Monthly Archives: November 2012

Focus Finds Unique Way To Prop Up Marketing For “Anna Karenina”

Anna Karenina Prop Sale

Thirteen years ago I attended a press junket for the film “Anna and the King” and was given what turned out to be a very special gift. Directed by Andy Tennant, the film is set in Siam during the 1860s and tells the story of how King Mongkut (played by Chow Yun-Fat) falls in love with a British school teacher named Anna Leonowens (portrayed by Jodie Foster). I had to look up most of the facts in that last sentence because I can’t remember a single line of dialogue or a specific scene from the film. What I can recall is how ornate and lavish the sets and scenery were, mostly because of the props Twentieth Century Fox handed out to journalists during the press event.

For the past thirteen years a wooden “book” has sat on my desk holding up whichever real literary volumes and papers stood next to it. It is nothing more than a hunk of wood carved and painted to look like a 19th century gilded book. To make it appear to be a best seller the king of Siam might own, rather than an airport paperback, it’s spine is painted in gold and decorated with a few plastic jewels. The glitter that once sparkled on its surface has long since eroded after a decade of contaminating an unending stream of tax forms, bills and miscellaneous paperwork that makes its way across my desk.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of this long forgotten film thanks to this trivial object, so useless it was given away to a journalist. Over the years, in the rare moments when there is a lull in my workload, I have sometimes looked over at this prop and wondered if there was an ideal way for studios to market films with their associated props, costumes, artwork, etc.

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Christie’s New Projector Is Portent of Battle Ahead

What do you do once the majority of multiplex screens around the world are converted to digital? You mop up the remaining screens and look for new markets. That’s what we can read between the lines from the launch of the new Christie Solaria One projector at ShowEast. The projector, which is based on Texas Instrument’s new S2K DLP Cinema® chipset, 8K to 10K lumens output. While no price is given, it is expected to retail for as much as $10,000 less than Christie’s current cheapest projector. Similar projectors are coming from Barco, while Sony has already announced its cheaper entry into their market space (see previous post).

This is part of a deliberate and concerted strategy to maximise the market uptake reflecting the reality of global digital cinema penetration. With global uptake standing at just over two-thirds, with countries like Norway and Holland already having 100 per cent conversion, the question is which type of territories and cinemas remain. The brutal truth is that this 66-67 per cent represents 85-90 per cent of box office revenue generating screens. There is thus little financial incentive for converting the remaining screens and less money and almost no VPF schemes to do so. So the OEMs are launching products to mop up this last market, which faces it’s digital-or-die moment in the next 12 months.

While it is the most advanced multiplex chain of its continent, it is nevertheless telling who the client flagged in the press release is:

Ster-Kinekor Theatres, the largest cinema exhibitor in South Africa, will be first recipient of the solution, having ordered 198 projectors from the Christie Solaria One line. Ster-Kinekor Theatres CEO Fiaz Mahomed commented, “The Christie Solaria One projectors offer superb quality with a heightened viewing experience for movie lovers. These projectors are perfectly suited for smaller screens and are very cost-effective.”

What will be perhaps more interesting to see is how these new projectors filter through to new types of screening venues. not just Steven Spielberg’s home cinema, but growing mixed-use venues and bijou cinemas become possible with smaller and more affordable projectors. This will inevitably have an effect on booking patterns of film and other content. As the industry approaches the end of its one-for-one analogue-to-digital swap outs, the door to new and exiting digital cinemaa opportunities open.

ShowEast 2012 is Latin America’s Last Chance for VPF Deals

This year’s ShowEast cinema trade show is likely to be the last one where any significant virtual print fee (VPF) deals are still on the table. Not only will there soon be no more actual 35mm prints to replace with fees for  virtual ones, following the winding down of film operation by Fuji and Kodak. But Hollywood studios too are rapidly winding down their funding mechanisms. This is particularly bad new for Latin American countries, which have the lowest digital cinema penetration numbers for any continent bar Africa. This was highlighted at the recent 2nd International Conference on Digitisation of Cinemas in Bogota, Colombia, which “focused on the difficulties being experienced by Colombia and Latin America in general in finding the financial model and public funds to help the region convert its cinemas to digital technologies adhering to the global standard.”

With approximately 13,500 systems installed around the world (over 10,000 in North America and over 3,000 in the rest of the world), Sony is intent on pushing its global market share up from the current one tenth of all world-wide screens. Hence Sony’s decision to extend its VPF scheme, most likely by agreeing to lower terms with the Hollywood studios in return for longer lead time. As quoted in THR:

“[Some] VPF deals for the U.S. and Canada ran out at the end of September. Ours are available until March 31, 2013,” reported Gary Johns, senior vp, digital cinema solutions at Sony Electronics. The deadline to sign up for Sony’s program in international markets extends even further out.

