Category Archives: Digital Cinema

IBC 2014 Big Screen Experience – Q&A With Exec Producer Julian Pinn

 

Douglas Trumbull

Keynote speaker Doug Trumbull (not Julian Pinn)

With digital cinema conversion completed in most of the world, this year the IBC Big Screen Experience (running 12-15 September in Amsterdam’s RAI) has be re-vamped extensively to focus on the latest issues facing the industry. Sessions such as EDCF have been moved from their traditional slot (now Sunday evening, followed by drinks) and new areas of coverage introduced.

Significantly the Big Screen Experience conference strand will be completely free to anyone attending the IBC trade show, which means that anyone can come and hear leading industry experts discussing the issues affecting the industry today and tomorrow at no extra cost. There is also the traditional Hollywood blockbusters, only this year it’s Apes with both Atmos and lasers, also free (thanks to 20th Century Fox) as part of #IBCbigscreen

Celluloid Junkie caught up with industry veteran Julian Pinn (founder and consultant for Julian Pinn Ltd) who is the Executive Producer for this year’s Big Screen conference, to ask him what those planning to attend should make room for in their no-doubt packed IBC diaries.

Celluloid Junkie: This is the first year that IBC’s Big Screen conference stream is free to all attendees of the show, what’s behind this change?

Julian Pinn: For IBC registered delegates, the IBC Big Screen Experience is indeed a free-to-attend programme of carefully curated, editorially lead conference sessions, exhibitor product demonstrations, and Big Screen movies. The minimum IBC registration one needs to gain access to the Big Screen Experience is an Exhibition Visitor Pass, which itself is free if booked before 21 August 2014. This is an initiative by IBC to add value to the overall IBC experience and to remove barriers and complexity to those who are looking to make the most out of their busy schedule during the entirety of IBC2014.

CJ:  Is there a theme running through all the sessions?

JP:  IBC Big Screen in recent years has focussed on the transition to Digital Cinema. With Digital Cinema done and dusted in most parts of the world, this year’s IBC Big Screen conference is looking at the disruption taking place in cinema and the wider industries:

- disruption due to a wealth of scientific innovation that digital has unlocked, and what that means to the artists’ abilities to create new stories and to move their audiences in more powerful ways, and

- disruption due to the new entrants, new commercial realities, and new ways of doing business not only within the cinema business but within the wider industry from big screen to small screens.

CJ:  What new issues and topics will be discussed at this year’s Big Screen?

JP:  Not a quick answer I’m happy to say! The conference kicks off this year on Friday afternoon when we will be asking for the first time if the Big Screen and Second Screens can coexist peacefully and profitably—experiencing first-hand the technologies from Shazam and Cinime.

Saturday will feature a mixture of sponsored sessions, from Red and ARRI, with a couple of editorial sessions new to IBC in recent years. The first is on Event Cinema—a new sector to the business that is predicted to grow to 5% of the overall global cinema box office by 2015; we will be seeing examples and discussing important questions about the challenges of merging the two disciplines of broadcast and cinema from technological, artistic, and commercial perspectives.

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The Cannes Film Festival Overcomes Its Digital Dilemma

2014 Cannes Film Festival
As the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival came to a close last week, artistic director Thierry Fremaux scheduled a last minute press conference so that journalists from around the world could speak with filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. The director was visiting the festival for a 20th anniversary screening of his second feature, “Pulp Fiction”, which premiered at Cannes in 1994 and won its top prize, the Palm d’Or. It’s a safe bet nobody predicted the lead story coming out of Tarantino’s 48 minutes with journalists would be about digital cinema and serve to underscore the learning curve film festivals are grappling with when it comes to the new technology.

Yet, every year in Cannes there is at least one press conference where a filmmaker or actor says something that gets tossed into the media echo chamber and published around the globe en masse. Director Lars von Trier’s comments about Nazis a few years back are a perfect case in point. In 2014, the honor went to Tarantino, whose animated, hyperactive Cannes press conferences are the stuff of legend. This year he managed to bolster his Cannes cred after negative comments he made about digital cinema were turned into headlines by every major media outlet in all languages.

As Fremaux pointed out while introducing Tarantino, the filmmaker’s name is closely tied to Cannes and the year “Pulp Fiction” won the Palm d’Or is an important milestone in the festival’s history. That is why Tarantino was asked to participate in a press conference, an activity usually reserved for filmmakers with movies premiering in Cannes. Fremaux also noted that “Pulp Fiction” was the only title in the festival to be projected using 35mm film. “Everything else is DCP, digital,” Fremaux reported. “But obviously we wanted this film to be shown in 35mm.”

