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Old March 30th, 2007, 03:30 AM   #1
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How much longer will we need a film transfer?

Hi all filmmakers out there! I've just purchased my A-1 and I'm almost finished writing my feature length screenplay which I'll be filming and editing this summer. My goal is to enter my no budget feature into a few film festivals. Most of the festivals accept digital entries and with more and more theatres going with digital projection, I'm hoping that we soon won't need to do the expensive and possibly heartbreaking transfer to 35mm for distribution. It will be great to know whatever effects you add to your film's look, such as extra grain or desaturation, won't change or be multiplied by a film transfer. Your guys' thoughts?

Win
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Old March 30th, 2007, 03:47 AM   #2
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Ask Hollywood. There is one obvious reason they may prefer to keep 35mm: They have much better control of distribution. If they distribute in a digital media it will be so much easier that a film goes pirate before the premier.

However, independent filmmakers like yourself may change this. As high quality film making becomes economically accessible to more people, I would expect more independent films getting done. And for independent film making keeping all costs low is essential and may outweigh the risk of pirate copies.

Cheers, Erik
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Old March 30th, 2007, 09:31 AM   #3
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A few months ago there was an excellent article in DV magazine by the maker of "The Last Broadcast" about how he self distributed using a digital print by tapping into a network of small theaters that project digitally. If you search the DV.com site, you may be able to find it.
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Old March 30th, 2007, 09:39 AM   #4
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Combining What Erik & Stu Said....

....if every little filmmaker could have at their disposal a digital theater distribution model, that ANYONE could tap into, granted the theater chain, or "indie" theater wants to show it, about the only thing a major studio would be able to have that we wouldn't necessarily have is their advertising capabilities, and perhaps funds for big budget films, although that could start to dry up as well. If this becomes a reality, look for many advertising firms to start working directly with filmmakers, bypassing "Hollywood" altogether. This is the dream we've all been kind of waiting for, now we just have to make sure they can't take it over - like every other potentially democratizing medium has been thus far in the digital age.
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Old March 31st, 2007, 03:37 PM   #5
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Around here we have a total of 11 arthouse screens (with another 2 on the way) in 5 theaters. I think the one theater with three screens only has digital capability in one auditorium; otherwise, all the other screens have digital projection.

However, for theatrical release you're gonna need 35mm prints for the foreseeable future. All festivals I know about take digital now. Some are more picky than others. Tribeca and Sundance, for example, want an HDCAM copy, but that's really not a problem. Tribeca, and presumably others too, gives you a deal on transferring whatever format you have to HDCAM. A friend and I had a half hour short doc that played in Tribeca about 3 years ago, and it only cost us about 80 bucks to get it to HDCAM at the facility they recommended. Right now, I don't know of any films that have been released even in the art house circuit witihout going to prints. And even when the mainstream theaters become filmless...they're going to have a totally controlled system so it'll probably still cost you as much to get put into their system as it does to get a print made.
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Old March 31st, 2007, 06:15 PM   #6
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Actually, most distributors would be elated if everything went digital - Do you have any idea what it costs to ship those huge film cans to theaters? What it costs to make a 35mm print from an existing interneg? What it costs to make that interneg in the first place? - they are not standing in the way of digital projection. It is mostly a hardware issue, the equipment - those huge platter projectors currently in theaters - was expensive to buy and usually still works good enough to make switching over an issue of economics for individual theater owners - Hell, they don't even replace their screens when they get soiled or fix broken seats.

The other factor, although it is becoming less of an issue, is the tactile quality of film itself. It's not about resolution, or 24p, or any of that - film is film, and while I'm a huge fan of people like Lucas and Robert Rodriquez, and am a longtime advocate of the "democratization" of the filmmaking process, most video just, well, sucks. So the first question a distributor usually asks (even before "who's in it?") is "what was it shot on?".

