If you love your digital photo camera, you have a small idea of how much movie theater chains love digital films. We are living in an age where we will witness the end of celluloid wound on reels for movie theatre viewing, an end to special handling and the various problems with which projectionists must deal. Ever see a film melt while you were watching the movie? Or a film snap and have to be spliced before continuing the presentation? Those are becoming issues of the past with the introduction of digital film to more and more theatre chains.
The retirement of celluloid is one championed by filmmakers and studios. In response, theatre owners have had to shell out big bucks to retrofit their theaters with digital projectors which carry a price tag of as much as $250,000 a piece. The cost would be prohibitive for each theatre to replace all their film projectors with the digital version, so studios have helped subsidize theatre chains willing to change over to the new technology. If you've ever wondered how theaters can afford to show a film with only two people in the audience, it's because studios pay theaters each time a film is run, no matter how many people show up.
As happens so often with new advances, the digital projectors are rendering projectionists obsolete, or rather redefining the job. A projectionist at a theatre is more likely to be a computer geek now with knowledge of hard drives and servers.
New film releases arrive at digital theatres on a hard drive. This electronic copy is loaded into a central server. It still happens up in the booth behind the small square light source in the back of the theatre, but the process has changed dramatically.
The Advantages of Digital Film
With Digital film, studios no longer need to send multiple copies of a single movie release to all the theaters across the country. One electronic copy is provided and loaded onto the server. It can be accessed by each of the digital projectors for each theater auditorium.
This is a huge cost savings all around. In addition, because digital media doesn’t fade, scratch or jump the way film does, especially after repeated presentations, replacements aren't necessary.
Another reason theaters like digital film is that it offers much more flexibility in scheduling. A local multi-plex was recently inundated with theatergoers for the midnight showing of a summer blockbuster. The management decided not to crowd the theatres scheduled to present the film so that people wouldn’t have to sit in the awkward seats off in the corners. When several of the theaters were occupied, there was still a crowd of people waiting for seats. More auditoriums were opened, venues that were originally scheduled to show a different film but at the time, had no audience. All it took was one person with computer knowledge to send the digital movie to the other projectors. This ability to shift audiences around could never have been possible with traditional films and projectionists.
Imax screens present an extraordinary, larger-than-life experience for viewers. What you may not know while you’re watching a digital film on an Imax screen, is two 2K projectors are used side by side. Two images are projected over each other creating a brighter overall movie.
Studios have one foot in the past and one in the future when it comes to supplying their product to theaters because they still have to make film copies for those theaters without digital equipment, but probably not for long. Soon, celluloid will go the way of music on eight track cassettes and digital cinema will be universal.