.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Movieland on Jul 20, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Yes! I love those letters. I first saw them on the RKO Kenmore in Brooklyn when I was 10 while waiting outside a bank for my grandmother to complete her business. (Reflections in a Golden Eye was playing…I finally saw it years later, and oh, boy, would that have changed my life if I’d seen it at that tender age!!) It was love at first sight for those block letters. I think the Kenmore used them all the way to its closing, but I’m not sure.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Movieland on Jul 19, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Regarding the post of June 24, 2012, showing the old marquee and the new marquee, I never liked the new “modern silhouette letters” — they seem so bland and take the creativity out of showmanship.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Tiki Theatre on Jul 19, 2012 at 10:15 am

Fred Willard was arrested for lewd conduct last night in Hollywood when police allegedly caught him with his pants down in an adult movie theater … TMZ has learned.

According to law enforcement sources, LAPD undercover vice officers went into the Tiki Theater in Hollywood and found the 78-year-old “Anchorman” star watching last night’s feature … with his penis exposed and in his hand — aka, pulling a Pee-wee Herman.

We’re told Willard was arrested around 8:45PM and booked for lewd conduct.

It was a quick release — we’re told he was out of police custody a short while later.

As for which movie Fred was watching — there are 3 flicks in rotation at the theater … “Follow Me 2,” a XXX parody of “The Client List,” and “Step Dad No. 2.”

Willard is best known for his memorable roles in “Best in Show”, “For Your Consideration”, “American Wedding” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

According to IMDB, Fred is “rumored” to be in pre-production for a movie entitled … “The Yank.”

It’s a comedy.

See offsite link on

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Roxy Theatre on Jul 19, 2012 at 10:02 am

Tinseltoes, thanks for going through the effort of extracting the most interesting and pertinent articles.

But it’s a double-edged sword, since almost every article is interesting and I have spent many, many (wasted?) hours perusing the back issues that you have selected. So, thanks so much and thanks for nothing!

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Strand Theatre on Jul 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm

I never heard of that movie High Time, but it has a good pedigree — directed by Blake Edwards, written by Charles Brackett and based on a story by Garson Kanin. The premise that Bing goes back to college seems to have a lot of potential. And it did introduce that lovely standard The Second Time Around.

Mr. Crowther in the NY Times starts his review with his tongue-in-cheek: “It has been a long time since Bing Crosby was seen in a college comedy, sporting the customary beanie and crooning romantic melodies. But things haven’t changed much in the colleges favored by Bing in all those years, to judge by the one he is attending in his latest picture, "High Time.”

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Radio City Music Hall on Jul 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm

How long did that 70 x 32 foot screen last at the Music Hall?

What are the sizes of some current screens in New York, such as the Ziegfeld, Empire, Lincoln Square?

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about 55th Street Playhouse on Jul 9, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Someone is thinking with his little head instead of his big head.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Cinedome 7 Newark on Jul 3, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Mike, in New York and elsewhwere, the seating capacity of each auditorium is posted on a sign outside the screening room. Not exactly a closely-guarded secret.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Roxy Theatre on Jul 3, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Maybe they never played a B movie, but they sure played a lot of forgettable films.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Astor Theatre on Jun 30, 2012 at 7:54 am

That’s nearly five sold-out shows (at 1500 seats) per day for 21 weeks. I wonder…

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Radio City Music Hall on Jun 30, 2012 at 7:35 am

Did they come into Radio City in the middle of the show as they did at other movie theaters (“this is where we came in”) in the pre-Psycho days? It must have been mild chaos with all the comings and goings.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Embassy 1,2,3 Theatre on Jun 26, 2012 at 5:47 pm

And how many theatrical impressarios can dance on the head of a pin? Someone must know and I demand the answer!

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Rialto Theatre on Jun 21, 2012 at 5:30 pm

It seems as though “Champaign’s Finest Theater” is not just the name of the video posted above, but was actually a slogan the Rialto used in its advertising.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Paramount Theatre on Jun 21, 2012 at 6:37 am

“The show is fine at 9th and Pine!”

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Embassy 1,2,3 Theatre on Jun 18, 2012 at 12:34 pm

hdtv, please don’t go. I’ve enjoyed your insights and photos over the years. I’d hate to have any one person force you off this board. (What IS playing at the AMC Rockaway, anyway?)

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Rivoli Theatre on Jun 17, 2012 at 8:24 pm

For Whom the Bell Tolls was the next picture Ingrid Bergman made after Casablanca; she had cut her hair for the Hemingway movie, and was unable to do any retakes on Casablanca, specifically scenes featuring the 1931 song As Time Goes By, which producer Hal Wallis had wanted to replace with an original tune; but because Bergman was unavailable he had to stick with As Time Goes By, which of course became an enormous hit and an iconic symbol of a great motion picture and since 1998 used as the Warner Bros. fanfare.

Thank God Ingrid cut her hair!

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Radio City Music Hall on Jun 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm

If only the Music Hall’s screen was that large!

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Arena Theatre on Jun 4, 2012 at 8:00 pm

That site seems to require a log-in, TT.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Rivoli Theatre on Jun 2, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Isn’t that the old Rialto?

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Embassy 1 Theatre on Jun 1, 2012 at 1:51 pm

That was one of the most interesting articles I have ever read on this site. Thanks so much for posting it. (I sure miss the old days even though I wasn’t even born then.)

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) commented about Ziegfeld Theatre on Jun 1, 2012 at 6:22 am

Here’s a direct link to hdtv’s terrific site discovery.