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Paramount to Stop Distributing Film Prints, Digital Only From Now On

by
January 19, 2014
Source: LA Times

Super 8 - Film

The end of an era. Maybe it's time to fire up Bob Dylan's song again. The LA Times reports that Paramount Pictures has been informing movie theaters that Anchorman 2 is the last film they'll be distributing on film. From now on, the studio will only distribute their films digitally, and Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street was their first movie in wide release to be distributed entirely as DCP (digital cinema prints). "For 120 years, film and 35 mm has been the format of choice for theatrical presentations. Now we're seeing the end of that," Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, told the LA Times.

This is very interesting and certainly signals that times are a changin', which is something we've already known considering the death of film has been a talking point for years (there are even documentaries about it, like Side by Side). However, major movie studios have continued to distribute a few 35mm film prints to movie theaters because not all theaters have been updated (8% still remain), and they often still want to get the widest distribution possible. However, over the last few years with the digital transition coming close to being finished, it's now time for them to push things into the next phase and stop printing on film entirely.

This isn't exactly breaking news - as the Times reminds us that 20th Century Fox and Disney recently issued statements (last year) saying they would stop distributing film prints "within the next year or two," however Paramount is the first to make this decision official. Though the studio hasn't announced it, since it would likely lead to a small backlash, it's obvious all of Hollywood is headed in this direction. But is it really a huge loss? Especially with digital getting better every year. How often do you go see a movie at a theater and wonder if it's on film or digital? I feel it's only noticeable if it is film, with scratches and marks and so on.

One of the biggest reasons that studios are making this decision is money. Printing on film can cost upwards of $2000 or more for one copy, which was a normal part of the theater-studio relationship for years (prints were loaned and had to be returned in perfect condition). Nowadays, in the digital era, studios send out harddrives (called DCPs) packed in locked boxes, encoded with copy protection that can only be unlocked with a key from the studio. The price is significantly less ($100) to manufacture these "prints" and while the quality isn't as good as film, it's certainly close, especially with filmmakers like Peter Jackson shooting in digital 4K anyway. Within a few years, digital projection may even surpass the quality of 35mm film anyway.

Just don't shoot the messenger. For now, a few film prints may still be used, but we have entered the digital era and this is the direction everything is headed. We'll keep you updated on any other major distribution developments in this new era of movies. Who is really upset by this news? Is digital truly that bad?

