The end of film as film – that is, an end for movies that are projected using old-fashioned technology as opposed to more modern digital techniques – is far more nigh than you may think, according to one movie studio executive, but when it comes, it won’t be the studios’ fault.
Paramount Pictures Executive Vice Preisdent of Operations Mark Christiansen spoke to exhibitors and movie theater owners at the Showeast conference on Monday, urging them to make the switch to digital projection while they still have a choice. “I don’t know when the end [of film] will be, but it could be tomorrow,” he told them in a presentation that was only mildly filled with notes of abject panic in his voice.
The reason for the changeover, whenever it happens, will be because of the various manufacturers stopping production of film stock, Christiansen argued. “It won’t be a studio decision,” he told the audience, “there simply won’t be stock.” Christiansen pointed to the fact that “to the best of [his] knowledge,” Afga “quit producing film,” and competitors Fuji has similarly stopped taking orders for new stock as it prepares to close its film business altogether. “That leaves Kodak,” he says, but that company is still in bankruptcy protection and therefore not necessarily in control of its own future. “The judge [in charge of the company’s finances] could look at 35mm [orders] tomorrow and ask them to stop doing it,” Christiansen explained. “They won’t have a choice.”
Digital projection has been on the increase in America since the Walt Disney Company teamed with Texas Instuments and Technicolor to install prototype systems in theaters across America in 2000 (The first digital projection system was actually only completed a year earlier, by Texas Instuments), although it would take Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones to successfully roll out secure digital distribution to theaters, something seen as a landmark in convincing both studios and theaters that digital could be a successful (and cheaper) alternative to the more traditional film stock. It had been estimated that around 80 percent of the world’s cinema screens would be converted to digital projection by the end of this year – helped greatly by chains making the decision to switch over en masse, as AMC decided to do in 2007 when it signed with Sony for a three-year replacement scheme to culminate this year – with the remaining 20 percent of screens expected to make the transition by 2015 at the latest, according to industry magazine Screen Digest.
Of course, that rate of change may increase is Christiansen’s prediction comes true and there are literally no new film prints to be had as the result of a shortage of material; even if some theaters switch to second-run and revival-run programming only, eventually they, too, will have to switch. While this is merely the evolution of the art form, there is a sadness to the realization that very soon, films on film will be a thing of the past.