Movie/35 mm Film Question

Went to see The King’s Speech last night (great movie). It was interrupted by a mechanical issue. I took the opportunity to ask one of the theater employees if they still used projectors, to which she said yes. The movie, at least that one, was on 35 mm film. I would have thought the industry would be using some form of an “industrial-sized” DVD. Anyone know why they still ship/use these rolls of film? What about animated movies which are “shot” with computers?

Movie Theaters are slowly upgrading to digital projectors, but the equipment is very, very expensive, and most theaters are just barely surviving, so there is no sense of urgency. There is a theater down the street from my house which advertises digital projection, so they must think that it’s a selling point.

A lot of cinemas don’t have DV projectors, so they need the 35 mm prints. It’s possible that there are actually movie patrons who prefer to see projected film, too; but I think by and large people don’t care. The last film I saw was the latest Harry Potter one, and it was a digital projection. I could tell it wasn’t film, and it was a little distracting. I’m sure I’m in the small minority though, because film is one of the things I’m into.

Movies shot on video/computers are copied to film in much the same way that films are copied to video.

As a former projectionist, I am quite interested in where movies are going.

I imagine that there are a few factors going on here:
[li]The current distribution system is large and involves many players from different companies. And it works. It’s hard to mess with something like that and not cause lots of trouble.[/li][li]Technology marches on. Who wants to invest in the current projection technology only to be left in the dust two months from now?[/li][li]The theater owns the machines but doesn’t directly receive the benefit from the ticket prices: most of a theater’s profits come from popcorn and soda, while the ticket prices go to pay the rental fees on the films. This makes it harder to assign the cost of upgrading to the theaters alone.[/li][li]35mm works everywhere[/li][/ul]This seemed like a fairly googleable topic, and after a quick search I found a thread on this on another board. That thread is from 2008, but the points are pretty valid today.

I imagine that once digital gains the better foothold, projectionists will disappear, and the theater managers will need to handle the occasional burst lamp, but other than that there won’t be anything for them to do. The movies can simply all run unattended.

I agree with Johnny about the attractiveness of film. One question often asked here is “why does film look different from video,” and it involves several factors, but the different response to lighting and the fact that film grain is randomly scattered, and not locked in place like pixels, makes it a warmer experience. Sort of like how guitar enthusiasts prefer tube amps over solid-state.

[tangent]Xenon projector bulbs are very expensive and quite dangerous. They are highly pressurized, and when they reach end-of-life, they often explode. I have had them blow up in a nearby projector lamphouse and it scared the stuffing out of me: it sounds like a bomb going off.[/tangent]

The Xenon projector bulb linked to above sells for $4,260. It says it lasts for only 500 hours. If a theater uses that bulb 10 hours a day, it’s only good for 50 days. Do theaters really spend that much for each projector every 7 weeks?

That is actually a more powerful bulb than we usually used (6,000W), hence the higher cost and possibly the shorter life.

We typically used 1,500W, 2,500W, or 3,000W bulbs, and I recall that we ran them for longer than 500 hours. There is an “hour counter” on the lamphouse, and we did keep a log of how long each lamp had been burning.
We replaced them when they started to dim or flicker, and when they exploded.

Another factor: most films were only 90 minutes or so, so at four showings per day we would use 6-8 hours of the bulb life.

I seem to recall that we kept them going for around six months between changes. And that bulb changing procedure was hairy—you had to put on all kinds of safety gear before opening up the lamphouse: facemask, apron, gloves.

[quote=“minor7flat5, post:4, topic:572011”]

[li]The theater owns the machines but doesn’t directly receive the benefit from the ticket prices: most of a theater’s profits come from popcorn and soda, while the ticket prices go to pay the rental fees on the films. This makes it harder to assign the cost of upgrading to the theaters alone.[/li][/QUOTE]

That, more than anything else, is the deciding factor. The movie studios and distributors will gain the most by not shipping heavy film prints around. The theaters will gain a much smaller amount, but the studios are wanting the theaters to eat all the costs.

Another factor slowing the wide adoption of digital presentation is piracy. It’s easier to make a copy of a DVD or even a streamed file than it is of a 35mm print.

