Film remains vital despite long-predicted demise

No dirge for 35mm prints | Surprise revival for 35mm 3D
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The conversion to digital projectors, slowed by the global recession of 2008, has resumed apace, driven in no small part by the gold-rush pursuit of 3D ticket surcharges.

So is cinema projection ready for a decisive shift to digital that would kill the 35mm film print once and for all?

Don’t bet on it.

“We’ll still process billions of feet of film this year as we have for many years,” says Deluxe COO Warren Stein. “We believe that film is going to be around for a long time.”

Eric Rodli, general manager, Panavision 3D System concurs.

“The ultimate death of film has been predicted for 20 or 30 years,” says Rodli. “I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say film will be around a long time.”

Joe Berchtold, president of Technicolor’s Creative Services business, observes there are both economic and creative reasons for film prints to survive.

On the creative side, says Berchtold, some filmmakers prefer to shoot and display on film “because they feel it’s the truest representation of their creative ideas.”

But Berchtold concedes that wouldn’t be enough. The economics of film, however, continue to be better than those of digital.

For distributors, film prints are still cheaper than digital prints. Kodak and Fuji subsidize the cost of film prints, so Virtual Print Fees exceed the studio’s net cost for a print.

What’s more, moving a print around a circuit is free for a film print, but with digital, a new VPF is due for each move.

Exhibitors, for their part, were never enamored of digital in the first place. Only 3D provided a carrot, though now there is growing interest in alternative content.

However there are major terriritories where the price of d-cinema equipment is prohibitive — and theaters are simply not ready for it anyway.

D-cinema projectors are supposed to be kept under 95 degrees fahrenheit. In old cinemas in climes where the outside temperature routinely reaches triple digits, such as India, the costs of sealing and air conditioning an old single-screen theater (or even just its booth), which might demand possibly additional electrical lines, is too great a capital investment. Moreover, the electricity cost of A/C adds to operating expenses.

Running d-cinema systems without A/C would shorten their life — if they run at all at those high temps.

So as long as such cinemas remain in operation, there is likely to be demand for film prints.

Lenny Lipton, prexy and chief science officer of Oculus 3D, one of several companies offering a 3D-on-35mm solution, observes “If there are tens of thousands of theaters that can’t convert to digital, they may go out of business if the stereoscopic medium becomes ubiquitous. That’s a crazy business model for the distributors.”

Berchtold oberves there’s been a payback for d-cinema because of 3D. The question he asks is: “What’s the saturation level for 3D.

“People don’t expect the whole market to move to 3D. When you get to that saturation point what’s the future incentive for digital?”

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