LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Cinedigm said on Monday it will host the first live, virtual question-and-answer session between a film's cast in one location and audiences in separate theaters to show off a new way that digitally equipped cinemas can lure audiences.
On June 19, moviegoers in 17 U.S. cities will be able text-message questions to the cast of independent movie, "The Narrows," and watch the actors answer on screen in theaters, giving Cinedigm Digital Cinema Corp a trial by fire in how to get moviegoers more involved in the cinema experience.
Hollywood's studios and theater chains are hoping that the transition to digital cinema will boost attendance by offering new ways to entertain such as 3D movies, beaming live sports and other events into theaters and setting up interactive chat sessions like Cinedigm's Q&A with the cast of "The Narrows."
Cinedigm's event draws on broadcast-style capabilities of digital cinema delivered into theaters via satellite.
"This is really fulfilling part of the promise of digital cinema," said Bud Mayo, chief executive of Cinedigm.
The New Jersey-based company works with Hollywood movie studios and theater chains to hasten the switch from film to digital, and it specializes in beaming movies from a satellite to theaters.
New initiatives like Cinedigm's have been touted ever since digital projectors began arriving in theaters about five years ago, replacing old filmstrips delivered in canisters.
So far about 6,000 theaters in the United States have upgraded their systems from film prints to digital.
Cinedigm's live Q&A for low-budget movie "The Narrows" will feature actors Kevin Zegers, Vincent D'Onofrio and Sophia Bush sitting in a New York studio, as audiences in cities including Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Detroit ask them questions.
"It's the first film that I've been in that's been done like this," said D'Onofrio, who also stars in the NBC television show "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."
"I think it's all new and it's all great," he said. "Anything to get small films out there in a lot of cinemas because before this, it was art houses."
"The Narrows" is about a young man named Mike Manadoro (Zegers) from Brooklyn who takes a job with the local mob boss to pay for college, and has to choose between his old neighborhood and the new life he wants to lead.
Cinedigm has also used its system to show movie theater audiences live events, as it did in January with a college football championship the company presented in 3-D.
The company's partnership with the makers of "The Narrows" marks its first venture into distributing independent films.
Cinedigm envisions itself as a fee-for-service distributor, working with independent producers to give their movies better play than the straight-to-DVD release that many low-budget filmmakers have turned to in recent years.
Having a theater opening and a virtual Q&A, as Cinedigm is doing for "The Narrows," can be a unique way for an independent movie producer to market a film, Mayo said.
"It expands their reach, because it's interesting and new and draws attention for a small amount of money," he said.
Editing by Jill Serjeant and Cynthia Osterman