Friday, December 17, 2010

Future of Film Projection in Jeopardy?

For all those concerned about the future of film projection -- here's some alarming news courtesy of Douglas Maclaren at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago:

"LaVezzi Precision Inc, the manufacturer for 95% of projector sprockets in use worldwide, has decided to cease production on all motion picture parts. Sprockets, gears, shafts, and most importantly, the cams & stars for projector intermittent movement have all ceased being manufactured effective immediately. 

That means the precision parts critical for running film on Ballantyne, Century, Christie, and Simplex projectors (including also RCA soundheads) are now limited to what is left on the shelf. Clearly, this has a major impact on the future of film projection and exhibition.

If you are involved in an institution with any of these makes of film projectors, I highly suggest contacting your service tech to determine what spare parts either you or your tech need to stock up on if you are to continue running film into the future, especially as it becomes more difficult to locate adequate replacement parts. As time goes on, some projector models will be easier to locate parts for than others, such as the Simplex XL, as it is incredibly common. Others, not so much (our theatre runs 35/70mm Century JJs, and my god it was already hard to source parts before this!).

If you'd like, pour some wine, put on some sad music and take a tour through LaVezzi's catalog:


And this quick response from my friend Paul Rayton, head projectionist for the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian and Aero Theatres:

"Yep, 'tis a sorry state of affairs.  One could still have parts individually manufactured, of one sort and another, but I imagine the price will gradually move toward being prohibitively high.  However, FWIW, there will be enough discards for museums to scarf up used devices and keep some semblance of "film" showable for centuries.  That's at least some encouragement, albeit not enough to herald a renaissance of film projection equipment-making!

Also, there are other manufacturers of projector parts, and they may take over some of the designs and/or n/c programs for such parts, so I don't think it's necessarily the end of the world.  Cinemeccanica in Italy manufactures their devices in-house, and (I assume) controls all their designs and the manufacture of same.  Kinoton (Germany) can still do some, though they're progressing toward all electronic devices, which will be even more dicey to keep in service.   And other countries, including India, China, and Japan.  But, of course, all will be facing declining users and increasing costs, so the shakeout will continue, as the years roll along.

Wait till Kodak decides they need the money and they sell off the "film manufacturing" division to ... either a rival manfuacturer, or, worse yet, one of the dreaded leveraged buyout specialists, such as the speculators who have ruined "Harry and David" Co.!   Then, they'll seek to "improve revenues" by dropping lines of stock, until only 3 or 4 camera neg stocks are made, and 2 or 3 print stocks.  That'll be when it's really time to wax nostalgic on the tragic state of things!


Paul R."

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