This month marks the 10th anniversary of the UK Film Council awarding the contract for the setting up and running of the Digital Screen Network (DSN) to Arts Alliance Media (AAM), following a competitive tender process. The DSN was arguably the first large-scale digital cinema roll-out that aspired to conform to the specifications that were still in being formulated by DCI in Hollywood. [Full disclosure: I assisted in the evaluation process as a consultant.] Spearheaded by Steve Perrin and Pete Buckingham the DSN sought to promote the distribution of a wider range of films in a wider range of cinemas for UK audiences everywhere. The DSN arguably paved the way for the subsequent mass digitisation of UK cinema industry and started exhibitors on the learning curve that was necessary to fully comprehend what was at stake. For Steve’s achievements after a lifetime in the industry he was awarded an MBE for services to the UK cinema industry in this year’s New Year’s Honours List. Here he looks back on the experience of shepherding this critical project and its subsequent legacy. – PvS
“You two must be mad. It’ll never work. What a waste of public money.”
- Unnamed UK industry academic.
“What a great idea. We applaud you.”
- Unnamed Hollywood studio executive.
Embarking upon a scheme to digitise over 200 screens in the UK in the mid 2000’s was a daunting task. DCI was still working on their technical recommendations, and exhibitors were still yet to grasp the fact that digital cinema was their inevitable future. In short, it was an uphill struggle. What kept Pete and I motivated was twofold.
First, it was the best scheme that we could imagine to fulfil the brief that we had been given by the UKFC Board; a wider range of films in a wider range of cinemas. Second, whereas our aims did not revolve around the promotion of digital cinema ‘per se’, we knew that it was coming and that the DSN presented a unique opportunity for the industry to begin take on board the ramifications that such a change would bring about.
Thus, we set of a journey that might not just be valuable for the industry, but to ourselves in terms of learning and fully appreciating the complex factors involved.
Needless to say, there were a number of ‘naysayers’ that said that it could not be done; that the industry did not need and would never convert to digital and that had set ourselves out on a fool’s errand. In addition, it was claimed by other detractors that all we were doing was to subsidise the studios and big cinema chains and that they should be doing it themselves. No real surprises there; the key point that we were doing this for audiences was totally missed by such commentators. Fortunately, such comments were in the minority, and basically confined to those who made their living from the public purse. Still arrows in the back are always expected by those that start something new and innovative…
More surprising though was the support and enthusiasm that we received from the major US studios when we explained our plans to them. Whereas the DSN strategy was not directly aimed at them, they appreciated what we were planning and offered every support and advice that we might need. Contrary to some in the UK that thought that we were wasting our time, the studios understood immediately what we were attempting to achieve and supported it whole-heartedly. Read More