Sony is also using the ShowEast opportunity to showcase its newest SRX-R515P projector designed for small and medium auditoriums, as well as its Entertainment Access Glasses for hearing and visually impaired cinema patrons.

ShowEast has traditionally been the cinema trade show for Latin American countries and there is no more pressing issue for that region than the imminent end of 35mm prints and the do-or-die conversion to digital in less than a year. As such, it should come as no surprise that third-party digital cinema integrators, consultants and VPF brokers from across the world are homing in on Latin America. The most recent operator, India Scrabble, has just announced a deal for three territories:

The company has signed separate non-exclusive agreements with Hollywood studios Warner Bros Pictures International, Universal Pictures International, Walt Disney Motion Pictures International and Sony Pictures Releasing International Corporation… The roll-out of the technology will begin from 2013 and will initially be launched in Brazil, Mexico and Chile.

Note that 20th Century Fox and Paramount are missing from the list of studios. While neither of these two will get a free ride on the equipment installed by Scrabble under the terms with the other studios, it highlights the difficulty of getting VPF deals in place this late in the day. Other operators were already present in the region. Cinedigm signed a deal last year with Contenido Alternativo for satellite delivery of DCPs and alternative content, under which it would also “collaborate with theatres in Mexico to bring digital cinema deployment and Virtual Print Fee management services to the region,” on as-yet unsepcified terms. Cinedigm has more recently signed a deal for 290 screens out of the 437 operated by Caribbean Cinemas (pdf) in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Aruba, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Thomas and Trinidad.

Cinedgim has also signed a deal (pdf) with Brazil’s DGT for the deployment of its software solutions suit, “in preparation for its VPF program roll out later this year.” Similarly, Arts Alliance has contracted with Mexico’s Cinemex for the deployment of its software, though the exhibitor is “negotiating its own VPF (Virtual Print Fee) deals directly with the studios” for its 2,000 screens. Yet the largest obstacle to digital cinema installations in LAtin American territories is not Hollywood studios refusing VPF deals but high tariffs and restrictions on imports of digital cinema equipment. Brazil recently reduced its import duty, but it won’t be until analog screens start going dark for lack of 35mm film that governments across the continent are likely to wake up. Come ShowEast 2013 it will be a very different picture for the continent.

 

Dreamworks Animation and Barco Pact For 3D Audio

Rise of the Guardians in Barco Auro 11.1As one of the early and most vocal advocates for digital 3D, it should come as no surprise that Jeffrey Katzenberg is also interested in adding dimension to audio soundtracks. On Thursday Katzenberg, the head of Dreamworks Animation, was on hand at a press event in Los Angeles to announce an agreement to distribute the studios next 15 titles with Barco Auro 11.1 3D sound mixes. The first film to be released under the new agreement will be “Rise of the Guardians” on November 21st.

Auro is an 11.1 sound format that Barco has been helping develop for the past several years. Based on audio technology from Auro Technologies, the format places audio in three separate layers placing sounds in traditional surround speakers, a set of height speakers and speakers mounted overhead on the ceiling. Rather than being track based, Auro allows for sounds to be placed as objects within an auditorium.

“At Dreamworks we really pride ourselves on using the finest state of the art technology, first to put in the hands of our storytellers in order to create the best possible experience for moviegoers and then look to the best possible technology for the presentation,” Katzenberg explained. “It’s why we’re here partnering with Barco so we can provide 3D sound that is every bit as spectacular as the 3D images.”

Before selecting Auro, Dreamworks Animation did their due diligence and investigated some of the emerging 3D formats making their way to market, such as Dolby’s Atmos and Iosono. “It became very clear to us that Barco’s Auro 11.1 3D audio format is actually the best,” said Katzenberg. “We believe they are going to be leaders int he market and we believe they are going to create a very valuable experience for our customers and also what will be a very attractive opportunity for our partners in exhibition.”

When pressed about a direct comparison to Atmos, Katzenberg said with a tinge of humor. “This is better.” He quickly turned more serious to mention another key factor in Dreamworks Animation’s selection of Auro. “I can not emphasize enough that the Barco financial proposition for the exhibitors is far more attractive, far more doable and far more practical. The ability that this will be able to roll out worldwide and be something that is affordable is critical. This is the highest quality and affordability. You can not separate those two.”

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