The lights are not going out at the Finger Lakes Drive-In. On the contrary, they're brighter than ever.
Paul Meyer, owner of the Aurelius theater, has signed a five-year lease for a 4K Christie CP4230 digital projector, allowing the drive-in to stay in step with the movie industry as it transitions from 35 mm film to digital.
The projector is installed and ready for this weekend's showings, which include "Maleficent," "Transformers: Age of Extinction" and "Tammy." The picture on the 67-foot screen will be three times as bright as before (34,000 lumens) and about twice the image quality (4096-by-2160 resolution) of Blu-ray, Meyer said.
"It's super crisp," he said. "I'm sure you notice the difference between Blu-ray and not — this takes it even further."
Meyer is leasing the projector from a Los Angeles company. He said the arrangement was more beneficial to him than buying the projector outright, as the company handles the virtual print fee subsidy that many distributors pay out to theaters to reward digital adoption. For Meyer, that would have been too much paperwork, he said.
Instead, he said, leasing will be slightly cheaper than purchasing, and comes with a five-year warranty and service agreement. Then, after five years of monthly payments, the projector will be the drive-in's to own.
Along with the projector, which commonly retails for about $75,000, Meyer said, the drive-in has upgraded its audio processors to accommodate digital sound. He also had to purchase a converter so the theater can power the three-phase device, as well as ventilation and server equipment.
The switch to digital will pay off in more than just image quality, Meyer said. Not only will it be easier to project movies from encrypted hard drives instead of sets of reels, but the pool of available movies will widen greatly. Just before the transition, he was traveling just to get his hands on 35 mm prints, he said — and repeating those movies more frequently than he would have liked.
Supporting the theater in the conversion to digital is $11,625 raised through savefingerlakesdrivein.com — a site started by the drive-in's supporters, Meyer said.
"That got us through this season," he said. "It's appreciated and touching."
The website will remain open — should it reach its goal of $75,000, it will then close, Meyer said. Since the theater is debt-free, he added, there's no urgency to the fundraising.
The theater's life line comes as the central New York region loses other remnants of the days of drive-in movie-going: The West-Rome Drive-In closed in April, and the Midway Drive-In in Minetto, which suffered severe damage to its screen during a July 8 tornado, remains closed indefinitely.
Owners of the Rome theater have cited the digitization of film as a cause of its closure. It's a hurdle that Meyer — who claims his 1947 theater is the state's longest continually open drive-in — is happy to have cleared.
"I'm happy with the lease," he said, "and very thankful for the folks who've donated."