Director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises) is old school. He loves film, loves what it can do. But he sees the handwriting on the wall, and he thinks that if the studios get their way, film will go the way of the do-do. But Nolan isn’t going into that good night. Like his main character, Bruce Wayne, Nolan is on a crusade to stop what’s encroaching on his own cinematic Gotham City … digital video.
“The danger comes from filmmakers not asserting their right to choose that format,” Nolan says. “If they stop exercising that choice, it will go away. I tell people, ‘Look, digital isn’t going away.’ ”
Although digital projection has been available for a few years, it was mostly used for events or as a choice in a single theater. Then James Cameron’s Avatar came along. Avatar was being released primarily in 3D, but the film needed digital projection. As a result, movie theaters, sensing huge audiences at $15 a ticket, began frantically converting their theaters into digital projection. The result was fewer and fewer screens were going to be available for the convention film projection that has served a movie going audience for over a century.
Now, studios are seeing significant cost savings forsaking film altogether and they’re pushing filmmakers to release their films digitally. And who can blame them? When you look at the numbers it’s an easy choice – to print a film on 35mm reels and ship to theaters costs about $1500. Multiply that by 4,000 screens and it really ads up. Digital, by contrast costs a tenth that and most of that is for hard drive costs and shipping. And soon, it’ll be a digital download which will cost nearly nothing.
“Distributing movies digitally into theaters has been the holy grail of the studios,” former Universal Pictures chairman Tom Pollock told Variety back in 2010. “They stand to eliminate billions of dollars in costs in coming years without spending very much.”
Nolan isn’t the only director waging an offensive against digital. Steven Spielberg, known for his effects heavy action films, has been slow coming around to the digital medium. In fact, if you watch Jurassic Park‘s behind the scenes DVD, you see Spielberg and his crew evolve from traditional optical effects to coming around to making the dinosaurs with computer generated imagery (CGI). But even then, Spielberg still preferred to edit on a trusty Movieola. His friend George Lucas, by contrast, jumped into the deep in the digital pool from the get-go, filming the prequel series of Star Wars with high definition Sony HD cameras with Panavision lenses, and only using film as an end user medium. He’s never looked back.
So when Nolan invited the elite A-list directors to a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, he had ulterior motives. He wanted to impress upon his colleagues in the art to not abandon film. To remember what film can do. But he’s got tough road to hoe. The digital juggernaut has picked up speed, largely due to the influx of lower cost cameras like the RED Epic and Scarlet, and the Canon 5D Mk. III, 1DC, and C500. And it doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. In fact, according to IHS Screen Digest Cinema Intelligence Service, 83% of theaters will be using digital projection by 2013, leaving film projection largely in an art house domain. And by 2015, it’s anticipated that, like black and white movies, film will become an art choice, rather than enjoying the market share it once did. And that means those art houses – many located in lavish palace style theaters, will begin to disappear.
Hat Tip – LA Weekly