Some of Hollywood's big-name mobsters joined forces with a Florida-based non-profit Friday to help save small-town theaters.
Owners of small cinemas across the country must switch from 35 mm film to digital — or go silent. The conversion requires new projection equipment, computers and a sound system that can average around $70,000 per screen.
"We tried very hard to raise the money that we need to convert, but we could only come up with a fraction of the cost," said Rachel Daddezio with Cinema Saver in Endicott, NY. "We received so many stories of what our theater means to the community, how families wouldn't be able to go out if we weren't there."
Daddezio was presented Friday with a new screen, projector and processor for the theater with the help of Save America's Cinemas, a non-profit started less than a year ago by Water T. Shaw.
"They don't have a roller rink or bowling alley in some of these communities," said the filmmaker and former jewel thief for the mafia. "All they have is these theaters. Now we want to take that away from them? I'm not going to let that happen."
Shaw turned to his "Goodfellas" friends to do good: Tony (Paulie Walnuts) Sirico and Vincent (Big Pussy) Pastore of "The Sopranos" and Mike Starr and Debi Mazar from "Goodfellas."
"Going to the movies for me was a family experience," Mazar told the audience. "It made me become an actor. It's really a shame that we are losing these beautiful theaters. We can't stop time from marching forward, it's a modern world," but "these cinemas need our help."
About 67 percent of the nation's 5,750 theaters have switched to all-digital equipment, said Patrick Corcoran, a spokesman for the National Association of Theater Owners. But while the big chains can afford the digital transition, smaller theaters are forced to open a bank loan or turn to the community for help with paying for the equipment. Others hand over the keys to not-for-profits in the hopes of saving the town's main attraction.
Shaw said about 60 cinemas have reached out to him for help and he has committed to saving at least 400 theaters. It is not known how many small-town theaters have closed down since the switch to digital began with the 1999 release of "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace." But for Cinema Saver, which needs $200,000 to convert the five auditoriums in its one location, the new equipment with the help from Save America's Cinemas is a good start.
"It's a small town, but it means a lot to the community," Daddezio said.