Theaters fight for life with Kickstarter

Shelton drive-in and cinemas need digital projectors they can’t afford

rboone@theolympian.comMarch 19, 2013 

Shelton’s Skyline Drive-In theater needs a digital projector as the industry grapples with new technology.

The standard 35 mm film will soon be phased out, which means theaters like the Skyline — a Shelton fixture since 1964 — need to upgrade with the times or possibly close.

The digital projector required for the Skyline costs about $80,000, slightly more expensive than indoor digital projectors because it needs to project an image 500 feet, said Christopher Mayes, a kind of chief information officer for the family-run business. The Mayes family also owns Shelton Cinemas.

The Skyline raised about half the amount it needs last year, which included selling Skyline sweatshirts and T-shirts, but now has turned to the fundraising website Kickstarter for the remaining amount.

The Kickstarter campaign was launched March 14 and, as of Monday, had attracted 96 backers who contributed about $9,000, with 54 days left in the campaign.

But under Kickstarter rules, it’s an all or nothing proposition, he said.

“If we don’t have the full amount, we don’t get any of it,” Mayes said.

And that means there’s a chance the theater could close after 49 years.

“It’s a possibility,” Mayes said, adding that if they fall short of their goal, their options include another fundraiser or possibly a grant.

Kickstarter, though, allows them to attract donors from throughout the country, he said.

“This is the best chance to make sure it happens,” Mayes said.

Fred Thibodeau was the longtime owner of the drive-in until he sold it to the Mayes family in 2005.

Mayes said his mother, Dorothea, booked films for the theater when Thibodeau owned it, and she continues to do that today.

The movie business runs in the family.

Thomas Mayes, Christopher’s brother, is executive director of the Olympia Film Society, the group that owns and operates downtown Olympia’s Capitol Theater. It, too, is in the middle of raising funds for a $65,000-$75,000 digital projector, although not through Kickstarter but from grants or donations and gifts from individuals and businesses.

The film society hopes to have the money by June or July, he said, and then will focus on a broader fundraising campaign to upgrade the theater.

Mayes also mentioned the family has applied for a historical preservation grant through the Mason County Historical Commission to renovate the Skyline Drive-In sign.

The Skyline is set to open March 29 through late September, Christopher Mayes said. The drive-in can accommodate about 350 vehicles and generally shows first-run movies, although it has an annual screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and has shown older films, such as “Jaws” and “Grease.”

The theater will open March 29 with a movie called “The Host.”

The Skyline is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through about mid-May, then is open daily through the end of the season, Mayes said.

For more about the Kickstarter campaign, link to the site from the Skyline website at

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

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