Category Archives: Organizations

New MPAA and NATO Wearables Policy Is As Much About Social Norms As It Is About Piracy

Sergey Brin Wearing Google Glass

Google’s Sergey Brin shows off Google Glass

In his classic 1835 treatise on American society, Democracy In America, french historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “Laws are always unstable unless they are founded on the manners of a nation; and manners are the only durable and resisting power in a people.”

This passage sprang to mind as I read the anti-theft policy update issued jointly on October 29th by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO). The new policy focuses on wearable devices like smart watches and Google Glass, the latter being an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that attaches to prescription or custom eyewear. Many of these devices are equipped with a camera and thus the reason the MPAA and NATO felt obliged to revise the policy. Their statement read as follows:

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have a long history of welcoming technological advances and recognize the strong consumer interest in smart phones and wearable “intelligent” devices. As part of our continued efforts to ensure movies are not recorded in theaters, however, we maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward using any recording device while movies are being shown. As has been our long-standing policy, all phones must be silenced and other recording devices, including wearable devices, must be turned off and put away at show time. Individuals who fail or refuse to put the recording devices away may be asked to leave. If theater managers have indications that illegal recording activity is taking place, they will alert law enforcement authorities when appropriate, who will determine what further action should be taken.

The two organizations already had a standing policy against the use of mobile phones in theatres. It is simply being extended now to encompass wearable devices. You might even say the decision was a “no-brainer” accept for the confusion that might occur in reference to the cinema patron who decides to use “no brain” by wearing such a device into an auditorium in the first place.

Unfortunately people do indeed wear electronic devices into cinemas as was demonstrated in January when a moviegoer in Columbus, Ohio was detained by federal authorities for wearing Google Glass during a showing of “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”. The incident occurred when alert theatre personnel at the AMC Easton 30 noticed a patron wearing the “recording device” during the screening and contacted the MPAA, who in turn notified the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees movie theft.

Much in the way there were recently fuzzy policies and procedures on how to treat Ebola patients in the United States, there were no guidelines back in January for cinema operators on how to handle patrons with wearable devices such as Google Glass. It took the trade organizations a notably long time to update their anti-theft policy afterwards, however this may have more to do with the MPAA’s working relationship with Google and their desire to maintain it.

Read More »

“Sin City” Poster Too Graphic For MPAA’s Advertising Administration

Eva Green Sin City Poster

Every so often an incident occurs that serves to remind us just how many tasks need to be completed in the workflow leading up to the release of a motion picture. Tasks such as running your marketing material past the proper trade groups for approval.

Yesterday I took note that my never-ending Twitter feed was populated by numerous uploads of the same image. Over the course of a few hours the image popped up in tweets from industry professionals I follow on Twitter a dozen or more times. The picture featuring a scantily clad woman was hard to avoid noticing as it scrolled by in Twitter’s desktop app time and again. As it turns out, the picture was actually one of the posters (pictured here) for “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For”, which according to Deadline, had been rejected by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

In case you weren’t aware, or had forgotten, the Advertising Administration of the MPAA must review all the collateral marketing material used to spread the word (i.e. advertise) any film that has been or will be rated by the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA). Or in the MPAA’s own words, the Advertising Administration must review:

“…any material in any medium that is intended primarily to promote the exhibition, performance or sale of copies of the motion picture to the public and that is directed primarily to or for which a significant number of viewers are consumers in the United States.”

This includes a list of materials such as trailers, clips and footage, press kits, radio spots, Internet banner ads, billboards and, naturally, posters. And that’s just a fraction of a very long list. According to the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), the MPAA reviews “more than 60,000 pieces of marketing each year”.

