Pressure on exhibitors to go digital increases; financing, filmprint availability decreases

posted by CSWalczak on April 27, 2011 at 3:45 pm

LOS ANGELES, CA — As reported earlier smaller theater chains and independent operators are finding it difficult to make the change to digital projection if they want to keep showing first run films. Even with financing provided by the major studios, the cost to some operators is prohibitively expensive. Making the situation worse, this special financing is reportedly only going to be available for about another year and a half or so and securing prints of first run films is getting harder as studios are cutting back on ordering print copies. Some within the industry are predicting that print availability will esentially cease in the U.S. by the end of 2013.

“Simply put, if you don’t make the decision to get on the digital train soon, you will be making the decision to get out of the business,” Fithian told attendees. “That would be tragic because digital cinema and 3-D have so much to offer.”

Overseas, theater operators also are rapidly converting to digital, although studios are expected to continue shipping film prints to some smaller countries for the foreseeable future.

There is more in the Los Angeles Times.

Comments (11)

markp on April 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I guess the future doesn’t look too good for a 35 year veteran FILM projectionist like me eh??? The future of movie going in the U.S.A……“visit your nearest AMC or Regal cinemas” Some choice.

EvanJChase on April 28, 2011 at 2:10 pm

While I love the old projection equipment—especially the days of carbon arc and reel changes, the reality in the last 20 years has not been as good. Way too often movies were out of focus, film damage and scratches and other unprofessional exhibition just made the experience—especially in classic film venues less than good.
As an operator that uses high-end digital projection for classic shows, my audiences love the sharp, bright and beautiful presentation with today’s digital experience. Distributors have relatively few decent 35mm prints of classics any longer and the outrageous shipping cost for prints really hurt the small time exhibitor.

Giles on April 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm

when the Film Forum and the AFI Silver (as well as ALL repetoire film centers) go all digital and no longer are able to present the ‘classics’ in 35mm – all will be lost. What happens though with the many Film Festivals (nationwide and internationally) where 35mm prints are more prevailent? – the recent FilmFest DC had many screenings in 35mm – if AMC Mazza (one of the festivals locations) had gone all digital, the feature ‘film’ in 35mm form, would not have been possible.

CSWalczak on April 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm

I really share the concern about places such as AFI, the Castro in San Francisco, and other repertory houses; the few that are left may find the so-called digital revolution difficult or even fatal, depending on how studios and film libraries handle availability of classic titles. If digital elements (I do not mean blu-ray or other DVDs) are not made in place of 35mm, it is certainly possible that the ability to show classic films in theaters in an orginal theatrical format may eventually disappear, which would be to me and I am sure many others very sad. It may well be the case, that just as real Cinerama can now only be seen in only three theaters around the world, or as the number of places where an actual 70mm print can be exhibited also has dwindled drastically, the number of 35mmm venues may one day also be very, very limited, though that probably is not going to happen tomorrow, but in ten years, it may well be a reality.

As far as film festivals are concerned, my guess is that the word is out that if you as filmmaker are seriously expecting to reach a broad, international audience, especially in commercial venues, you are just going to have to be able to submit your work in as a digital element rather than in 35mm, if not now than certainly in the near future. I do not know what festival organizers are saying these days in their entry materials, but I am sure that sooner more later most major festivals will have to limit how many 35mm entries are allowable, simply because more and more venues are going all digital, and it may be cost prohibitive to arrange 35mm showings (even if you can find skilled projectionists, who are themselves disappearing from the scene unfortunately). I would think the situation will not be too critical for the big city festivals for awile anyway, but smaller festivals might have a problem if their preferred venue(s) go 100% digital.

Giles on April 29, 2011 at 6:58 pm

question though, if a arthouse theater were to go all digital – would all the studios that provide content to said theaters have all the new releases in hard drive form? Landmark and in particular their Bethesda Maryland location (their cash cow BTW) hasn’t made one effort to make the transition to ‘digital’ – for a theater chain of their stature to be this resistent is rather remarkable (or foolish) when you think about it. Interestingly, I think that Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’ is more in align in Landmark booking it, than AMC or Regal. Time will tell.

CSWalczak on April 29, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Does Landmark have a Bethesda location? I don’t see one listed on their website. I know they have one in Baltimore proper and that one certainly does have digital projection. Landmark announced in 2005 that it was installing Sony 4K digital projectors in all of its theaters, and their promotional page for theater rental certainly implies that all of their theaters do.

At any rate, considering that Landmark is tentaively offering itself up for sale, I would speculate that if the chain is picked up by Regal, AMC, or Cinemark that eventually 35mm capabilities might well be phased out. If the purchaser would be an outfit such as Robert Redford’s Sundance Cinemas, the situation might be different for awhile, but frankly, I am not optimistic about long-term 35mm capability remaining in the cinemas operated by the big chains much after 2020.

Giles on April 29, 2011 at 9:57 pm

your kidding… right. ;) It’s actually under the ‘Washington DC’ listing. It’s pretty much common knowledge that Landmark’s Bethesda theater makes money hand over fist.

As for the Baltimore location, I thought there were at least three ‘digital’ screens – as of today, only one film is listed as such as ‘digital projection’ (huh??)

I know that the E Street theater has at least one Sony 4K projector – as for the planned mass theater DP installation, it’s been rather mum.