With that said, it didn’t take long for Tarantino to turn his attention, not to mention his ire, toward digital cinema. “As far as I’m concerned digital projection and DCPs is the death of cinema as I know it,” Tarantino proclaimed. “The fact that most films now are not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost. Digital projection, that’s just television in public. Apparently the whole world is okay with television in public, but what I knew as cinema is dead.”

After comments such as that, you can only imagine how many headlines screamed “Tarantino Declares Cinema Is Dead”. More than likely you’ve already seen a few of the thousands of stories in which the filmmaker’s comments on the subject are extensively quoted.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going through a woozy romantic period with the ease of digital and I’m hoping while this generation is completely hopeless that the next generation will demand the real thing,” he continued. “I’m very hopeful that future generations are much smarter than this generation and realize what they’ve lost.”

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China’s ‘Last Mile’ Plan for Digital Cinema: Ditch Western Technology

Sun Xiaobin

Is Chen Xing the biggest and most important digital cinema company that you’ve never heard of? Quite likely.

With the conversion of existing cinemas to digital winding up around the world, future focus of manufacturers will be on territories with organic growth, before the the replacement cycle sets in towards the end of this decade.

And no market right now has more focus on it than China, with it strong (though likely unsustainable) growth of 18 new screens per day. This means that there is still a need for thousands of projectors, servers, speakers, screens and more every quarter in China. Even other emerging markets like Russia, Turkey and Indonesia can’t match that level of demand.

Given that China started early with digital cinema installations, it also means that its replacement cycle will start earlier than many other territories as next-generation laser projectors with HDR/HFR (high dynamic range/high frame-rate) come onto the market.

So it should come as a wakeup call to western digital cinema equipment manufacturers when a smart, ambitious and heavily R&D-focused Chinese manufacturer comes along as states that ‘cinema equipment autonomy will be China’s film industry digital revolution “last mile.”‘

Chen Xing Technology Development (Beijing) Co., Ltd. 

Chances are that you have not heard of Sun Xiaobin, or even the company that he heads, Chen Xing Technology Development (Beijing) Co., Ltd., or the Oristar brand under which its products are sold. But all that is likely to change soon.

Mild mannered and sweater-wearing, Mr Sun is nevertheless as laser-focused and as unwaveringly determined as Steve Jobs in his vision; by the time China overtakes the United States as the world’s largest cinema market it will be his company and not Christie, Dolby/Doremi or GDC that is the dominant technology player in the cinema technology space.

In a lengthy Q&A interview in China’s Enterprise Observer titled ‘Leader in Digital Cinema Revolution Last Mile‘ Mr. Sun lays down his precise vision and methodology for how Chen Xing is going about becoming the Mainland’s leading cinema technology company.

It is a vision that goes far beyond just new servers and technology autonomy, but encompasses a holistic view of the cinema technology environment. But servers are the obvious entry point for the company.

We see the enormous capacity of the Chinese film market and the fact that it relies on imports for digital cinema servers. We at Chen Xing Technology think that independently developed digital cinema servers can not only break the technical barriers abroad, but also has a huge market potential.

With 35mm film movies starting to be replaced by the digital cinema trend, starting in 2006, Chen Xing Technology homed in on the needs of the digital transformation of the theater with a systematic analysis and research of digital cinema encoding system, so that we developed sophisticated digital cinema servers and digital cinema auto show management systems.

In 2011 we had developed AQ10 digital cinema server, which finally passed the third grade U.S. FIPS security certification, also passed the certification test of DCI. Chen Xing Technology is unique in this whole industry because it is China’s first to achieve DCI-certified digital cinema servers. Previously, only foreign companies developed a DCI-compliant 2K screenings server. Now, AQ10 is on Disney’s official website as having also become a recognized facility.

Marketed as the Oristar AQ10 digital cinema servers, details about it can be found here. The focus on servers is a smart move as they are likely to be replaced before the digital cinema projectors they are tethered to. This is particularly true if servers are to offer HFR of 60fps or even up to 120fps, with the next Avatar films likely to push such an envelope, since many early servers can’t handle any DCPs encoded above 48fps.

AQ10 digital cinema server

But Chen Xing is thinking way beyond the server to a whole end-to-end technology ecosystem for the theatre.

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How the Gates Family Foundation Saved Small Town Cinemas from Death-by-Digital

Fox Theatre Walsenburg

As the clock ticks down for the end of 35mm film prints, so the race is on to save the last few small town cinemas that cannot afford the switch to digital. We are now talking months, not years.