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  • Rick
    To be honest, filming digital or on film is still debatable regarding the quality or the look of things. Both sides have valid points. But when it comes to projection digital is sadly (and I say sadly, because I have been a projectionist for over 7 years) far superior these days. The problem is partially because the 35mm print that is projected in the cinema is not even close to the quality that once was captured on 35mm in the camera. Good film stock can get up to 5k equivalent. But it ends up being a 2k digital image, that came from the digital edit, that was printed on film (so already a lot of potential resolution was lost there) and then things like copying from the master, adding subtitles, etc, even further degraded the quality of the image. By the time it was projected in the cinema the image was not that good as people make it out to be. Not even talking about the shaking of the image, scratches and dust, shutter issues and poor bulb alignment. So i'd say it is no loss at all. Even though I totally love working with 35mm projection, its just no match on any level.
    • Guest
      Shame. Another nail in the coffin of small independent cinemas. We have a local kinema, and I'm fairly confident they don't use digital projection. A sad, sad day, something is being lost :(
    • son_et_lumiere
      thanks for the informed opinion. i have a great love for film, so this news is saddening. i like the organic feel of film and the tones and colours it (used to) bring out, even right down to the scratches and hairs in old stock on classics nights. at the other end of the scale, i hate IMAX DMR as it evidently lacks clarity when compared to 70mm or true IMAX (The Dark Knight films showed that up very well). but you make a great point about the film stock > digital edit > film print process. the industry can and should move on if it will make it easier to bring more films to more people, but it would be a shame if film totally disappeared. to me, that would be the equivalent of taking away the option to film in black + white, the loss of a potentially useful tool in the toolbox. but, however much i'd rather the situation was different, i have to recognise that it's no longer the toolbox itself.
  • Chris Groves
    "I don't want things to change." "But you can't stop the change, any more than you can stop the suns from rising." It was inevitable, and anyone ho-humming just has an antiquated mind. Yeah, I said it. It's not about 'if' there should be a film to digital transition, it's about when. It was always going to happen. Digital filming and projecting techniques improve EVERY YEAR. The Red One, the Red Epic, and now the Red Dragon. It's not going to stop. Digital technology will only continue to improve. Now, the debate is, which is better RIGHT NOW, at this moment. It's arguably film. Film might be a 10/10 for quality while digital is maybe an 8.5-9/10...but that is a pretty small difference, and in no time digital will surpass film and be BLOWING past it. 'Oh, 4K doesn't match 35mm'...well, what about when we hit 20K? Or 30K? It's just a matter of time. No argument for 'texture' and 'grain' is going to matter then, especially when people are becoming more and more focused on 'crispness' and 'clarity' in an image. Detail is in the grain for film, but audiences in general do not respond favorably to a layer of grain swirling around the image. They want it to be clear and clean. Being a "film purist" was an admirable stance 10-12 years ago when digital couldn't really compare to film, but holding that opinion now is just close-minded. Digital is improving in every category like clockwork, and it's more cost effective than celluloid and better for the environment, which is a plus. It's best not to prolong the transition, eventually you just have to make the switch. The future is now.
    • Bo
      I was talking to another old dog I know about all this. He too is in the film biz and were both well into our '60's and have loved film for a long time. If it ever comes to pass that digital 'looks better' than film then I long for the day to come. As you say, it ain't now. Anyway, I digress. My buddy told me that the human mind/eye is incapable of really taking in anything over or above 4k so it's all mute anyway. I don't understand any of that as I admit not being well versed or researched in the numbers here. Any truth to that? Anybody know? Having said that, I watched the not very good Stallone film directed by Walter Hill. I knew, just knew it was shot on film because of the way it looked. Sure enough, when I checked to tech specs on IMDB Hill shot it on film. So that's how I tell and will continue to tell if I like the look. By watching and seeing for myself. As to this 'clarity' thing, I can't watch Jackson's Hobbit stuff...it just looks too manufactured and not real to me. Could be the 48 frames instead of the old 24 frames thing, but still...the look is too manufactured and reeks of not being real to me. Perhaps I'll be gone soon enough and won't have to worry. God I love the David Lean pics, the Kubrick films, Coppola's films. Those days are gone and I'm not sure anyone would or will make films of that nature again, regardless of digital or whatever. Sad but true. Who the hell cares if Iron Man, Avengers, or that stuff is shot on film or digital. I sure don't.
  • DAVIDPD
    Sad, but logistically sound.
  • DavideCoppola
    :( </3 :'(((
  • Darran Coy
    Shame. Another nail in the coffin of small independent cinemas. We have a local kinema, and I'm fairly confident they don't use digital projection. A sad, sad day, something is being lost forever :(
  • Louis Carr
    I don't know much about theaters but, given how much cheaper digital is to distribute, wouldn't the transition benefit smaller Theaters?
  • jmesserman
    Here's the bottom line...if the cost effectiveness of digital clears the way for MORE filmmakers to the get their visions to the big screen with less flaming hoops to jump through, how can one grouse? Trust me when I say that I LOVE film, from Super8 to 16mm to 35mm and right on up to glorious 70mm. But if the cost constraints keep potential GREATNESS from reaching our eyeballs...well, the argument is over. Ultimately there will always be a place and a home for the small indie film. Always. That audience, of which I'm joyfully a part of, will always do the extra legwork to find the diamonds in the rough. So I'm not terribly concerned about that well drying up. As always, it boils down to storytelling. We humans will gravitate towards great stories no matter if they're etched on cave walls or displayed in 4K.
  • Neuromancer
    A "natural" evolution for the art form, which from its very inception stood for the democratization of art.

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