Those 6,000W bulbs must be for large screen auditoriums with a long throw or drive-ins, if there were any drive-ins left.

I’m an old projectionist from the carbon arc days. I went through a lot of those copper-sheathed rods throughout my days but I have no idea what they cost.

Wow, I have a box of 6 or so new bulbs that look like that, I picked them up about 10 years ago for a few bucks, Never knew what they were for.
Have to dig them out and see what they are.

Actually, no. The format used for digital print distribution has nothing to do with consumer DVD or streamed files. It’s encrypted data usually distributed via satellite and stored on a server, but in order to be played, the server has to obtain a one-time key from the film distributor. Film cans are much more easily stolen, or just waylaid overnight and scanned.

To my knowledge, the digital files used for electronic cinema distribution have never been cracked.

The answers to most of the OP’s questions are here: Wikipedia on Digital Cinema.

The short answer is that 35mm film technology has been highly successful and resilient for more than a century. It has seen the addition of sound, color, and digital sound while the underlying format has barely changed at all. A film shot in 1911 could be projected on a modern projector today. It’s quite a remarkable record. There are few if any communications technologies that have remained essentially unchanged for such a long period of time.

Needless to say, with such a long history, change was slow in coming, but after a few false starts, it is proceeding in earnest now.

Except for the expense of the hardware, none of these statements is correct with respect to North American exhibition. Since July 2005, when the movie industry codified specifications for digital cinema, about half of the screens in North America – 16,000 out of 32,000 – have been converted to digital. This averages almost nine screens a day, and the pace is increasing. And I don’t know where you get your information about the industry, but most movie theaters are doing great. They are among the few industries that have thrived during the economic recession. And 3D has been a huge boon for them.

This is why the Virtual Print Feewas invented. In short: the studios pay a fee, lower than the cost of a film print, to a third party that finances the initial purchase price of the digital system for the exhibitor. This way, the studios, who stand to profit the most from digital distribution, save money while funding the purchase of the hardware, without gaining control over theaters, which was not a viable option for the exhibitors, and is, in any case, prohibited by Federal law.

Along with the DCI process, VPFs have been largely responsible for the rapid spread of digital cinema, although VPFs have been more available to larger theater chains. Smaller regional and local exhibitors have not been as quick to convert to digital.

gaffa has spoken to this point above, but to add more detail, software encryption and hardware protection of the unencrypted data was a top priority in the DCI process. You can read the whole DCI spec here (PDF!). The section on security starts on page 91 and accounts for almost a third of the whole document.

Whether they are animated or captured on 35mm film or on digital cameras, most films these days are edited entirely in digital form. The completed digital masters are “filmed out” with laser scanners onto negatives from which release prints are struck. The same digital master is used to make the digital cinema packages (DCPs) that are sent to digital theaters, usually on a hard disk.

The DCPs are encrypted and can only be decoded by a specific server/projector at a specific theater at times and dates specified by the exhibition contract between the distributor and the theater chain. The key that allows the showing of the film is sent to the theater by e-mail, in a Key Delivery Message (KDM).

It’s amazing the kind of stuff that happens behind your back when you leave an industry for twenty years :slight_smile:

Article from 2008 on theatre profitability here.

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s 2011 now, and if you look at the stock prices for the theater chains named in that article, you’ll see that they have all risen from the lows of late 2008, early 2009.

Regal Entertainment (#1)
Cinemark (#3)
Carmike (#4)

(AMC Entertainment, #2, is privately held.)

In any case, a drop in share price that corresponded to a major world economic crisis is hardly the same as “barely surviving,” and far from there being “no sense of urgency” to convert to digital, virtually all exhibitors see digital, and 3D specifically, as the primary route to continued financial improvement and are converting as quickly as they possibly can.

There’s one still operating near where I live.

Punch this into Google Maps: 43 22 58 n 76 27 24 w

I want to apologize to beowulff for the slight but unnecessary snarkiness in my last post. I regretted it after I posted it, but too late to edit.

No problem.
I should be more careful with my fact-checking when posting in GQ…