In the United States funds typically come from one or a mixture of three sources, all of which we have profiled here at Celluloid Junkie in the past: local community fund-raising, on-line crowd funding and even grants or donations from the local Chambers of Commerce. There was even an effort to tap the Pepsi Refresh Project a few years back, while Honda did something similar for drive-ins.

But philanthropic foundations have had a relatively low profile until a recent effort got underway in Colorado. While charities alone cannot save all the small cinemas across the US, the experience in the Centennial State shows that they can provide critical seed funding. Over the next 12 to 24 months, this can mean the difference between life and death for thousands of small town cinemas across the United States.

Colorado’s Rural Theater Digital Conversion Grant

The key to the success of Colorado’s venture has been the bringing together of three critical actors: State authorities,  non-profit bodies and private charities. As outlines last year in The Denver Post:

A number of foundations, the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, and the Denver Film Society have teamed up to create grants ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 for theaters converting to the new digital equipment required by the film industry.

Film distributors, which no longer distribute traditional celluloid prints, have converted to digital format. The new distribution method requires digital projectors, which cost an average of $60,000 to $70,000 each.

The state said many rural theaters can’t afford these projectors and will probably close, threatening the arts, culture and fabric of the community.

The last sentence has been crucial in mobilising government, business and philanthropic support, as we will see.

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Latin American VPF Deals Hide Regional Problems – UPDATED

Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid

[Ed: We have received lots of feedback and updated info from readers fram and active in the region. ¡Muchas Gracias/Muito Obrigado! The article has been UPDATED THROUGHOUT as a result.]

Much like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid headed to Bolivia after they had run out of banks in the Wild West to hold up, so too digital cinema integrators have moved on to Latin America, now that virtual print fee (VPF) coffers are empty in North America and Europe. Yet despite the flurry of Latin America-related VPF press releases at the recent CinemaCon, there are fundamental issues that will make it a challenge to migrate the continent to digital cinema.

We have already discussed the press releases from CinemaCon 2014, including those  related to Latin America, so for a full breakdown have a look HERE. We will not provide a full analysis or analyse each deal, but try to look at the context and outlook for the region, as it struggles to catch up with the rest of the world in going digital.

As we pointed out during ShowEast 2012 it was the last chance for Latin American countries to get a VPF deal and we are unlikely to see many more major deals after this one. Gary Johns from Sony Electronics commented then that their VPF deals for North America were available until 31 March 2013, i.e. almost exactly a year ago. While international deals do have a little longer to run, studios like Twentieth Century Fox have politely but firmly informed exhibitors, distributors and (perhaps most importantly) government representatives in Brazil and elsewhere in Asia that the end of 35mm prints is nigh.

GDC at the Forefront – of press release announcements

It is noteworthy that deployment entities like Scrabble and GDC have signed separate VPF deployment deals with Hollywood studios (here and here respectively), highlighting that the continent could not easily follow deployment patterns and terms even for non-US or EU territories such as India and China. Of these two entities GDC has been the more active, with no less than five announcements relating to Latin America, while Scrabble has been largely silent recently. So what’s the motivation to be aggressive on the VPF front in Latin America?

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Unique’s MovieTransit Scores Major Deals in Denmark and UK

While satellite delivery was the talk of CinemaCon 2014, Unique Digital notched up two significant victories in Europe that point to fibre delivery playing a greater role for digital cinema in Europe.

The deals with UK’s BT and The Danish Distributors Association (FAFID) for Unique’s MovieTransit system also cement the company’s digital cinema service credentials in its two core markets of Scandinavia and the British Isles.

Unique Digital was selected by Denmark’s FAFID after a long evaluation and tender process to deliver DCPs to cinemas using its MovieTransit system. Quoted in the press release:

“Among the reasons we chose to use Unique’s services are their flexibility, the ease of use of the system, and its robust, tried & tested approach to content delivery. We are extremely happy to be able to offer the Danish market with this secure and flexible solution” says Dorte Wiedemann the Head of Secretariat

The agreement will grant all Danish Cinemas, including Greenland and the Faroe Islands, access to Unique Digital’s world leading solution MovieTransit™ which when launched in Norway in 2012 was the first terrestrial electronic distribution system for feature films to be deployed across an entire territory.

The selection of the fellow Scandinavian solutions provider was not a foregone conclusion as Unique had initially lost out in the race to digitise Denmark’s cinema advertising operation to a smaller competitor five years ago – though it won the Danes over last year.

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Kinoton Is Latest Victim of Switch to Digital Cinema

Kinoton logo

Venerable German cinema equipment manufacturer Kinoton is no more, becoming the latest victim of the switch to the digital projection of films. The company issued a press release on 31 March stating:

We, the shareholders of Kinoton GmbH, have decided to dissolve the company and end its business operations with effect on March 31, 2014.

