Ask Ted Schilowitz whether he works in either technology or motion picture production or computer hardware or high resolution imaging or marketing, and the answer you’re most likely to receive is, “Yes”. The technologist was recently tapped by Barco, the cinema technology company, to become their CinemaVangelist and help the firm launch its CinemaBarco suite of products.
That’s not the first non-traditional title Schilowitz has had. He’s also a consultant at Twentieth Century Fox where he holds the title of Futurist. Under the arrangement, which began at the end of last year, Schilowitz works with the studio’s President of Physical Production, Joe Hartwick, and President of Feature Post Production, Ted Gagliano, to identify and figure out what kind of technologies and storytelling tools and strategies a big movie company needs to pay attention to, you know, to make sure they don’t miss something really big.
Schilowitz’s title at Fox is almost tame compared to the ominous one he held at Red Digital Cinema; Leader of the Rebellion. Along with James Jannard, Schilowitz helped co-found one of the leading manufacturers of digital cinematography equipment as the company’s first employee. He remained with Red until September of last year.
With those kinds of credentials, it almost seems pointless to mention his role in founding G-Tech, a manufacturer of media storage devices which was purchased by Hitachi. Nor that he helped develop the video cards for AJA Video Systems in collaboration with a little company called Apple.
You can probably see why it might be difficult for someone with Schilowitz’s resume to provide a direct answer about the definition of his profession. Even so, during a recent phone conversation with Schilowitz as he drove to Las Vegas for CinemaCon, I figured its was at least worth asking him how he landed his most recent title with Barco and exactly what he’d be helping the company with.
The transcript of our conversation is a perfect example of how good Schilowitz is at building excitement around the technology used in modern motion pictures and television. What’s even more amazing is that he can manage to do this without divulging the details of a big new product Barco is announcing at CinemaCon, only managing to further build the suspense over just what it might be.
Celluloid Junkie: Okay, I’ve got to start with title. What’s the deal with the CinemaVangelist title?
Ted Schilowitz: My logic about titles in the modern world of business is that titles mean a lot less than they used to. It’s really what people do versus what they’re called that matters. When I started talking with Barco about what my title should be in this new role there were a bunch of very traditional titles that made me sound very self important. None of that really worked for me. It needs to be more fun. We’re in the entertaimnet business, we’re in the movie business, we’re in the fun business. I want this to be a kind of watershed moment for Barco in terms of the kind of environment that we’re creating and what I’ve been brought in to help spearhead is this new level of showmanship and this realization that technology doesn’t need to be boring, but that technology needs to be integrated with the wonder of storytelling and that’s where things get exciting. So we came up with like five or six different names and then the Barco execs said “We like CinemaVangilist we think that defines your role and it defines Barco and why we’re both very excited.” I’m thrilled to be a part of Barco and Barco is very motivated to have me helping that effort. It’s very bidirectional. It’s essentially evangelizing the art, the science and the fun of cinema, in all its form and functions. It doesn’t really have a hard definition.
CJ: What led you to Barco and what will you be doing for them?
TS: Well, at the same time as I’m doing this crazy gig for Fox, in the background, in secret, I’m working on this very interesting piece of technology and storytelling for Barco, which is an amazing company in so many ways. Not a lot of people know about Barco. They know Barco, they just don’t realize they know Barco, because every time they go to a cinema they see a Barco projector. They have the leading market share out of all the three or four big companies. They are in my opinion best of breed when it comes to this number one in terms of the technology and number one also in terms of servicing their clients and really making sure that they get maximum value out of the technology. So we’ve been working on this secret thing and Fox is involved in it along with one other big movie studio, but I’m not sure I have clearance to talk about them. It’s going to be launching on March 25th.
CJ: So will the project you’re working on with Barco be mentioned at CinemaCon?
TS: More than just mentioned. I think it will be a big part of the CinemaCon story.
CJ: And Barco doesn’t mind that you’re also working with Fox?
TS: What’s really intriguing, and certainly would be a risk for a traditional company that wouldn’t think out of the box, is how do you have a guy that’s actually living in two worlds? The guys at Barco were so forward thinking that they saw what I saw which was this is a huge benefit. That they’re on the inside of a movie studio looking out, not on the outside trying to look in and we can use that to our advantage to help us learn quicker and figure things out faster and that’s exactly what happened.
CJ: You’re signing on with the company, in part, to work on CinemaBarco. What exactly is CinemaBarco?
