The age of the VCR was a bit of a strange experience for Steven Spielberg.
The director believed that with a film print, it took work to transport it, run it through the projector, and show it, and you'd feel the work went into making a movie.
So it felt a little strange to have it all reduced to a lightweight video cassette. (Can only imagine how he felt about it being transferred to a little metal disc, or a file on YouTube.)
As Quentin Tarantino once said about his print collection in a magazine called Entertainment At Home (now defunct), "Steven has the same feeling about prints that I do...He said, 'Quentin, for a really long time, E.T. wasn't available on video, and that was really cool...And the only way I could see it was to drag out all these film cans and thread it on the projector, feel it between my fingers...' That's why I love my prints. They feel more substantive...It takes more involvement to view one."
A lot of filmmakers have big collections of their favorite films on 35mm, and when a lot of directors first make it, they either get a state of the art home screening room, or a car collection in an airplane hangar. But as several friends of mine have proven to me, you don't have to be a big, pimpy Hollywood director to start a collection of prints.
Before the days of the VCR, low budget filmmaker Charles Band started collecting 16mm prints when he was a kid and organized his own movie clubs to show them, which eventually lead to him starting one of the first American video companies, Media Home Video.
"I was always a collector, kind of out of control collector of 16mm prints, and back in the day three quarter inch reels, every movie I had, I would share with friends who were also avid film buffs," Band says.
Because you couldn't put a whole movie on 8mm, there were companies that used to put sections of movies on 8mm you could buy through magazines like Famous Monsters.
Before you could buy prints on EBay and Craig's List, they used to be listed in a magazine called The Big Reel. Richard Lee Christian, who has done special features for a number of DVDs, recalls seeing prints of Terminator 2, The Doors and Jacob's Ladder listed for $150 each at the same time the studio Carolco went under, and the prints were probably sold at auction.
Christian also built up a big collection of trailers, which are very inexpensive. (One trailer he paid as little as $8 for). Current prices for 16mm and 35mm projectors to play 'em on? Probably about $500 for a 16mm, $3-4,000 for 35mm. Once Tarantino got rich and famous, you had to move quick to buy prints, because he bought up plenty of them like there was no tomorrow for his collection.
To the best of my knowledge, no magazine or website has done a full rundown of any of the big time screening rooms of Scorsese, Spielberg, or Tarantino, or a full list of movies they have in their collections, but it's fun to imagine what they have in their stockpile they can run at home when they want.
Prints to movies currently playing are tightly monitored, just like screeners, and as Scorsese told Playboy, "I watch movies in my screening room and distributors are kind enough to lend a print they're not using." (I've also been told Scorsese has a full time person on his staff who rewinds his VHS tapes.)