I have an XL H1, and A1, and shoot occasionally with a rental Varicam (producer's request).. But I recently had the opportunity to haul my super16mm Aaton out of mothballs and shoot a short documentary with it.
I had forgotten the difference (you tend to when you have your head in another place). And while it's true that I xfered to video, if I chose to thread up a timed print on a projector and screen it in a 500 seat house, I would remember why the industry has held on to film, in all it's aspects, as long as they have.

It may be a dinosaur, but it's a really pretty dinosaur.
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Old March 31st, 2007, 06:41 PM   #7
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Distributors will handle transfers to 35mm. For a wide theatrical distribution you really need film prints. Art house cinemas often have digital projection, although this can be variable in quality.

For indies you're better trying to make sales on DVD and go for festivals that have digital projection. I doubt most theatre owners are going to be that keen on films that have had little promotion and won't generate loads of popcorn sales (these are more profitable than the seats).

For a one off print, the Cinevator allows you to do this without the need for DI etc. I wouldn't mess around with adding grain etc, the quality of HDV isn't that great for big screen work. Keep it clean and use lighting etc for effect. Check with the companies that do film transfers for the best camera settings.
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Old April 1st, 2007, 03:36 AM   #8
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I recently learned the following from the owner of a chain of arthouse cinemas: the problem with digital projection is not a technical one (all of his theatres are equipped with 720p projectors now) but a financial one. An 35mm projector is an investment that last for decades whereas the 20'000 or more you invest for a digital projector have to be written of in two or three years. Going digital means the costs for 35mm copies cease to apply but they are replaced by higher costs for the HD projectors. The problem is that the 35mm copies were paid by the distribution houses whereas the projectors are considered to be an investment the movie theatre has to make. Going digital shifts costs from the distributors to the movie theatres. This is hardly an issue for mainstream Hollywood but it is for lower budget independent films.
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Old April 1st, 2007, 07:26 AM   #9
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Certainly digital projection will open up distribution opportunities for international cinema and lower-budget films - but no matter whether it's possible technically, ultimately it comes down to whether people will money to watch the film. Regardless of whether they're showing blockbuster or fringe, the cinema still has wages and bills to pay, and aren't likely to want to devote space, staff and electricity to a film which may only ever get 100 peple through the door.
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Old April 2nd, 2007, 09:27 AM   #10
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Hi Win, my last film was shot on digi beta and dv (SD) and played quite a few festivals projected from beta sp and dvd. This was last year, very few fests were screening from hd.
The projection looked mostly good and the audience in general were oblivious to source and projection formats.
Festivals benefit by saving on print transportation, which really mounts up for them.
Save your print money - put it into making the film rather than buying an obsolete pile of plastic... It'll only break your heart. Good Luck.
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Old April 2nd, 2007, 09:41 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Alex Leith View Post
Certainly digital projection will open up distribution opportunities for international cinema and lower-budget films - but no matter whether it's possible technically, ultimately it comes down to whether people will money to watch the film. Regardless of whether they're showing blockbuster or fringe, the cinema still has wages and bills to pay, and aren't likely to want to devote space, staff and electricity to a film which may only ever get 100 peple through the door.
Which brings up the one thing most of us indie filmmakers are missing - advertising. It would be nice if there was an advertising house that was paid by commission only, directed specifically an indie filmmakers. Yes it would take money, obviously still, but in order to actually experience the democratizing effects of these new delivery formats, it still comes down to old fashioned getting the word out. That's assuming that, like forewarned above, the price of entry to a digital theater distribution pipeline wasn't set to be so high as to exclude the small guy anyway. This is exactly WHY internet neutrality should be of high importance to all of us making small films, no matter WHAT political stripe one is otherwise, because without it, the exact scenario described above CAN and WILL happen - different data speeds charged at different rates, some priced so high as to purposefully be exclusive. Bottom line - this hits us in the wallet. With internet neutrality, we could actually use such a pipeline, with convenience and smaller costs. The downside is, it still needs to be built - and that is why so many larger companies are pushing for such data prioritizing - and we need to figure out, en masse, where we come down on this issue.
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Old April 2nd, 2007, 09:49 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Martin Saxer View Post
I recently learned the following from the owner of a chain of arthouse cinemas: the problem with digital projection is not a technical one (all of his theatres are equipped with 720p projectors now) but a financial one. An 35mm projector is an investment that last for decades whereas the 20'000 or more you invest for a digital projector have to be written of in two or three years. Going digital means the costs for 35mm copies cease to apply but they are replaced by higher costs for the HD projectors. The problem is that the 35mm copies were paid by the distribution houses whereas the projectors are considered to be an investment the movie theatre has to make. Going digital shifts costs from the distributors to the movie theatres. This is hardly an issue for mainstream Hollywood but it is for lower budget independent films.
You hit it on the nail... and we know how every six months something new comes out in digital... or lets say every year... I have no clue what a digital projector costs... maybe a hundred grand...

