ACADEMY THEATER Props, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada! You were an awesome movie.
  • ACADEMY THEATER Props, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada! You were an awesome movie.

The few theaters that haven't already converted to digital projection are finally realizing they need to do it soon—the Academy Theater just launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $75,000 to convert their three theaters to digital.

They follow Vancouver's Kiggins Theater, which is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign for $85,000, and two other Oregon theaters, the Columbian in Astoria (asking for $30,000) and the Pine in Prineville (their failed Kickstarter was for $30,000, though they're still trying to raise $90,000 using other methods).

I just chipped in on the Academy's Indiegogo. I'd encourage you to do the same! It's a solid second-run theater and one of my favorite things in the Montavilla neighborhood. It's a pleasant place to be, they've got fun repertory booking (they've currently got Gremlins on 35mm, so that's delightful, and they showed Tombstone a while back, so high five), they have beer and good pizza, and they generally seem to have their shit together: not only are they tweeting and Facebooking about their campaign, but take a look at their site's homepage, which lets you know right away that they've got a fundraising campaign going on, why they're doing it, and how.

That's a marked difference from the campaigns for the Pine and (so far) the Kiggins. As a backer, I can attest that the Pine's Kickstarter campaign was not, shall we say, involved, and as of now, visitors to the Kiggins site would have no idea they even have a campaign going on. (There also wasn't anything as simple as a press release.) For backers, the Kiggins campaign has had all of two updates, the most recent of which boils down to this:

As you can tell with just over 2 weeks left we are far short of where we need to be. At the current rate we won't make it, but there's hope! The money is in the seats! So far about 260 of you have donated - thank you! Now if we could just ask one favor - to be a sales force. If just half of you could reach out to one individual who is willing and able to purchase a seat, we would meet our goal. $500 is a lot for many people, but think of it, your name in the Kiggins in perpetuity! A sweet name plaque right there for you to point out to your friends how you proudly supported this transition into a new era. Can we do this?!!

Good question! Also, are you seriously asking all of your backers to make a friend of theirs donate $500? Because I am not going to do that, and the fact that's the "hope" for the campaign to succeed doesn't bode particularly well. (This is similar to the Pine's campaign, which in the fifth of its six updates, asked people to send $400 checks directly to the theater.)

When I think about the most successful Kickstarters I've contributed to—Ryan North's comes to mind (hey, look what Alison wrote!), the Veronica Mars one, Greg Rucka's—the thing that they have in common is that they treated the campaign as just that: a campaign, a thing that had to be well-designed and constant and tended to on a daily basis, that went above and beyond to make contributors feel like part of the process. As a result, I told people about those campaigns, and I contributed a lot more money once I saw how that money was going to be spent and witnessed the passion of those who would be spending it.

This is a tough time for small, independent theaters, but if they're going to be relying on crowdsourcing as much as they clearly are, they need to figure out how to run those sort of campaigns—or hire someone who already knows how. Crowdsourcing isn't just going online and telling people you want some money—in many ways, a successful Kickstarter is essentially a business of its own, albeit one that opens up your core business to more people and makes sure those people feel involved and adequately rewarded.

I like independent theaters. I want them to convert to digital, and I want them to stay in business. Here's hoping they figure out how.

UPDATE: Dan Halsted at the Hollywood Theatre sent out an email blast this afternoon alerting people to a different kind of campaign to digitally convert Newberg's 99W Drive-in: Looks like the drive-in has decided to take part in a Honda ad campaign that's donating five digital projectors to the most popular drive-ins. Watch this and then try not to vote for them, you heartless bastard.