CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Walk into the Elk Theatre, pass the ticket booth and concession stand, through a pair of red satin curtains, past the double doors that open onto a movie screen. Walk up the stairs, carpeted in a fading print, down a narrow, dimly lit hallway. Turn left.
There's a room there, with a pair of windows overlooking the theater's single, white movie screen. It's a small room, but it holds a large projection machine, and a lot of 35 mm film.
It's a classic setup, made of components that haven't changed much in the last 40 years. But that's about to change. It has to.
"After the switch it will just be a digital projector and a little box with the movie," said Chuck Murphy, who owns the theater with his wife.
In 2013, production companies will stop offering 35-millimeter prints of films - which has been used to shoot, distribute and view movies for nearly a century - and begin to rely solely on digital copies of first-run movies.
That means replacing nearly all of the projection equipment at the Elk at a cripplingly high cost: a digital projector will cost $30,000 to $40,000. If Murphy can't raise the money by the end of 2013, he'll have to close the doors on Braxton County's only movie theater.
To find another place to see a first-run movie, you have to drive more than 30 miles.
The Elk was built sometime in the 1930s, but lacks many of the frills one usually associates with a theatre of that period. It's a big box of a building, more practical than elegant, comfortable but not lush.
And it's not a moneymaker. Chuck and his wife, Jane, bought the theater in 2007 just to keep it from closing, never expecting to turn much of a profit. They both have full-time jobs (he's a high school teacher, while she has a computer repair business).
They alone work to keep the theater up and running - they have no staff, aside from themselves.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Jane made a small batch of popcorn just before the patrons started arriving for the Sunday matinee viewing of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."
"We never know how many we'll have," she said. They didn't want to waste any if it turned out to be a slow day.
The theatre usually sees 50 to 150 patrons each weekend, but that figure is flexible. The weekend they showed "Breaking Dawn Part 2," the last installment in the Twilight saga, they filled nearly all 250 seats in one night - but they've had enough flops to post a policy for slow days in the window ("Cannot show movie for less than five customers").