I believe there are close to 30 screens in my town... so that's $3,000,000 per year... unless they can update like the Red is suppose too... that's a bit hit for a small town of only 200,000 people... or that's $3,000,000 less profit for the owners per year...
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Old April 2nd, 2007, 10:18 AM   #13
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You hit it on the nail... and we know how every six months something new comes out in digital... or lets say every year... I have no clue what a digital projector costs... maybe a hundred grand...

I believe there are close to 30 screens in my town... so that's $3,000,000 per year... unless they can update like the Red is suppose too... that's a bit hit for a small town of only 200,000 people... or that's $3,000,000 less profit for the owners per year...
Which is exactly the reason why the big studios/media machines will try to revert us back to the studio system via owning the high speed connections that will get the movies there in the first place, in effect, controlling the theater itself, just like the days of MGM/Grand, where the studios controlled everything down to the theaters. In this case, the studio won't in effect own the theater - that will still be privately controlled, but they will own the only way for movies to get there. This is part of the net neutrality issue covers - opponents of which want information transfers that can be priced in a way that big companies get priority. Proponents of net neutrality want equality in information - the way it is now, still understanding that prices will increase for everyone across the board, but still having as much access as anyone else. As this effects all of us directly, a personal choice on where you stand needs to be made - based on how it impacts you in the wallet, taking into account both your patronage of theaters (theoretically tickets will be cheaper if the big guys control the info flow) and as a filmmaker (it may be even MORE difficult to get your stuff into a theater if the big guys control the info flow).

Last edited by Todd Mattson; April 2nd, 2007 at 11:08 AM.
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Old April 2nd, 2007, 11:38 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Todd Mattson View Post
Which is exactly the reason why the big studios/media machines will try to revert us back to the studio system via owning the high speed connections that will get the movies there in the first place, in effect, controlling the theater itself, just like the days of MGM/Grand, where the studios controlled everything down to the theaters.
An old friend said years ago... that the internet was the key... start buying up... because in a few years it would be fast enough to play movies...

He also thought that the studios would go to Washington DC and lobby for control of the market...

Who knows I should have listen to him more...
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Old April 3rd, 2007, 07:09 AM   #15
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An old friend said years ago... that the internet was the key... start buying up... because in a few years it would be fast enough to play movies...

He also thought that the studios would go to Washington DC and lobby for control of the market...

Who knows I should have listen to him more...
It's maybe not so much of an issue of buy a certain companies stock anymore, that is unless some new wonderkid comes up with the You Tube of digital theater feature film distribution (um, with way BETTER compression - or none at all). I guess my vision of that would be system where theater owners are the only ones viewing, and thusly picking their content from this central hub, and then could decide from that to show the movie at their theater, with payments then going directly to the filmmaker - and the filmmaker then immediately putting one of these independent advertisiting firms to work in the market where it will be playing. But back to right now, we all do have to keep our eyes on what happens there on this issue - even if it's just setting up your Google for news alerts on the topic. In the meantime, I still think that even more important than theater distribution to most of us is some form of inexpensive "pay from profit" advertising (kind of like the pay per click - just also including some larger scale methods, might turn the industry on it's head.
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