Friday, January 24, 2014

Daily Matinee: A Paramount Picture- No Longer on Celluloid

Header from a 1916 advertisement for Paramount Pictures, published in Moving Picture World.
If the studio still published press releases in this fashion, it would possibly state 

"Only for theaters equipped with Digital Projection".

Long ago, Paramount Pictures had a motto- “If it’s a Paramount Picture, it’s the best show in town!” 

The Los Angeles Times reported recently on the 102-year old studio’s plan to discontinue future releases on physical motion picture film, and that upcoming features would be delivered digitally to theaters. The last film by Paramount to be released on physical film was Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues*. This would make Paramount one of the first major studios to discontinue releasing product on physical film (Greenbriar Picture Shows has an interesting section on this, including a section on the 1929 version of The Wolf of Wall Street- which is a “lost” film).

While a handful of independent theaters and major multiplex chains have upgraded to digital projection, there are still some theaters in the nation that rely on physical film prints. In the Frederick area- MDL Holiday Cinemas (the area’s second-run twinplex) has upgraded one of their theater rooms with digital projection equipment, while they have taken out a loan for a second digital projection system. The theater is encouraging patrons to give what they can towards their fund for the digital projection loan, in order to continue exhibition of second-run features (in this writer’s view, the Holiday is better than the overpriced “monstrosity” known as Regal Cinemas).

Paramount isn't the only studio that’s making the switch to digital, Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, and Lions Gate are planning to enact similar methods in digital film distribution.
While we have seen great technological advancements in digital cinema, there are some drawbacks to this.   

Many digital prints are delivered to cinemas via satellite; some of these features are stored on a server. Inclement weather conditions can affect satellite reception- and can pose problems for the projectionist (and the audience). Not only do problems persist for projectionists and theaters, but studios as well. Digital files that are sent to theaters nationwide are susceptible to hacking if not secured. 

What will happen to repertory prints of classic films from the majors, along with titles from independent distributors? Even though this writer embraces technological advancements (post-production/editing, special effects, and film preservation), there should be safe, flawless storage and presentation methods when it comes to digital cinema.

Years before digital projection, most of the major studios had their own distribution branches from coast-to-coast. In relation to Paramount’s plan to discontinue physical film prints, one of the studio’s old distribution buildings was saved from destruction several years ago. Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania- Paramount’s Pittsburgh Exchange ran from 1926 until the early 1980’s. 

Paramount’s competitors were close by, as that section of town (Boulevard of the Allies) was dubbed “film row”. After years of neglect, there were plans for the building to be torn down- until the building received significant attention thanks to student filmmaker Drew Levinson and the Young Preservationists Association of Pittsburgh in 2009 (the film is available on YouTube).

Because of the group’s efforts, it was designated a historic landmark by the City of Pittsburgh in 2010. The old exchange is presently being used by a commercial photography studio.

Even though we are in a digital age, wonder what the founders of Paramount (Zukor, Lasky, Goldfish/Goldwyn, DeMille) would think of the studio’s decision of migrating from film stock to digital? 

*SIDEBAR: The first installment of Anchorman was originally released by DreamWorks SKG in 2004. Studio parent Viacom would acquire rights to the live-action DreamWorks holdings in 2006, but would assume full control in 2010. Thus, the sequel to Anchorman is a Paramount release.

ON AN ADDITIONAL NOTE: To those who plan on attending any future screening at MDL Holiday Cinemas, give what you can to their digital projection fund. They are offering two free tickets for donations of $20.00 or more. Donations can also be made on their site (via PayPal). Support a real, locally-owned movie theater!

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The proprietor of "At The Matinee", Chris Hamby- welcomes your comments and suggestions on any post featured. NOTE: All comments are monitored by the author.