The decision was not an easy one for us. For more than 65 years, Kinoton GmbH and its employees have stood for excellence in developing innovative cinema equipment and providing first-class, speedy service to our customers and business partners.

The progressive digitization of the film and cinema industry has radically changed the market, however. Kinoton GmbH’s existing business model, as an innovative developer of first-class products and vertically highly integrated manufacturer, especially where mechanical production is concerned, isn’t appropriate to the new market conditions. The coming challenges of the digital age call for new concepts and ideas that focus on software and services.

The company was founded in 1948 as Germeringer Kinoton GmbH to service cinemas in in Munich and surrounding areas. It quickly established a reputation for German precision engineering and excellence as it built 35mm projectors that were considered the premium choice for cinemas and film centres.

It must have been a tough call for the company’s managers Renate Zoller and Christoph Doble to pull the plug, but the business was simply not sustainable in the face of the switch to digital cinema. Despite Kinoton having an OEM partnership with Barco, it never established a major presence in the digital cinema projector market.

However, Kinoton will not vanish completely.

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Deluxe To Close Hollywood Film Lab

Deluxe Laboratories in Hollywood
Well, we all knew it was coming. With the motion picture industry’s transition away from 35mm film to digital production and distribution it was only a matter of time before the need for film laboratories would disappear entirely. The industry took a step closer toward that end when on Tuesday when Deluxe Laboratories announced the company would close its Hollywood film lab on May 9th.

Along with Technicolor, Deluxe grew into one of the largest processors and handlers of 35mm film in the world, with offices in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. The company’s Hollywood facilities date back to the founding of Deluxe in 1919, when they opened their doors adjacent to Fox Film Corporation. Both companies were founded by William Fox, one of the industry’s first movie moguls.

News of the closure came from Warren L. Stein, Deluxe’s Chief Operating Office for North America. An excerpt of the memo Stein sent out with the announcement read as follows:

The capture and exhibition of motion pictures has transitioned from film to digital in recent years. Our processing volumes have declined sharply and as a result, the laboratory has incurred significant financial losses. This has forced us to make this very difficult decision.

Following the recently-announced closure of the Deluxe laboratory in London, our only remaining film processing facility will be the small front end facility in New York.

I would like to thank all of our employees for their incredible contribution to the success of Deluxe, their dedication to meeting the needs of our many customers and their loyalty in recent years as the business declined. Our employees have been the key to all of our successes as a film processing business.

While emotionally attached to our 100 year legacy with film, we are firmly focused on the future of Deluxe. In this historic time in our industry, we wanted to thank our customers for their business and for their trust. We look forward to servicing their needs in the entertainment media marketplace for the next hundred years and beyond!

Earlier this year Paramount Pictures made public their intention to stop supporting film and only release films digitally starting with their holiday release “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Given the number of studios that Deluxe counts as clients, this is clear indicator that, as we predicted, other Hollywood distributors will soon be following Paramount’s lead.

Deluxe provided no information on whether closing its Hollywood operations will result in layoffs and if so, how many employees would be affected. Nor did the company make clear what it intends to do with the facilities in the long run; whether they intend to sell the plant or utilize it for their ongoing service offerings.

Ironically, if that’s even the correct word, it was just this past Sunday during the Oscars telecast that most of us saw a clip of director Christopher Nolan at February’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences annual Scientific and Technical Awards accepting an Academy Award of Merit bestowed upon “all those who built and operated film laboratories, for over a century of service to the motion picture industry”.

William Fox Studios & Deluxe Hollywood

How Kickstarter Helped Save Independent Cinemas from Digital Oblivion

Kickstarter has played a significant role in enabling small independently owned cinemas across the United States to make the transition to digital, a detailed analysis by CelluloidJunkie.com has uncovered. Reviewing 70 campaigns to raise funds to assist with upgrades to digital projection and associated technology improvements (mainly sound), we have found that the crowdfunding platform has been used to save at least 38 cinemas across 20 US states and Canada. Spanning a period from mid-2012 to the present date, the overall success rate of Kickstarter 35mm-to-digital campaigns has been 57.6 per cent, with 38 per cent unsuccessful in hitting their funding target and 4.4 per cent cancelling their campaign, while four campaigns are still active. Digging deeper yields interesting results and lessons for how to use Kickstarter effectively to achieve the fundraising goal for switching from film to digital. With Hollywood studios ending 35mm prints distribution this year we expect to see many more small and single-screen independent cinema turn to community and crowdfunding for support.

