Brighter hopes for Digital Theaters

22 06 2009

The recent news that Sony and Regal Theaters reached an agreement to install 4K projectors at Regal Theaters, combined with Friday’s item that the German Federal Film Board (FFA) agreed to provide 40 million Euros (that’s over 55 million US type dollars) to help the digitization of German theaters, shows that the feature film world is finally beginning to get its digital film houses in order.

Of course, there is plenty of desperation in these measures, as well as a large dollop of politics (the FFA co-produces films, and Sony is one of the majors and mini-majors that is still standing). But as the panicked move into 3-D and IMAX shows, the distributors and exhibitors — who are often on opposite ends of the interest continuum when it comes to showing films — are both smelling the snapping dog of internet distribution behind them.

It’s not that 4K makes the films look much better than a typical HD projector. Of course, there are those who see the differences, but most filmgoers couldn’t tell the difference if the words “This Is Better” were flashed on screen during the 4K projection. But it’s that 4K fits into the present filmmaking workflow so much better when you start to look at the very gimmicks that could keep recalcitrant filmgoers in theater seats. The high-powered digital effects of Big Tentpole monstrosities like TRANSFORMERS are created in that high res.  Digital Intermediates are increasingly being done in 4K. 3-D begs for higher resolution in order to create lower cost distribution.

In short, 4K finally makes sense as a differentiator between the theater experience and your living room (even if you’ve got a nerdlike sound system and huge-screen television there). If you don’t have the story to bring them in, at least get the high-priced splash and, for now, that looks way better on a big screen with great sound and incredible effects of things blowing up. All things that the smaller-budgeted indie films and web-based projects can’t really deliver.

I’m not sure where this leaves a film like Woody Allen’s latest WHATEVER WORKS, which had a visual effects component that could barely fill up one screen’s worth in the end credits. But, after years of pooh-poohing 4K as a real possibility in theaters, I must say that I’m thinking that it could really happen. In this case, it’s not the audience that is clamoring for it. And it’s not solely the distributors, finally. It’s the entire chain — all the way to the exhibitors.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Will it make the filmgoing experience more awesome? I doubt it. Will it make the filmmaking experience easier? I doubt it. Will it make the transition of films to all sorts of ancillary markets easier? Probably, by a hair’s breadth. I’m waiting to see if it does what the industry clearly wants it to — to bring more butts into the seats, and to make the entire process a little cheaper.


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One response to “Brighter hopes for Digital Theaters”

24 06 2009
Jacob Karesh (08:50:36) :

I can tell you what would get my butt in a theater seat more often and it’s really quite simple. Lower the prices. For me, that’s the huge thing that keeps me from seeing most everything. When paying Netflix 15 dollars a month lets me see as many as I have time for, some of which I can stream straight to my TV or computer, there are very few movies that I think are worth seeing on the big screen. I see probably less than 5 movies a year in the theaters, but definitely less than 10. The only ones I see are ones that I think will be a large difference between seeing at home and seeing in the theater, or ones that a group of my friends are planning on seeing and I feel like being social. Until it costs less than $12 to see a movie at any decent theater in LA (plus parking, usually) I’m perfectly content to just stay at home and pop in the DVD.

You mentioned internet distribution. By that do you mean distributing digital copies of the movie through FTP to the theaters? If so, I definitely have some opinions (which may be entirely unfounded) regarding that.

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