Paramount Makes History with Film Fadeout


In a historic event, Paramount Pictures has become the first Hollywood studio to stop releasing its major movies on film in North America. The great significance of this is that it is likely to encourage other studios to do the same and we could be looking at a complete phase-out of 35mm film by year’s end.

The exhibition community has been waiting for this policy to take effect and for movies to be distributed entirely in the digital format. It was just a matter of time, as Fox and Disney sent warnings to the exhibition industry in 2011 saying they would stop distributing film. Because this announcement was expected, the nation’s largest circuits moved quickly to embrace digital technology. According to NATO, 92 percent of all the screens in the U.S. have already converted to digital.

That leaves about eight percent of the theatres, or nearly 2,500 screens, without digital technology. So the real question is what happens to these theatres. Do they go dark and close their doors permanently, or do they find a way to finance the high cost of transition? To our knowledge, there is only one group that still has a deal in place with the studios for virtual print fees that runs through this July and is working to support those smaller theatres in the shift to digital.

It is no surprise why the studios came up with a solution with exhibition to finance this revolution via VPFs. In the long run, the amount of funds saved is enormous considering that the average 35mm print costs about $2,000 compared to a digital copy on disc usually costing less than $100. And with the advent of satellite delivery, the studios can save more on production and shipping costs.

In another move by Paramount Pictures to generate larger profits in the international market, they will be releasing a special version of Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic Noah in 3D while the U.S. run will be in 2D. The studio is hoping that overseas audiences will respond more strongly to the visual-effects-heavy production and its depiction of the spectacular flood and hordes of CGI animals.

The goal is to release this 3D version in about 65 foreign countries including Russia, all of South America and most of continental Europe. This release pattern could become one that is practiced by other studios, considering the popularity of 3D abroad and the dramatic decrease in 3D revenues in the U.S.

On another front, it was very surprising to learn that a major exhibition chain is objecting to guidelines for shorter movie trailers that have been proposed by the National Association of Theatre Owners.

The guidelines stipulate that trailers are not to exceed two minutes in length as well as not to be played in theatres more than 150 days prior to a film’s release. Apparently, many of NATO’s members felt there was an overemphasis by the studios on promoting summer blockbusters in the slower months rather than marketing the films debuting during that time.

Cinemark, the third-largest U.S. chain and a leading member of NATO, said in a letter to the studios that the company has voted against these guidelines on the principal of leaving well enough alone. Tim Warner, CEO of Cinemark, stated, “We believe in a business-to-business relationship with the studios. As such, all marketing and related issues around marketing will be handled by Cinemark on a business-to-business basis. We will not allow NATO or any other entity to act on our behalf or speak on behalf of Cinemark.” The letter also emphasized that the industry needs to work together, focusing on how we can build and expand rather than creating issues that divide us.

NATO’s press release said: “The guidelines are designed to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the industry’s marketing efforts and to promote competition.” It went on to call the guidelines “completely voluntary and will be implemented through individual exhibition company policies, which may vary.”

It’s very surprising that this has played out so much in the press and not behind closed doors. Credit is due to the studios and NATO for not making this a public fight, and certainly the conversations will continue in privacy.

A Very Special Executive

Much has been written about Tom Sherak, the former Fox executive and president of the Motion Picture Academy, in recent weeks since he passed away from prostate cancer. This editor read every word of every article not only because he knew Tom personally, but because he admired him immensely.

Tom was a man’s man. He loved sports, he loved the movies and most of all he loved people. It was his love of others that made him stand out. Tom gave everything he had to help others, regardless of whether or not he knew them. Tom used to tell the story that his wife Madeleine would come home and find him sitting at the kitchen table writing checks for various charities that had solicited him as “Occupant.” Tom did not know how to say NO!

If a person in the motion picture industry fell on hard times, Tom was the first to offer help, by finding the individual a job or getting them financial help from Will Rogers or the Pioneers. And if dollars were not available, he would go into his own pocket and ask others to do the same.

Tom was funny and always made people laugh. We were late once for a meeting at Fox to plan for a Pioneer dinner, so Tom made us watch him on a treadmill in the Fox gym and orchestrated the meeting while burning a few calories.

Tom was a jokester and a kid at heart. We were at the Century Plaza Hotel for a Pioneer dinner honoring Sherry Lansing. Our guest speakers were Harrison Ford and Sharon Stone. Tom wanted to thank them for being at the dinner and asked me to take him backstage and introduce him to Harrison and Sharon. “Tom,” I said, “I don’t know either of them.” “Doesn’t matter—you are running the dinner, so act like you know them,” he replied. So I took Tom by the arm and went into the dressing room and said, “Sharon and Harrison, please meet Tom Sherak”—at which time both Harrison and Sharon jumped up and hugged him. Of course, they knew Tom. Everyone knew Tom. And there I was as the victim of another Sherak joke.

The greatest gift I learned from Tom was that family and friends come before everything. The world is a better place because of Tom Sherak, and I am a better person because I knew him.