Creating 35mm Prints for Distribution

So, let’s say you’ve just finished your film. Pre-production covered all the bases, every shot was filmed during production, and post-production pulled everything together. You have even managed to generate some distributor interest in your final product. Now what? From today’s mailbag: “I would like to show my movie in theaters. How do I go about doing that? What format would I need to have the movie in to be able to play in a theater?”

Nearly all theaters, in the United States and worldwide, use 35mm projectors to show films. In order to give them a product that they can use, you need to create a 35mm print with a Dolby Digital (or compatible) soundtrack. This is expensive. However, there are a number of labs and transfer houses that are able to take whatever type of footage you have and print it directly onto 35mm film. You can search through some of them on the Kodak website. Of course, every screen you want to show your film on will need its own full print of the film. Releasing a film on multiple screens is
very expensive.

Unfortunately, if you’ve shot on tape, transferring your footage onto film isn’t really going to make it look any better. To make your movie look like film once it’s been transferred to film, you really need to shoot on film. 35mm film has eight to sixteen times the resolution of D1 video, and records far more color depth. The digital cameras that George Lucas and Robert Rodrieguez use to shoot their features are custom-made to emulate the way that 35mm film reacts to light, and are capable of capturing 4k resolution images at a high dynamic range. Until cameras with similar capabilities are cheaply available, film will look like film, and tape will look like tape.

However, if you have managed to sell your film to a distributor or festival that requires a 35mm print, or if you have shot on 35 or 16mm already, it is pretty straightforward to actually have the print(s) made. Make sure that you shop around to get the best deal in terms of money and in also terms of the image control that you will have as the footage is being printed onto the film stock. Also, be aware of the various sound formats. The various methods and formats used to create surround sound within a theaterchange from time to time, but almost any film printer will be up to date with what most projectors have installed.