So while most of us are zapping through commercials on our DVR and ignoring banner ads on our favorite websites, there is someone at the MPAA whose job it is to pay very close attention to movie marketing material. In regards to the material for “Sin City: A Dame To Kill For”, the MPAA nixed a risqué poster depicting actress Eva Green shown in a sheer white dress that reveals just enough, though apparently too much, of what lies beneath. According to Deadline (and several other outlets) the MPAA’s approval was withheld “for nudity — curve of under breast and dark nipple/areola circle visible through sheer gown.”

Read More »

India’s New Censor Board CEO Faces Industry Revolt

The role of a censor/certifier is not an easy one in any country.

It is a tightrope walk between filmmakers and demanding audiences seeking freedom of artistic expression and right to view age-appropriate content on one hand, and concerned parents and moral guardians on the other worried about the influence of sex, violence and bad language on the big screen, while balancing on a precariously slack rope of constantly shifting cultural norms. Even so, the appointment of a new CEO seems to have stirred up an exceptional amount of bad feelings in India.

Rakesh Kumar formally took over the role of heading  the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) last Friday, as noted in the Times of India. His previous qualification for the role was, well, none. Other than that he goes to the cinema sometime. He was previously Indian Railways Personnel Officer (IRPS) and his bio reveals that before that he was Managing Director of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC). Prior to which he worked as Executive Director(Passenger Marketing) and Executive Director (Efficiency & Research), Ministry of Railways, having gained a post-graduate in Physics from Lucknow University (1975) and an MBA graduate from Patiala University (1993). So how did his career get side tracked (see what we did there?) into deciding what films are appropriate for which audiences.

The answer lies in the murky underworld of patronage and appointments that underpins much of Indian politics and bureaucracy. As noted in the TOI:

Like his predecessor Pankaja Thakur, Kumar is also a rank outsider in that he has not worked as a regional officer in CBFC, to have some knowledge of film censorship. It may be recalled here that Pankaja Thakur has gone back to her parent department – customs and central excise after she completed her three-year tenure as the CEO. Rakesh Kumar will also have a three-year term to serve.

So while it is not unusual for ministers in other countries to change departments as separate as Transport and Culture, it is unusual for civil servants that typically specialise for years in one filed to do so. Kumar did not help his case by giving an interview to the Mumbai Mirror, headlined ‘It’s Time for a Clean Up Act’, where he was given ample celluloid to hang himself by spouting off about what currently bedevils Hindi cinema. It is worth quoting the Q&A at length:

Mumbai Mirror: What’s your take on today’s films?

Rakesh Kumar: The seriousness in content is missing. Filmmakers are pushing the envelope a bit too far. They tell us, “Whatever we show is happening in our homes.” But what is happening in their homes is not necessarily happening across the country. So it cannot be the yardstick. I seriously don’t think Ranbir Kapoor should have shown his middle finger and bared his butt in Besharam. I also felt that given his reputation, Aamir Khan shouldn’t have produced a cussloaded film like Delhi Belly(pauses).

MM: Go on…

RK: My wife and I walked out of Agneepath in the interval because it was just too gory. Gangs of Wasseypur had terrible language and Vishal Bhardwaj retained Arshad Warsi’s sex scene in Dedh Ishqiya despite us ordering him to blur it out. It was only when we told him that we’d be forced to make a police complaint, did he edit it out.

After watching Shudh Desi Romance, my five-year-old daughter asked me, “Dad, isn’t there too much love in this movie?” More recently, I went to see Yaariyan with her and came out visibly embarrassed. Now, I have decided not to see even a U/A film with my kid.

MM: How do you plan to change things?

RK: I called a meeting of my Regional Officers and have told them that I am not happy with the way certain things are going.

MM: Are you in favour of removing ‘No Smoking’ disclaimer?

RK: No, Anurag Kashyap has to follow the law of the land. He has challenged it in court but he is unlikely to win the case.

MM: How will you make adult content suitable for TV viewing?

RK: If you have content like Grand Masti, I wonder how much would remain after we clip.

MM: But the film did well…

RK: Then pornography, which has a huge market in India, should be included in films to make them work better in the box-office.

