Digital projection is gaining traction, and why it matters

Read this article. IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service report that digital projection will overtake 35mm film projection in movie theaters by the beginning of next year, and that 35mm will account for only 17% of theatrical projection by 2015.

This is good news, hopefully? I’ve always thought film was a great acquisition format but a truly rotten distribution format: projectors jam, prints tear, they have to be broken down into 20-minute reels for shipping, they’re flickery, they get dusty and scratched and their analog optical soundtrack can sound like a dusty record.

From the standpoint of a low-budget independent producer, this is very good news. You need some serious scratch to strike just a single 35mm exhibition print, but 0s and 1s are practically free. It is a dream of mine to have a good digital projector in every cinema in America (Good being the key word).

The question is what effect this shift will have on small, independent cinemas. A high-end DLP system costs a bundle, and a lot of smaller movie houses will have a hard time justifying the cost. So what does that mean for the future of indies?

Here’s my prediction. Best case scenario: in an oddly counterintuitive move, art house films will keep on striking film prints for at least 10 more years in order to accommodate the smaller, lower-overhead venues they play until digital projection technology eventually drops in price enough that indie movie houses can switch over (and do it right).

Worst case scenario: small screens will feel the heat from Technicolor and Deluxe, and will be forced into buying dinky little 1080p home theater systems that alias and oversharpen and have those ugly color wheel artifacts. The independent moviegoing experience will suffer, and the cause of indie cinema will be set back by nearly a decade.

No matter what happens, I’ll be sad to see the bloop go bye-bye. It’s always felt to me like an integral part of the moviegoing process. You know the bloop, right? Whenever you go to a 35mm-projected movie, stick around until after the credits are done. This is the tail; the part that’s all dirty and scratched. Usually you’ll see some pretty colors, you’ll hear a big KA-THUNK as the optical track ends… if you’re lucky, you might even see Digital Marcie.

Digital Marcie

I’ll miss you, Digital Marcie.

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