A recent report from IHS Screen Digest, a company that analyzes trends in digital media, says that movie studios will cease producing 35 mm film prints for major markets by the end of 2013 (the US, France, the UK, Japan, and Australia are considered ”major markets”). IHS predicts studios will stop producing film for the rest of the world by 2015.
The death of traditional film—outside of arthouse films and the occasional film student project—has been a long time coming. Film reels are more expensive than digital storage, degrade faster, and are physically much heavier to ship and carry around. Ars noted in 2006 that Canon and Nikon were taking losses on film cameras. We reported a few months later that some filmakers felt that digital film produced better movies, as it allowed them to keep the camera running while actors performed, rather than spending money on long rehearsals, only shooting when necessary.
According to the IHS study, another factor is pushing studios to make the change from film to digital: the price of silver shot up: what was once $5 is now about $28 an ounce. Silver crystals coat traditional film and help create the filmed image after exposure.
While economics may be spurring directors toward digital movies, theaters aren’t following quite so quickly on their heels. “51.5 percent of worldwide screens had digital projectors at the end of 2011,” said Deadline. While that’s an 82 percent increase from the year before, the move from film to digital will almost certainly create a burden on theaters to invest money they may not have on new projection technology. Digital projection systems can cost between $70,000 to $100,000 and small town movie houses will have trouble coming up with that cash.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that as many as 10 percent of US theaters could shut down over the cost.
At one point, the IHS report said, 13 billion feet of film were shuttled around the globe every year, “equal to five trips to the moon and back,” according to Deadline. By 2010, that number had decreased to 5 billion feet of film.