Ragtag Cinema Raises Enough Money to Go Digital

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COLUMBIA - With a week left before the deadline to go digital, a local independent theater said Monday it has raised $80,000 in three months to completely makeover their two auditoriums. Ragtag Cinema, along with many other independent theatres, was forced to make the technological change after movie distributors announced they would not be releasing movies on film anymore starting in 2013.

"Digital is definitely more efficient and affordable, but it's created a nationwide issue. Every independent theatre is facing this short deadline right now. We're lucky that we got a head start. Unless we have this new technology, we can't show new films," said Ragtag Executive Directory Tracy Lane. 

Steve Ruffin has been working as a projectionist for 12 years and got his start by jumping in feet first.

"It was kind of out of necessity. They needed a projectionist at Ragtag's old theater space and I just volunteered," said Ruffin, now the head projectionist.

Once the theater goes digital, Ruffin said he won't lose his job to the machine.

"I'll still be a projectionist. We still need human beings to run the machines. The art of film projection is changing, but the basic techniques are still the same," said Ruffin. 

The cost for a new digital projection system is $100,000 per screen, $200,000 for both Ragtag auditoriums. Ragtag had already planned on the complete conversion taking place and had raised about half the money.

"We have to continue to serve our mission to the community. Our mission is to enhance our community with the art of film, and we can't serve that purpose if we don't have the technology available to do it," said Lane.

Ragtag launched a campaign "Ragtag Needs Robots" to raise the remaining amount of money need to completely change its two projection systems. It also had a local artist create a robot sculpture that sold for $10,000. The cinema raised the additional $80,000 through Kickstarter online donations.

"A great majority of the Oscar contending films are films that only come to our theater in Columbia. The city wouldn't have access to those if we don't continue to exist," said Lane.

As of last week, the theater had only raised about $59,000.

"We were hopeful. I thought we could do it," said Lane

The theater needs one digital projector, two playback servers, and two audio processors to make the transformation to digital. Last year, it bought one digital projector with the money it had been saving.