The outcry amongst filmmakers, newspapers, critics, social media and cinema goers was almost instant.

Read More »

Oscar Recognition For Film Lab Technicians – Every Single One of Them

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or AMPAS (Oscar academy) has just announced this year’s 19 scientific and technical achievement awards, who unlike the Best Film, Best Actor, etc are named and honoured prior to Oscar night, mainly to allow for more telecast time for the Angelinas of the red carpet business. These are typically individuals, often working for a specific company, whose technology has made a significant difference to the film industry, be it a new Kodak film stock, an Arri camera, a Dolby sound processor or a technical development like the Lowry film restoration process. They typically get a plaque or a medal, rather than an Oscar statuette, but it is no less of a recognition for those honoured. This year the Scientific and Technical Awards presentation ceremony on Saturday 15 February will be special in that it could see the stage swamped with hundreds of un-employed or soon-to-be unemployed film lab technicians getting a recognition for their work, just as their industry is about to die.

The list of 19 awards is a good illustration of how the motion picture (not ‘film’) industry has shifted. Two individuals, VFX supervisor and DoP Peter W. Anderson and post-production veteran Tad Marburg, are singled out for a special gong each. No less than 15 of the 19 recognition go to computer and software-related tools and developments, be it VFX, animation, rendering, color correction, digital modeling, or the likes. Two award go for separate helicopter camera systems and one of the 19 goes to the three people that designed ‘the Pneumatic Car Flipper’ that can send stunt cars flying through the air. So the scorecard is Digital: 15, Analogue: 3.

But the 19th award seeks to redress the digital-analogue imbalance by recognising an entire industry that is about to be no more: analogue film labs. Here is the commendation is full:

ACADEMY AWARD® OF MERIT (OSCAR STATUETTE)
To all those who built and operated film laboratories, for over a century of service to the motion picture industry.
Lab employees have contributed extraordinary efforts to achieve filmmakers’ artistic expectations for special film processing and the production of billions of feet of release prints per year. This work has allowed an expanded motion picture audience and unequaled worldwide cinema experience.

With all the lab employees out of work with the shutting of the film labs of Deluxe, Technicolor and others around the world, it could thus get crowded on stage. However, it is a worthy and dignified tribute to the countless of unsung heroes whose work over the last century with lights and chemicals is what produced that thin strip of film that was the only thing that both separated and connected audiences and film makers. In my view, everyone who ever worked for a film lab should get to keep the Oscar statuette for one day before passing it along to a colleague.

MPAA Selects Chris Dodd For Top Job And Huge Challenges

Christopher J. Dodd

Christopher J. Dodd

All the rumors being reported by the mainstream press as a foregone conclusion were actually correct. This week the Motion Picture Association of America announced that Christopher Dodd, the former U.S. Senator from Connecticut, would become their chairman and chief executive beginning March 17th.

The position, often viewed as Hollywood’s top lobbyist, had been vacant for a year. MPAA president, Bob Pisano, filled in during that time and did what many consider to be a stellar job; he made sure Congress banned two movie futures trading exchanges and gained the Federal Communication’s approval for Selective Output Control (SOC) technology which is meant to prevent home entertainment devices from pirating video-on-demand content. Pisano will help Dodd make the transition into his new role with the MPAA.

Some news reports pointed out that Dodd, who is 66, comes to the job with no entertainment industry experience. But Jack Valenti, who led the MPAA for 38 years, came to the job with the same deficit in 1966. Though Dodd has a few industry connections with the likes of Robert Redford and Warren Beatty, from whom he sought advice before taking the position, it is his political background the MPAA found so appealing.

As a senator with five-terms under his belt, Dodd has a bit of experience negotiating complicated deals and drafting legislation like the Family and Medical Leave Act. During his 30 year run in the Senate he’s made a few influential friends in Washington. As an added bonus, Dodd has a reputation of being an intelligent and amiable person, traits which helped him during an unsuccessful campaign for President in 2008.

