Paramount Pictures first major studio to stop releasing movies on film in the United States.
IN A historic step for Hollywood, Paramount Pictures recently notified theatre owners that the Will Ferrell comedy Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, which opened in December, would be the last movie that would it would release on 35mm film.
The studio’s Oscar-nominated film The Wolf Of Wall Street from director Martin Scorsese is the first major studio film that was released all digitally, according to industry executives who were briefed on the plans but not authorised to speak about them.
The decision is significant because it is likely to encourage other studios to follow suit, accelerating the complete phase-out of film, possibly by the end of the year.
That would mark the end of an era: celluloid has been the medium for the motion picture industry for more than a century.
“It’s of huge significance,” said Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
“For 120 years, film and 35mm has been the format of choice for theatrical presentations. Now we’re seeing the end of that. I’m not shocked that it’s happened, but how quickly it has happened.”
A spokesman for Paramount was not available for comment.
Paramount has kept its decision under wraps, at least in Hollywood.
The reticence reflects that no studio wants to be seen as the first to abandon film, which retains a cachet among some filmmakers.
Some studios may also be reluctant to give up box-office revenue by bypassing theatres that can show only film. About 8% of US movie theatres are equipped to show movies only on film.
Other studios were expected to jump on the digital bandwagon first. 20th Century Fox sent a letter to exhibitors in 2011 saying it would stop distributing film “within the next year or two”.
Disney issued a similar warning to theatre operators that year.
Last year, many industry watchers expected LionsGate would make history with an all-digital November release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Paramount’s move comes nearly a decade after studios began working with exhibitors to help finance the replacement of film projectors with digital systems, which substantially reduce the cost of delivering movie prints to theatres.
In addition to relying on digital hard drives, theatres are installing satellites to digitally beam movies into cinemas.
That could significantly lower the cost of delivering a single print, to less than US$100 (RM335) from as much US$2,000 (RM6,700).
Digital technology also enables cinemas to screen higher-priced 3D films and makes it easier for them to book and schedule entertainment.
As a result, large chains have moved quickly to embrace digital technology: 92% of 40,045 screens in the United States have converted to digital, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.
The dwindling number of film screens has made releasing movies on 35mm less attractive, especially given the rising cost of film prints for major movies.
Film print costs have been rising rapidly as suppliers have scaled back production.
Last month, Technicolor, the French-owned film processing and post-production company, closed a film lab in Glendale, California.
That lab had replaced a much larger facility at Universal Studios that employed 360 workers until it closed in 2011.
Also last year, Technicolor closed its Pinewood film lab in Britain.
The march to digital also puts further pressure on some small-town community theatres that have been struggling to finance the purchase of US$70,000 (RM234,000) digital projectors.
Those theatres are at risk of going out of business if they can no longer obtain film prints of movies.
As of last year, about 1,000 independent theatres had not transitioned to digital.
Some are turning to their communities to raise funds for digital equipment.
The Wolf Of Wall Street would seem an unlikely choice for an all-digital release given that movie was partially shot on film and that Scorsese is a passionate advocate for film preservation.
What’s more, he directed a movie that was an homage to the early days of film, the 2012 3D movie Hugo.
A spokesman for Scorsese said the director was travelling and not available for comment. – Los Angeles Times / McClatchy-Tribune Information Services