At this point, many movie theater chains in the U.S. have abandoned film projection for DCP, or digital cinema package—perhaps the biggest overhaul in movie exhibition since the introduction of sound. This conversion is an expensive process (as I learned recently from Patio Theater owner Demetri Kouvalis, a DCP projection system costs about $70,000) as well as a controversial one. For many movie enthusiasts, nothing can replace the look of celluloid, and the conversion of film images to digital files represents a rift in our relationship to movie history. (Most Hollywood studios have been destroying their archival prints en masse as they transfer their catalogs to digital formats—predictably to much outrage from celluloid fans.) But the situation is not so clear-cut. Proponents of the new system argue that digital movie files are easier to handle than reels of celluloid, cheaper to transport, and less detrimental to the environment in their creation.
To get a ground-level view of the transition, I’ve been talking to local theater owners, projectionists, and others involved in film exhibition. Last week I spoke with Doug McLaren, head projectionist at the Music Box Theatre since 2009, to get an overview of how the new system works.