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Arnprior Theatre Goes Digital (Guest Post by Tiffany Lepack)

Arnprior Theatre Goes Digital (Guest Post by Tiffany Lepack)

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Kevin Marshall, owner and operator of the O’Brien Theatre in Arnprior, stands beside the 35mm film and projector on Sept. 3, the last day before digital takes over.

It was an end of an era at the Arnprior O’Brien Theatre on Monday night.

As I took pictures in the projection room, I watched as the last 35mm reel of film (Total Recall) spun off the large spools and out from the projector.

The theatre is now closed for renovations and will re-open on Sept. 14 with $119, 800 of new digital equipment for movie goers.

35mm film on its spool

The theatre has been using 35mm film since the 1920s, the current projectors were purchased used, and installed in 1999, and date from 1948 but that will all change now as it will be completely digitally run by a Doremi server with a digital Christie 2210 projector.

Each movie would arrive in two cans (larger than the film that you used to load in a 35mm camera) weighing in total 70 lbs. The new movies will come in a hard drive the size of a VHS tape. The sound system is also being upgraded to 7.1 Dolby surround sound, which is the same sound that the IMAX theatre uses.

Inside the film projector at the Arnprior O’Brien Theatre, Sept. 3 was the last night with film, Sept. 14 it will re-open with a digital projector.

Going digital was something the theatre had to do as the studios were slowly cutting back on 35mm movies, about 10 per cent of theatres in Canada still run film and approximately 85 per cent in North America are digital. Sometimes this was a challenge to secure new movies, for example there were only six, 35mm prints of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in Canada, therefore it took two months to get it on the big screen in Arnprior.

The 35mm spins for the last time in Arnprior!

“Digital will make it easier for me to get the movies people want to see,” said Kevin Marshall, owner and operator of the O’Brien Theatre. “I hope people will come and support local theatre, keep the doors open for a better experience and think about coming here instead of Kanata.”

In January, the Renfrew O’Brien Theatre also went digital and they saw a slight increase in numbers, but Marshall says that there are a number of different contributing factors to account for the increase.

“The numbers go up in Arnprior incrementally, everyone loves the theatre!” said Marshall. “Everything is 100 per cent in focus, it’s good quality every time and everything about the experience should be trouble free.”

Historic Downtown

The O’Brien Theatre circa 1930

The theatre has been the place to be in downtown Arnprior for almost 100 years. It was built in 1919 by M. Sullivan and Sons and was owned by Ottawa Valley Amusements and was called “The Casino.”

In 1928, it was purchased by the O’Brien Entertainment Corporation and re-opened in 1929 with a new balcony, floor and sound system. For more information on the history of the theatre please click here.

Inside the O’Brien Theatre in Arnprior circa 1930

Marshall bought the building in 1999 and at the time it was completely derelict, he was working at CHRO TV in Pembroke (Now CTV2) and Pembroke was getting phased out.

“I stood in front of the stage looking at Murray Adolph (owner of the Renfrew O’Brien Theatre) and we decided that we would do this as a venture.”

He wanted to stay in the Ottawa Valley and it looked to him that the theatre would be a good option; he thought he would be able to make fistfuls of money and retire early. But he had to take out a credit card, a line of credit and complete a renovation that took almost a year.

“It was an awful building we were looking to get it up and running in two months,” said Kevin. “Then it became a restoration. We didn’t go into it planning a restoration but that changed.”

He renovated it with the help of family and bank loans and $250,000 later they had installed three new rooftop furnaces and air conditioners to replace the 90 year old steam boiler; he described it as one thing after another but in the end it was worth it.

“It all paid off, it turned out to be a gorgeous building on the inside.”

New generation

The O’Brien Theatre in Arnprior, 147 John Street North

Marshall believes he has a number of different local competitors such as the AMC in Kanata where movie goers can shop and go to a number of different restaurants after the movie is out.

As we sat on the steps of the movie theatre discussing the history and the future of the theatre, we looked around, not one shop was open in the downtown core at 8:30 p.m. He had a point.

However, there is no better deal if you are looking for a night out to the movies! He has first run movies and the prices just can’t be beat: $9/adult, $7/seniors and children and $5 matinees on Tuesdays. The best combo price in my opinion is combo number one: small drink, small popcorn, and small candy all for only $5.

“It’s cheaper, it’s a better experience, a small staff that you can get to know and it’s historic,” said Marshall. “It’s a big picture, big screen and pretty pristine.”

When you walk into the O’Brien theatre, the history shines through. The art deco, the large arches, the curtain that opens and closes to start the movies, it takes you back to another time period.

The inside of the O’Brien main level theatre

He notes that he has a number of customers travel for the unique experience at the theatre from around the Valley: Stittsville, Smiths Falls, Pembroke, Shawville and more

He thinks another main competitor is Facebook; when people get home from work they have dinner and check their email or Facebook as their evening entertainment fix.

“In a world of computers and 1,500 channels of satellite television I don’t know the relevance of the theatre in today’s world.”

As we discuss today’s society he agrees that there could be a generational shift with movie goers. He notes that in the 1920’s the theatre was so popular that it would run three different movies each week and the price is almost cheaper to go to the movies now than at that time period considering minimum wage.

He says that now he doesn’t watch a lot of movies but he always watches the first five minutes and last five minutes to ensure everything is working fine.

“I do love movies but it has diminished over time,” confessed Marshall. “I like art films and specialized movies. The movie going experience is changing, fantasy is becoming reality. The first movies were campy and over the top now they are darker.”

He admits that he could watch Star Wars over and over and also likes Red and The Boondock Saints.

New Era

The O’Brien Theatre will re-open its doors on Friday, September 14 (movies TBD) and venture into a new movie going era. What will the new changes bring for Arnprior? As a community we need to support our local businesses and embrace the history that we have.

I encourage everyone to get out to the movies, be transported into another era and support the Arnprior O’Brien Theatre.

So on Sept. 14, pass me some popcorn and I will see you at the theatre!

For more information on the theatre please visit:

Tiffany Lepack, BA History, Journalism Diploma

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Comments (4)

  1. Tricia Sunday - 09 / 09 / 2012 Reply
    Great Blog post Tiffany. I can't wait to go and check it out. Thanks for sharing this with us.
  2. Melody Lachance Sunday - 09 / 09 / 2012 Reply
    good luck, if I lived there I would for sure support local business instead of the big corporations.
  3. Kimberly O'Brien Monday - 08 / 10 / 2012 Reply
    AMC has sold their theatres in Canada. The Kanata one is now Empire Theatre and they no longer have the discount movie watcher cards making it even more expensive than it already was. We'll stick with Arnprior! We are so thankful to have this in town. When we don't have to get babysitters anymore, we'll likely go more often.
    • Crystal Tuesday - 09 / 10 / 2012 Reply
      Wow, I knew AMC was now Empire, but didn't realize they got rid of the discount card! That is too bad, I always used it. And agree, it is expensive to go in the city, espcially when taking a family! Unfortunate, but glad for Renfrew & Arnprior!

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