Read More »

The MPAA’s Motive In Upsetting Exhibitors Over Release Windows

mpaa-fcc.png

Last Thursday when the Motion Picture Association of America made public an ex parte communication they sent to the FCC in defense of a waiver request it caused a flurry of headlines about studios going to war with exhibitors over release windows. To be sure, the letter sent by the MPAA’s lawyers, as well as the press release they sent out the same day directly refer to release windows. The headline of the press release boldly reads “MPAA Seeks FCC Okay For Transmission of First Run Movies Directly To Consumers”. However the MPAA may simply be hiding behind the concept of protecting content during shortened release windows as camouflage for their true motive; securing high definition digital content as it is distributed into the electronic ether of the home by controlling which devices can playback and display the content.

The MPAA’s letter was sent as a rebuttal to a communication sent to the FCC in October by Public Knowledge arguing the waiver not be granted. PK (as they are often referred to) is based in Washington D.C. and considers and is a public interest group that focuses its efforts on digital technology. The second paragraph of the MPAA’s letter and third paragraph of the press release reads in part:

As MPAA has detailed throughout this proceeding, grant of the waiver would for the first time allow millions of consumers to view high-value, high-definition theatrical films during an early release window that is not available today. MPAA has explained that release of this high-value content as part of an earlier window, especially with respect to movies released for home viewing close to or even during their initial theatrical run, necessarily requires the highest level of protection possible through use of SOC.

Ignoring the reference to SOC for the time being (I’ll get to it in a bit), one can see how the phrase “close to or even during their initial theatrical run” might make motion picture exhibitors angry enough to storm MPAA headquarters. It didn’t help that outgoing MPAA Chairman and CEO Dan Glickman is quoted in the press release saying:

Read More »

NATO Nabs Mitch Neuhauser For Trade Show

nato-logoEver since March of 2008 when the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) announced that they would be holding their own trade show in 2011 just before NAB the question has been, who will the organization get to put the event together.  Speculation was that Bob and Andrew Sunshine who have been producing NATO’s official trade show, ShoWest, since 2001.   After all, the Sunshine’s, who originally started out as the Sunshine Group Worldwide before being sold to Nielsen, have tons of experience organizing annual exhibitor conferences such as ShowEast, Cinema Expo and CineAsia.

Such a guess would not have been far off given that earlier today NATO announced they had hired Mitch Neuhauser to be the Show Manager of their official trade show, the first of which will be held in March of 2011.  Presently, Neuhauser works with the Sunshines as Vice President of Nielsen Film Group.  He is also already involved with NATO in some capacity as the assistant executive director of NATO of New York.

If you’ve ever been to any of the four trade shows Nielsen holds for exhibitors and distributors each year than you definitely know who Neuhauser is.  Read More »

Some Bright Ideas At ISDCF’s 3D Luminance Level Demo

jerry-pierce-isdcf-3d-demo

ISDCF Chairman Jerry Pierce

On Tuesday at the AMC Burbank 16 in Burbank, CA, the Inter-Society Digital Cinema Forum (ISDCF) held a luminance level demonstration of digital 3D content which had been mastered for different light levels.  The ISDCF is not a standards body and thus the demo was not a test, but simply a way for industry professionals to see what 3D content would look like at brighter levels than the 4 foot-lamberts (ftL) to 4.5 ftL that is common luminance for most 3D movies today.  One of the goals was to examine the emotional and technical impact of screening the content at different luminance levels.

Speaking of the content, material from the following films was shown:

  • “Journey To The Center of the Earth 3D”
  • “Miley Ray Cyrus/Hannah Montana: Best of Both Worlds”
  • “The Polar Express”
  • “Tokyo Mater”
  • “U2:3D”

A brand new Christie XD projector was brought in and connected to Doremi DSVJ2 server.  Since it already existed at the theatre, the RealD XLS system was employed as the 3D technology.  As well, RealD’s dynamic EQ was used to “ghostbust” the content as it was piped between the server and the projector.  The Christie projector was set to triple flash (show each frame three times per  eye).

