Economics has driven the movie industry to projecting as well as capturing images digitally. LA Weekly broke down the hard truth in dollars and cents in 2012:
(Studios) no longer want to pay to physically print and ship movies. It costs about $1,500 to print one copy of a movie on 35mm film and ship it to theaters in its heavy metal canister. Multiply that by 4,000 copies -- one for each movie on each screen in each multiplex around the country -- and the numbers start to get ugly. By comparison, putting out a digital copy costs a mere $150.
Studios set a deadline of the end of 2013 for theaters to convert to digital, enabling them to run what's called Digital Cinema Packages (DCPs). These digital versions come loaded on a hard drive. The system can cost upwards of $100,000, a pretty penny for independent cinemas. San Francisco's Balboa Theatre recently collected $102,000 on Kickstarter to "upgrade" to digital, and independents around the country have been struggling to do the same or go dark. The National Association of Theatre Owners said that as of July, 2013, 35,712 screens out of almost 40,000 had been converted to digital. "It appears that a perfect storm of events may bring about the end of film around the end of 2014 due to either a worldwide lack of film stock and/or the closing of processing labs," the group contends.
Conheim says when he owned The Guild, if you wanted to show an old movie some studios would just tell you to buy the DVD and project it. (And make you buy the disc yourself.) Of a time when distributors would send you an actual film print? "Those days are over," he says.