The Digital Revolution: Are we speeding toward the end of 35-mm film?

by Bob Deutsch

The Digital Revolution: Are we speeding toward the end of 35-mm film?

For decades, 35-millimeter film has been the standard film gauge in movie production, but as it has in other industries, digital technology is fast rendering this format obsolete. It’s widely accepted that digital projection is the format of the future, and most observers expect that technique to be the industry norm at some point. But, has that future come even sooner than originally thought?

Reports indicate many film studios intend to phase out 35-mm reels by as early as next year. That has put pressure on theater owners around the country to step up their projection capabilities or risk losing business.

“It’s either we convert or we close,” Brian Hanney told the The Falmouth Enterprise. Hanney runs a local theater in Falmouth, Massachusetts, and says that he must invest $260,000 in new digital projection equipment for his movie screens by the end of the year. If he falls short, his theater will not be equipped to present first-run Hollywood pictures, he told the newspaper.

Other theaters nationwide must make similar investments. Fred Saunders of Crawford County Cinema 4 in Denison, Iowa has already upgraded his theater, according to the local Bulletin Review newspaper. The same is true of Nick Campo, owner of Beach Theater in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, who made the switch in September, according to the Fort Myers Beach Bulletin.

While the investment can be expensive, owners say they have already noticed improvements in picture and sound quality. Theaters that upgrade will enjoy these perks, as well as the ability to easily screen 3D film on indoor or outdoor movie screens – a significant revenue opportunity.

“Digital is certainly the future of cinema,” Saunders told the Bulletin Review, calling himself “fortunate” to have made the switch.

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