Film distribution is being reeled in

The curtain is coming down on the days of 35-millimeter film flickering in the movie theatre.

According to the LA Times Paramount has become the first big studio to stop releasing its major movies on film in the United States. Its latest Oscar-nominated film “The Wolf of Wall Street” is the studio’s first movie in wide release to be distributed entirely in digital format.

Tragically the last 35-mm flick will be the Will Ferrell comedy “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”.  We use the term comedy in its loosest sense, but it is a little sad that the last film should be something which probably should be sent directly to video anyway.

There once was a time that only small run movies such as documentaries were released solely in digital format.

The move only applies to Paramount, but it is likely that the other studios will follow suit and the complete phase-out of film will happen at the end of the year.

For 120 years, film and 35 mm has been the format of choice for movie theatres and the change has been rapid.

Studios prefer digital distribution because it is much cheaper. Film prints cost as much as $2,000; a digital copy on disc usually costs less than $100. Eventually, these movies could be beamed into cinemas by satellite, saving even more on production and shipping costs.

Digital technology also enables theatres to screen higher-priced 3D films and makes it easier for them to book and programme entertainment.

Paramount’s move is a surprise because other studios were expected to make the jump first. 20th Century Fox sent a letter to exhibitors in 2011 saying it would stop distributing film “within the next year or two”. Disney issued a similar warning to theatre operators.

Already, 92 percent of the 40,045 screens in the US have converted to digital and last month, Technicolor, the French-owned film processing and post-production company, closed a film lab in Glendale.

“The Wolf of Wall Street” was partially shot on film, and its director, Martin Scorsese, is a passionate advocate for film preservation.