Today, and without much fanfare, the cinema owners have actually been installing digital projectors. According to unofficial sources, there are 82 digital screens in Malaysia today. And by mid of 2012, there will be a total of 300 digital screens.
What this means is that local film producers, including indie filmmakers, now have a viable digital market place. They can begin their film projects digitally, finish it digitally and exhibit it digitally.
Not a single foot of celluloid throughout the whole process.
Currently about 70 percent of the local film industry is shooting digital but end up spending hundreds of thousands of Ringgit in kinetransferring the whole digital master into celluloid for screening at local cinemas.
If you are a producer with bottomless pockets, you can print 80 copies at RM5000 a pop. This means RM400,000.00 in production costs.
If you are a producer who just have enough, you only make 30 prints adding RM150,000.00 to your production cost.
Now with 300 digital cinema screens across the country by mid or end of next year, digital films can have as big a market as they want to without converting to celluloid for exhibition.
Some TV stations are already anticipating this cinematic paradigm shift. From what I heard, they are currently on the look out for producers who are willing to producers titles for a cost of RM500,000.00 (less than half the current production budgets of digital to film).
With these kind of budgets, young indie producers might consider taking the mainstream leap into movie making, whilst the old school filmmakers would now re-educate themselves into producing digital films. They must now understand what shooting in DSLR cameras mean, or what is the difference between the REDcam, the Cinealtas, the ArriDs and the P2s.
What I fear is that greedy producers would just slightly upgrade their RM70,000.00 made-for-TV telefilms pocket hundreds of thousands in production budget money, and pass it off as a digital movie for digital cinemas.
If digital cinemas screen these z-grade digital movies that didn't even spend a sen for quality color grading and tweaking, the public would be disappointed in both the technical and content quality and soon enough, give digital films the thumbs down.
For example, there is a production company that I heard is offering producers RM400,000.00 to produce digital movies in these digital cinemas. And their business model is that they don't really care about box office performance at all. What they want is to quickly screen the movies at these digital cinemas and then be allowed to screen their titles on Astro First within three weeks.
This is because Astro First seems to be working fairly well for local producers. Even weak titles give a hefty profit to the producers' bottomline.
Whatever the reason is, the future of digital filmmaking is already at our doorsteps. It is up to the filmmakers, the producers, the directors, the writers, the actors, the cinematographers, the distributors and the cineplexowners to make sure that digital filmmaking become an acceptable medium of cinema.