Kickstarter has in a few short years become the go-to platform for online fundraising for a variety of projects, ranging from smartphone accessories to the Oscar-nominated documentary The Square. As Digitaltrends recently noted, “More than 3 million people pledged over $480 million to Kickstarter projects last year,’ with a total of 19,911 projects successfully meeting their funding targets.  It is should come as no surprise that small cinemas that are unable to tap VPF (virtual print fee) or other forms of Hollywood studio-supported funding mechanisms have turned to the internet to raise the money needed for buying and installing DCI-grade projectors, servers and sometimes also upgrading their sound systems. Finding all of these projects on Kickstarter is no easy task as they are not grouped together, nor does a search for terms like “digital cinema” or “digital conversion” yield all the relevant campaigns. This is because the campaigns are directed by the creators towards the potential audience and supporters, usually through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, rather than towards cinema analysts. As such, we believe that our sample is comprehensive but possibly not 100 per cent complete. Statistics of Success & Failure

There are many conclusions to be drawn from the completed campaigns, both the ones that achieved their funding target and those that failed or pulled out. In total more than $2.66m was raised from a collective goal of $2.38m by more than 25,000 backers for digitising 42 screens in 38 cinemas, with an average donation of $109. Given that the majority of cinemas that started a campaign are independent single-screen theatres, the cost of a single projector and server is largely fixed, with the amount varying depending on additional upgrades to the theatre. As such we found that the campaigns typically ranged from $35,000 to $80,000, with most asking for around $40,000 to $50,000, though there were a handful of campaigns aiming and achieving more.

In two cases in Colorado targets of no less than $150,000 targets were met, in one campaign for four digital projectors for the Denver Film Society ($176,925), while in the other was for two projectors for the Lyric in Fort Collins ($158,692). The latter also had the largest number of backers of any campaign with 2,324 people pledging their support. Yet the single highest amount raised was $195,043 (for a target of $175,000) for the Village Picture Show, Manchester, VT’s “only movie theatre,” by 1,006 backers. Notably, there was also the “Cinefamily Digital Projection & Theater Restoration!” that raised $158,541 for digitising the former Silent Movie Theatre in West Hollywood.

There were 25 campaigns that were unsuccessful in meeting their campaigns’ funding targets. Of a hoped-for $1.6m only around $200,000 was raised. This highlights the fact that almost all Kickstarter cinema digitisation campaign that failed fell well short of their target, rather than just missing out. Of the 25, only three came close to or just over 50 per cent of their target, with many not even achieving ten per cent of their goal. Interestingly the average contribution for failed campaigns was still $94, putting it very close to the average of $109 for the campaigns that succeeded. A further three campaigns were cancelled before they finished, while four are still active, with two of these looking likely to meet their target.

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Support Your Local Cinema – Communities Rally In the Face of Digital Death

StCloude_Brickhouse

With close to 90 per cent of cinemas in the US digitised, the question about what would happen to the last stragglers loomed large even before Paramount announced that it had (reportedly) ended 35mm print distribution. The problem is that while one in ten screens is still reliant on film prints, their contribution amounts to just a few per cent. They typically do not qualify for VPFs (virtual print fees) and might not even be able to tap into NATO’s CBG (cinema buying group). Mostly they are small single-screen community cinemas whose finances were precarious even before the threat of the analogue cut-off.

So it is heartening to see that many communities have rallied around their local cinema and organised fundraisers of various typed that raise the $70,000-$100,000 required to upgrade a screen to digital. Below are some recent examples.

St Cloud, Minnnesota:

“The Brickhouse is now leasing two additional digital projection units after purchasing one digital projector for its largest theater last year. Its smaller theaters have been dark since the transition. The deadline caused hardship for some very small theaters, whose owners were faced with the cost of replacing equipment.” Link.

Some cinemas have turned to Kickstarter to raise the funds, with impressive results.

De Pere, Wisconsin:

The De Pere Cinema has reached its fundraising goal to go digital just days before the deadline.

The movie theater surpassed $40,000 Monday night in its 45-day Kickstarter campaign…

The owners of the De Pere Cinema say even though the campaign officially ends Friday night, donations can still be made. They say any funds above what’s needed for the digital conversion will be used for other theater improvements. Link.

Portland confirms its reputation as Hipster capital by doing a lot to save local cinemas.

Portland, Oregon

“In the last year, the Hollywood Theatre installed a magnificent new marquee following a successful fundraising campaign. The Academy Theater managed to corral the cash needed to install digital projectors, ensuring its survival. One of Oregon’s last drive-in theaters, the 99W Drive-In in Newberg, won a nationwide contest to cover the cost of its own digital conversion.” Link.

This fundraising spirit is not restricted to the US alone.

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