×

Digital screens boost alt options

Tech upgrades help keep up with audience demands

As arthouse exhibitors grapple with tighter budgets and a continued economic slump, many are debating the pros and cons of going digital.

With today’s cash-strapped indie filmmakers often opting to shoot and distribute digitally rather than on the more pricey 35mm, a growing number of niche exhibitors are making technological upgrades in order to accommodate the type of alternative fare their audiences demand.

“There’s this inevitableness of digital projection,” says Balcony Films’ Connie White, who books for several specialty cinemas. “Still, it costs roughly $100,000 for a (DCI-compliant) projector, which is astronomical for the indies.”

The not-for-profit Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, N.Y., is among the first to take the full digital plunge, outfitting its three theaters with Sony 4K DCI-compliant projectors alongside 35mm and 16mm projectors, which have become arthouse mainstays.

Popular on Variety

“More filmmakers are working in the digital realm these days,” explains the center’s founder and executive director Steve Apkon. “It’s imperative for us in exhibition to present those films properly.”

But until prices come down on state-of-the-art equipment, many art houses — whether not-for-profits or mom-and-pop shops — are going a less expensive digital route. Roughly 30% of the venues represented at this year’s Art House Convergence belong to the all-digital network Emerging Pictures, which offers specialty films as well as live opera and ballet in high definition. Emerging managing partner Ira Deutchman says would-be members typically need to spend $10,000-$35,000 to be network-compliant, depending on the state of their current equipment. Though the digital upgrades provide a high-definition image that is theatrical quality, they would not be considered studio compliant, meaning a studio-distributed film like “Black Swan” would still need to be shown in 35mm.

Still, many exhibitors contend that 35mm is the preferred format for the discerning cineaste.

“We want to do 35mm as much as we can,” says Stephanie Silverman, managing director of Nashville’s Belcourt Theater. “We actually publicize what format our films are being shown in, and our audience tends to prefer that format. So long as the studios will cut 35mm prints, we see no reason to upgrade.”

More on Independent Exhibition:
Niches go nonprofit | Getting the word out | Digital screens boost alt options | When tickets don’t cut it

More Digital

  • Aaron Pedersen (as Jay) & Jada

    Screen Australia Leads Call for Evolution of Industry Funding

    Screen Australia, the country’s federal support body, says the screen entertainment industry needs to come up with new business models in response to changes in audience behavior and the disruptive impact on content financing that has come from streaming. Public support bodies must change their relationships with the industry too, Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason [...]

  • A-ha!

    'A-ha: The Movie' on 'Take on Me' Band to Receive Worldwide Release (EXCLUSIVE)

    A feature documentary on Norwegian “Take On Me” singers A-ha will receive a worldwide release this November. “A-ha: The Movie,” distributed internationally by Esther van Messel’s First Hand Films, will be broadcast in theaters around the world on Nov. 26, with Germany’s Salzgeber releasing the film locally and First Hand Films handling the release in [...]

  • Vudu

    NBCUniversal in Talks to Buy Walmart's Vudu

    Comcast’s NBCUniversal is looking to add some Vudu into its streaming-video mix. The media conglomerate is in talks to buy Vudu, the Walmart-owned entertainment rental, download and free-streaming service, sources confirm to Variety. It’s unclear what the terms of the pact would be or the timing. News of NBCU’s interest in Vudu was first reported [...]

  • Tubi

    Fox in Talks to Acquire Free-Streaming Service Tubi for Over $500 Million (Report)

    Fox Corp. is in discussions about acquiring Tubi, the ad-supported free streaming service, in a deal worth more than $500 million, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous sources. With Tubi, Rupert Murdoch’s TV broadcasting and cable company would be adding a dedicated streaming component — offering over 20,000 older TV shows and [...]

  • Zombies 2 Disney Channel

    How Disney Channel's 'Zombies 2' Production Team Made Monsters Kid-Friendly

    Traditionally spooky creatures like zombies and werewolves get the Disney treatment in “Zombies 2,” the follow-up to the 2018 hit TV-movie musical of the same name. While the undead have now assimilated into the community of Seabrook, they’re confronted by a new set of outsiders: werewolves. Milo Manheim and Meg Donnelly return as Zed and [...]

  • Baby Yoda - The Child Animatronic

    Hasbro's Adorable Baby Yoda Animatronic Toy Is Already Sold Out on Disney's Online Store

    The Force remains strong for toys based on Baby Yoda, the breakout star of Disney Plus original series “The Mandalorian.” Less than a day after becoming available for pre-order, Hasbro’s new $59.99 Baby Yoda animatronic toy is no longer available on Disney’s official online store: As of Friday morning, Shop Disney listed it as “sold [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content