TS: CinemaBarco is the blank that covers all this new technology and all of this new storytelling tools that we’ve been working on, but there is one piece that we’re holding as a secret until March 25th. It’s the laser projection, the Auro sound, Audience Entertainment and this lobby experience that we refer to as Lobby Enchantment.
CJ: Well, why don’t we talk about lasers first? Are we close to having a digital cinema projector with laser illumination?
TS: What Barco is doing is redefining projection using laser light instead of traditional bulbs. Coherent light instead of incoherent light. This is the beginnings of a journey that is more real than I think people will realize. What’s going to happen at CinemaCon is that people are going to see this state of the art, best of breed laser projector, in a real cinema, without any kind of shaking screen or gimmicks to make the lasers work. This is a fully, commercially deployable product that right after CinemaCon the first units will be going into real commercial theatres. And we’re working hand-in-hand with our exhibitors to figure out an economic path that makes sense. These projectors are more expensive than traditional 4K and 2K projectors now, but they will not be in the future. When you start to look at all the components and what this disruption and innovation means, it means a lower cost of ownership over time. A vastly lower cost once we get to a gen 1.5, gen 2 and gen 3 of laser product and the ability to enhance and create much better images than have ever been created with traditional light source projectors. We’re increasing the quality of the image, we’re increasing the brightness of the image by an exponential amount, and bringing additional value to exhibitors by lowering their cost of ownership and cost of operations over a period of time.
CJ: Lasers have been a growing topic of conversation in the industry for a couple of years now. They seem to be overshadowed these days by talk of audio formats and immersive audio. Can we expect to hear some news about Auro at CinemaCon?
TS: You know, I really understand what Barco was trying achieve with their first role out of Auro and where I think they needed a little more self-promotion. Barco announced this wonderful three dimensional sound system the is the most natural, best sounding dialogue track, best immersive experience, but what they didn’t do was go after the sort of gimmick line. The really big sound effects that play all around you, up in the sky and all that, because they didn’t think it was all that important. What I said is “You need to show the capabilities of this system and you need to really show it off”. Because you can always go subtle. You can always turn it down. Just like we did with Red. Red can make all kinds of subtleties all day long as you’ve seen with filmmakers like David Fincher and all these other filmmakers that make beautiful movies, but when you want to show the capabilities of a digital camera system at high resolution you need to show some jaw dropping stuff and make people go, “Oh my god”. I think Auro got it a little bit in reverse, they did everything except the “Oh my god”. This year you’re going to hear the oh my god. This year you’re going to hear Auro at it’s full sonic capability. Blowing the doors off, showing that this is the upper level of the entertainment audio experience, just like it’s competitors out there. And there are some really good competitors that make a very fine audio product. You know who I’m talking about. I’m not knocking them. I’m more knocking Barco itself not for the technology, but just how they laid out the technology. I want them to be less subtle and more entertainment oriented about how good this audio experience is. I think you’re going to see that… or hear that… at CinemaCon.
CJ: Where do you see the interactive content from Audience Entertainment fitting in?
TS: From a strategic point, this is an intriguing part of our business. We are looking for ways to compel an audience that is used to a level of interactivity in their lives when they are working on an iPad or an iPhone or a laptop or Android device, that they would like things to be more interactive. They would like to have a different kind of experience as part of their moviegoing experience and that’s what Audience Entertainment specializes in. It’s really unique, it’s really compelling, it’s also early on. You’re going to see a lot more developed. I wouldn’t say this is a project that is at it’s done stage either, but what I’ve seen so far is incredibly impressive, and more than impressive it’s engaging. It’s fun to watch an audience let their guard down and interact a little bit with their neighbors and have fun. The movies are supposed to be fun and sometimes we take it all al title to seriously. Audience Entertainment is one part of bringing fun back to the movies.
CJ: Finally, since your title at Fox is Futurist, what would you advise industry professionals, specifically exhibition and distribution to be paying attention to down the road?
TS: I think they should be paying attention to the power of the transition that we made from analog to digital, the 1.0 transition and now the 2.0 transition. The 1.0 transition was designed to ensure that digital could adhere to the rules and the quality levels of analog film. That job has been accomplished. The digital 2.0 transition is how can digital break all these rules and all these perceived boundaries of what we had with film and the digital version of film and approach it in such a new way that we remember the old days burn then there’s the new days which are a far cry from what cinema was just a few years ago. That’s all the exploration and science and technology that we’re doing in the lab at Barco, a bit of which you’re going to see announced on March 25th. It’s the beginning of a journey, not the end of a journey. But we’ve already accomplished step one, which is can we make digital as good or better than a film representation and now we’re starting to explore where we go from here.