Over the past few years, various doomsayers and Cassandras warned theater chains both big and small that the time of movies being distributed on film was coming to an end. Studios, among others, were strongly advised theater owners to toss out those old projectors and upgrade to digital, which would entail significant expense. However, many made the transition so they could keep up with industry trends, and at the beginning of this year, Paramount said they had decided to end distributing reels of film altogether, and were going purely digital. But it would seem every rule has an exception. With the final trailer for Christopher Nolan‘s “Interstellar” arriving this week, news came that the movie would be released two days earlier for cinemas that had 35mm and 70mm projection available. And needless to say, some theater owners who got rid of those old projectors are not pleased.
“This devalues what we’ve done. I can’t afford to get the projectors out of the warehouse for two days, and I don’t even have anyone to operate them,” CEO and founder of Spotlight Theatres Joe Paletta told THR. Paletta runs a small chain of digital movie theaters in Georgia, and his opinion is likely felt by many other similarly sized operators around the country. Switching to digital was an expensive proposition, but the theater owners were pushed to do so in order to stay in business. But now one of the biggest movies of the year is opening two days early and their competitors will get first crack at massive audiences, since they could afford to keep those old projectors around and hire a projectionist.
“It makes no sense to step back in time,” CEO Byron Berkley of Texas company Foothills Cinema said. That’s perhaps an overstatement, but it’s easy to see why smaller theater chains are feeling like Paramount’s move is a bit unfair. That said, the trend of movies opening earlier on IMAX screens is nothing new. But widening the parameters a bit more to include any cinemas that will project both 35mm and 70mm film is perhaps pushing the envelope for these smaller companies.
This debate won’t end with “Interstellar.” Next year, film projection enthusiast Quentin Tarantino will release “The Hateful Eight,” which has been promoted as having the widest 70mm release in twenty years. So those smaller chains will likely want to make sure they’ll have a digital option available so they’re not left out in the cold for another high profile film.