Word leaked out on Saturday through the L.A. Times that Paramount Pictures would be the first studio to nix film in lieu of going all digital with all new releases in the U.S. Film stock has been the mainstay of the industry for more than a century and the recent release of the studio's "The Wolf of Wall Street" was their first film to be entirely released on digital format. Paramount sent out a memo to theaters that the Will Farrell comedy, "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues" would be the final film they would release on 35mm.
"It's of huge significance because Paramount is the first studio to make this policy known," said Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. "For 120 years, film and 35 mm has been the format of choice for theatrical presentations. Now we're seeing the end of that. I'm not shocked that it's happened, but how quickly it has happened."
The news is not surprising as the writing has been on the wall for several years that the use of traditional film was rapidly losing favor. In December 2011, acclaimed director Steven Spielberg shared in this review that while he does continue to use film stock; however, he conceded that within the next 8 years or so, there will probably no longer be labs to process the film and he'll be forced to go digital.
Paramount will continue to release film to foreign markets where they only show film; however, the studios will be pushing to go all digital sooner rather than later. A 35mm film print costs approximately $2,000 whereas a digital copy runs around $100. The next step will be to by-pass even the digital copies and go straight to having the films beamed in via satellite to the theaters.
Until this point, only small-release documentaries had been entirely released on digital format; Paramount's move is the sound of the hammering of the final nail on the use of 35mm for screenings domestically. According to the National Association of Theater Owners, of the 40,045 domestically, ninety-two percent now have digital capabilities.
While 8% may seem like a small number, it actually translates to almost 1,000 theaters in the U.S. with most of those serving small, rural communities that have not switched to digital format capabilities due to the almost $70,000 expense of the projectors; these theaters are at risk of closing unless their local communities can assist with the necessary funds.