Paramount goes digital, causes theater owners headache

Paramount Pictures has decided to go digital and it's causing some independent theater owners a headache.
January 21, 2014 5:58:20 PM PST
If you like going to the movies, you're probably too focused on what's in front of you to notice what's going on behind you in the projection booth. A bold move could make this the year film exits the theaters forever.

It doesn't matter what you think of Will Ferrell's performance.

"Anchorman 2" will go down in history as the last Paramount Picture to be shown in American theaters on film.

"I love film and I love the way the film looked and the graininess of film and hearing that [sound] going through the projectors, just a feel, you know as you're growing up, you know you're at a movie theater, now it's a little quiet," Rheem Theater owner Derek Zemrak said.

Film projectors are being replaced by digital ones. And reels of celluloid are being replaced by hard drives.

Zemrak's Rheem Theater was state of the art and the first in the country with stadium seating in the 1950s, but the Rheem almost didn't make it.

"A lot of the independent theaters have closed across the country. Several here in the Bay Area," Zemrak said.

The digital projectors cost $80,000 each.

The Rheem launched a fundraising campaign with some help from Hollywood.

"Hey, I'm Thomas Ian Nicholas from the American Pie Films," Nicholas said.

"I'm Doug Jones. You might know me as a bunch of characters in their makeup," Jones said.

"Hey I'm Shorty Rossi. Do me a favor. Help save the Rheem Theater, so it won't close down," Rossi said.

They set out a bucket and gathered enough to upgrade three of their four screens thanks in part to a mystery donor who dropped in $5,000.

"Wow you know it's like all these hundreds in this box," Zemrak said.

But the digital project can quickly become a touchy topic among independent theater owners who in many cases are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars for something that's in large part designed to save the studios money.

Reporter: "How much of the savings gets passed on to you?"

"None. That's why we're not happy about it," Grand Lake Theater owner Allen Michaan said.

Michaan's Grand Lake Theater in Oakland is showing Paramount's first digital-only release, "The Wolf of Wall Street."

"I don't want to get a bad reputation," Michaan said.

The hard drive it ships on might cost a $100 compared to several thousand for a celluloid print, but the studios charge the theater the same amount.

Michaan has no choice but to pay it.

He admits, though that digital image looks awfully good.

"I love 35mm film, I miss it. But it's progress, there's nothing we can do," Michaan said.

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