I’ve been to the Bethesda theater alot, and all I’ve ever seen are 35mm prints on all their screens – even with the notion and idea of theatres going all digital – I’d really like to know if any of the films currently playing at E Street and Bethesda are released digitally, at all:

  • Le Quattro Volte
  • The Human Resources Manager
  • The Princess of Montpensier
  • Win Win
  • Nostalgia for the Light
  • Jane Eyre
  • Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
  • Atlas Shrugged: Part 1
  • Bill Cunningham New York
  • Potiche
  • Winter in Wartime
  • The Conspirator
  • Of Gods and Men
  • African Cats (this I know is, as I saw it today at such at AMC Mazza)

Had not heard that Landmark is ‘tentaively’ up for sale, that’s new news to me. What’s wrong with Mark Cuban??

Giles on April 29, 2011 at 10:02 pm

oh here’s the story on the potential selling of Landmark (Los Angeles Times):

(April 19, 2011)

Dallas Mavericks owner and media entrepreneur Mark Cuban confirmed Tuesday that he has put Landmark Theatres, the nation’s leading theater chain showing specialized movies, and his production and distribution company Magnolia Pictures up for sale.

“Prices for entertainment properties are up,” Cuban said in an email. “If we don’t get the price and premium we want, we are happy to continue to make money from the properties.”

Bids are expected as early as next week, according to Bloomberg, which first reported news of the auction.

Landmark operates 296 screens at 63 theaters in 17 states, including its flagship theater in West Los Angeles. Cuban and his partner Todd Wagner bought the Landmark chain, at one time under bankruptcy protection, from Oaktree Capital Management in 2003. They invested heavily in expanding and upgrading the circuit, including spending $20 million on its 2,000-seat, 12-screen multiplex at the intersection of Pico and Westwood boulevards.

Magnolia Pictures distributes independent films, such as James Marsh’s 2008 documentary “Man on Wire,” about tightrope walker Philippe Petit, and last year’s love story and murder mystery “All Good Things,” starring Ryan Gosling. The company’s home entertainment arm also releases films simultaneously with their theatrical debut via cable channel HDNet, also owned by Cuban and Wagner.

“Given our unique position of enabling VOD day-and-date with theatrical, we wanted to test the market,‘’ Cuban said.

However, most theater operators, including the nation’s largest circuits — Regal, AMC and Cinemark —have been alarmed by Hollywood studios' plans to accelerate the early release of movies in the home through video-on-demand services. They fear that such offerings will significantly undermine ticket sales.

Giles on April 29, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I actually should make an addendum to the AFI Silver statement I made: all three screens are equipped to present films in 35mm (and 70mm on the big screen) and DLP digital projection, but appropriately the AFI favors 35mm over DLP (as they technically should). Thumbs up in my book.

Giles on April 30, 2011 at 3:08 am

on a similiar note, there’s this bit of news:

“Turner Classic Movies selects Barco’s 4K to show restored films at the TCM Classic Film Festival”

Barco has been selected as the exclusive 4K digital cinema projector supplier for the 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival, bringing to the big screen digitally-restored classic films like Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. With more than 70 screenings planned and dozens of movie celebrities in attendance, Barco joins a highly celebrated event to honor the classic era of American and European cinema.

Barco, a worldwide leader in digital cinema, is partnering with Turner Classic Movies (TCM) to present some of the most iconic films of the 20th Century, projecting them in dazzling DLP Cinema┬« Enhanced 4K resolution to entertain classic film aficionados and a new generation of movie goers. Barco’s DP4K-32B will be showing films that have been painstakingly digitally restored to their original glory.

“Turner Classic Movies believes in the highest standards in presentation, and Barco’s unparalleled technology allows us to show these renowned classics in their most pristine form,” said Genevieve McGillicuddy, managing director of the TCM Classic Film Festival and senior director of brand activation for TCM. “We’re proud to work with Barco in presenting these films as they were meant to be seen.”

The flagship model among Barco’s fully DCI-compliant line of digital cinema projectors, the DP4K-32B features Texas Instruments' 1.38" DLP Cinema┬« chip to achieve stunning images in 4K resolution (4,096 x 2,160). Its ultra brightness and vibrant color accuracy produces razor-sharp images to offer a premium viewing experience. The DP4K-32B’s efficient optical design and patented DMD cooling system result in exceptionally long lifetime and the lowest total cost of ownership.

“We are honored that TCM has chosen Barco to help celebrate these internationally-acclaimed classics,” commented Patrick Lee, VP Digital Cinema for Barco North America. “Their choice of digital cinema projectors speaks volumes about their dedication to upholding the highest standards in presentation. We both admire and respect their commitment to restoring such an important part of motion picture history.”

The TCM Classic Film Festival runs April 28-May 1, 2011 in Hollywood, California. Screenings and events will be held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Chinese 6 Multiplex, the Egyptian Theatre, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and the Music Box Theatre, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary.


Seattle’s Cinerama showcased ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ and ‘The African Queen’ via DCI harddrive form – so thankfully a few studios are preserving and making the necessary steps in providing ‘the classics’ to theaters that do have digital projector systems.

Giles on May 1, 2011 at 4:52 pm

actually I’m wrong about my assumption that AMC wouldn’t book Herzog’s ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’, in 3D. Of the two theaters that this opening at next Friday, Landmark Bethesda is showing this in 2D 35mm print form, AMC Hoffman in Alexandria is showing this in 3D digital projection.

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