By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — For over two decades, residents have flocked to the Stage Two Cinema Pub in downtown Amesbury for a different kind of cinema experience.
Every night from Tuesday through Sunday, patrons fill the single-screen movie theater to catch the weekly feature. The theater offers a full pub menu and a robust selection of beer, wine and cocktails served right to the customer’s seat, and naturally there are also the usual movie theater staples like popcorn, soda and candy as well.
Stage Two’s atmosphere and affordability sets it apart from the larger movie theaters that dominate the landscape today, but it faces a unique challenge as industry trends and technological changes place a larger economic burden on small, independent theaters across the country.
Within the next 18 months, large film distributors will cease production of 35 mm film and switch over to sophisticated disc technology. In essence, the ubiquitous movie theater film reel and projector will soon become a thing of the past, and theaters will have to upgrade to a new, digital projector in order to stay in business.
That’s going to be a huge investment for independent theaters, which are already fighting off increased competition from large theaters, Netflix and bigger, higher quality home televisions. Each new projector is expected to cost roughly $75,000, and a price tag like that has caused many theaters to contemplate their future, Stage Two among them.
“We’re in the process of evaluating our current model,” said Brian Turbity, whose wife, Donna, runs the theater.
The Turbitys are keenly aware of the challenges that small theaters like Stage Two face. Even if they do invest in a new projector, competitors like Netflix aren’t going to go away, and Brian Turbity noted that even though movie revenue has gone up in the past decade, the number of people actually going to the theater has declined.
“Ticket prices have gone up over the past seven years, and the industry isn’t growing its customer base,” Turbity said.
Turbity said he has no idea what the future had in store and wouldn’t speculate on whether Stage Two would invest in new projectors or make other major changes.
He’s not alone in that line of thinking; earlier this week Newburyport’s Screening Room detailed their own similar challenges brought on by industry changes, and co-owner Andrew Mungo said there is still time to figure out what needs to be done.
For his part, Turbity said there are still successful single-screen theaters out there, particularly in higher educated areas like the Northeast. The trick will just be figuring out how to best combat the rising industry trends, something he is still working on.
“I have no idea. I’m sure there are greater minds than me working on that as we speak,” Turbity said. “It’s tough for single screen, but there are community theaters that are doing really well out there.”
Unlike Newburyport’s Screening Room, which specializes in smaller films that aren’t shown in big theaters, Stage Two screens many of the year’s biggest films, usually a couple of months after their initial run. The theater also shows big sporting events on occasion too, most recently showing the Patriots vs. Ravens AFC Championship matchup on Jan. 20.
This past week, Stage Two has been screening “Flight,” starring Denzel Washington. Tomorrow, the theater will be presenting the critically acclaimed “Argo,” which has received a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars.