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