Unfortunately, the ISDCF did not receive raw footage so that they could be timed from scratch.  Instead they received material that had already been mastered for 4.5 ftL.  Any adjustments made to master the content for higher luminance levels were made on top of this.  As well, all of the clips were either set at night or were indoors.  There was no daylight footage.  All of the clips were originally shot on digital rather than film.

Read More »

MPAA Urges ISPs To Help Fight Piracy

The Motion Picture Association of America has been hinting for some time now that internet service providers should prevent copyrighted material such as movies and televisions shows from being distributed illegally through their high speed broadband networks. Back in July of this year, the MPAA filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission over the “net neutrality” issue, warning the agency that any laws put into place should allow providers to monitor their network traffic to detect the transmission of pirated intellectual property.

On Tuesday MPAA chairman and CEO Dan Glickman pulled no punches in speaking about the issue at a seminar titled Legal Risk Management in the Web 2.0 World . (Try saying that seminar title five times really quickly). CNet.com quoted Glickman as saying:

“Their [ISPs] revenue bases depend on legitimate operations of their networks and more and more they’re finding their networks crowded with infringed material, bandwidth space being crowded out. Many of them are actually getting into the content business directly or indirectly. This is not an us-versus-them issue.”

The reality is, in the United States ISPs are relatively immune from the liability of their networks being used to distribute pirated material. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act established in 1998, an ISP is not held responsible for the illegal activity of their subscribers as long as they “they don’t condone copyright infringement, that they remove infringing material when notified and that they aren’t deriving financial benefit from it.” So, don’t look for your internet provider to boast that they have the fastest bit torrent downloads any time soon.

Dan GlickmanWhat it seems Glickman is suggesting is that ISPs either prevent pirated material from being transmitted over their networks or that they throttle the bandwidth speed way back when illegal content distribution is suspected. Such throttling, known as traffic shaping, has been a real hot button topic among hard core techies of late given that Comcast (in the U.S.) and other ISPs around the globe have been caught limiting the bandwidth of heavy internet users.

Ironically Glickman may get his wish in having ISPs join the MPAA in fighting movie piracy, though not due to the efforts of his organization. More so because internet providers find it is in their best interest to optimize their network by curtailing bandwidth speeds to non-commercial users generating the most traffic. In techie language. . . that means those using file sharing programs to distribute pirated copies of the latest blockbusters.

UK’s Cinema Exhib. Ass’n Gets Clapp

The trade body of the United Kingdom’s cinema industry has appointed former government film deputy secretary Phil Clapp as its new chief executive. Clapp thus replaces John Wilkinson, who stood down earlier this year (or was stood down?) , as head of the Cinema Exhibitors’ Association (CEA). Though Wilkinson remains head of the European Digital Cinema Forum, so the two will have to get on when it comes to UK-European digital cinema issues. What little information there is about the appointment comes from an article in the Hollywood Reporter, which tells us that Clapp, “joins from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport [DCMS], where he most recently was deputy director, responsible for policy on the creative industries, including film.”

Given that digital cinema is the greatest challenge facing the UK exhibition industry, this is not encouraging as the DCMS’s interest in digital cinema has been measured to date, compared to the Department of trade and Industry, which for many years encouraged digital cinema meetings while a new DCMS representative would show up for each meeting. However, this is not a reflection on Clapp, who must have something going for him to have qualified for the post at CEA. The CEA itself has always been the poorer cousin of its US counterpart NATO, unlike whom it does not even have a website, only these contact details. Most interesting to watch will be the dynamics between Clapp/CEA and UK Film Council/Peter Buckingham, that were responsible for the 240 screen-strong Digital Screen Network (DSN) that has made the UK the poster child of government sponsored digital cinema deployments in Europe.