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HD and UHD ( 2K+ ) Digital Cinema
Various topics: HD, UHD (2K / 4K) Digital Cinema acquisition to distribution.


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Old February 11th, 2009, 12:44 PM   #1
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Theaters converting to digital so why use film?

Many theaters these days are converting to digital projectors and most indie films are being distributed through the internet, so is there any point for a young filmmaker to waste tons of money to shoot on 35mm?

I just shot my second feature with a Sony FX-1 and we're planning an online distribution strategy so we don't care for film or 24p.

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Old February 11th, 2009, 01:27 PM   #2
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I wouldn't worry about 35mm film acquisition for a no to low budget feature in this day and age, since the percentage of such films that make theatrical distribution is very small (and filmouts are generally acceptable). I would however recommend 24p as there is a better possibility that the film may be seen on video.
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Old February 11th, 2009, 02:19 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles Papert View Post
I wouldn't worry about 35mm film acquisition for a no to low budget feature in this day and age, since the percentage of such films that make theatrical distribution is very small (and filmouts are generally acceptable). I would however recommend 24p as there is a better possibility that the film may be seen on video.
Indeed, theatrical distributors are looking for who's in it and what's it shot on, which makes it difficult for the no to low budget films to get the distribution deals. The marketing costs are so high that the film has to have something unique or original about it, so that it stands out. Their best hope perhaps being in the art house circuit rather than the multiplexes. Although I know the odd low budget indie film does get a screening in a local theatre, but it's hardly a distribution deal.

Unfortunately, the current problem with the internet is the difficulty in making a return on the investment. A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a talk being given someone who has a successful on line drama series. He said they earned their money from sales of the books and other items rather than the drama itself.

The conversion to digital projection appears to be slowing down for the moment due to the recession because of the high capital costs involved. It could be they can't get the finance deals.

Smart film makers don't apply limitations to their film's distribution, they keep all the doors open.
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Old February 12th, 2009, 06:19 PM   #4
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Apologies for not researching this myself, but does anyone know what the distribution deal was for the Ed Harris film "Appaloosa," which had a relatively low budget (according to the BTS material, but I don't have figures) -- and was shot on 35mm, interestingly enough, by Dean Semler, whose previous four or five projects had been shot with Genesis. I can't recall how wide this release was... maybe my head's been in the ground, but I didn't even hear of it until I recently found it on Blu-Ray (two thumbs up, by the way).
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Old February 13th, 2009, 12:05 AM   #5
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Here in Lexington, Ky we have 2 art house theatres that specialize in no to low budget films and cult classics pretty much exclusively. In fact they even have local movie days where they showcase local independents via digital projection. And "Appaloosa" was shown here when it came out. I don't know what the distribution deal was either Chris but I do remember seeing it on the movie page some time back. Both the art houses and a few of the local theatres have digital screenings for many of their "newer release" features too, so if we are seeing that here i wouldn't be surprised to see more digital screenings real soon everywhere.
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Old February 13th, 2009, 04:36 AM   #6
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I think a lot depends on local circumstances. Our 2 screen art house cinema shows mostly international and the traditional American & British independent cinema, which I suspect mostly aren't the films we're discussing here, unless they've won awards at the top film festivals.

Local feature films do get screened, but the lowest budget would mostly be in the Euro/200,000 range. You do get once off screenings during the local film festivals with the even lower budget feature films, but unless these film have legs in the international festivals they're unlikely get a one week run at the art house.

One very low budget horror film did get a two week run at a local multiplex, but I suspect that this may have involved the producer doing a hard pitch at the owners. It was a one off and I suspect the commercial theatres would have to be convinced that the demand was there. This particular film had a lot of local publicity during the production, so making it more attractive, but it may be doubtful that it would be commercially viable to screen no to low budget films there on a regular basis.
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Old February 13th, 2009, 11:10 AM   #7
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Most of the screens at the indie art houses in Los Angeles still use film print projection. A couple have a theater that can do digital, although I think at the Sunset Laemmle it's not even a 2K/HD projector. I don't think the Santa Monica Laemmle has any 2K/HD projectors either. The Landmark as at least one digital projector and so does the Nuart -- I think they have the Sony 4K projector.

Truth is that the largest chain of art house theaters in L.A. are all owned by Laemmle and they are pretty cash-poor so I don't see a lot of effort to get the latest 2K DCI projection installed. So most indie movies, made by people who probably want to avoid a film-out the most, generally are distributed through 35mm prints. You're more likely to get a 2K cinema release if you're a major Hollywood production.

As for whether the FX1 is acceptable for feature production, that's a matter for the filmmakers involved and their priorities and creative aims/needs, but don't imply that the quality level is near that of 35mm or high-end 24P HD, or conversely, suggest that image quality is not necessary for an indie filmmaker. It all depends on the particular project -- not all benefit from the particular image characteristics of 1/3" prosumer video. I'd also say that not every movie benefits from the higher quality of 35mm.

But when it comes to deciding on how to spend your money, everyone has different priorities, hopefully based on the script. If it's important to show the majesty of the Sierra Nevadas in the story, then a more expensive, higher resolution image system may take higher priority than a system that allows you to shoot hours of footage cheaply. But then you'll have to compromise on how much footage you can shoot. On the other hand, if the story is about a married couple arguing in their small apartment for the entire movie, high-resolution images may not lend much benefit compared to being able to shoot more footage.
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Old February 13th, 2009, 11:49 AM   #8
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I've also heard that flying cars that run on water and sunlight are in the near future but until they are widespread, perhaps I'll continue to buy gas for my Jeep.

Any technological change takes time to implement. Will the theatre of the (near?) future be an all digital enterprise? Possibly. Is digital capture (4k, 2k, HDCam SR) beginning to take a bite out of 35mm film's market share? Perhaps. Is film done? Not yet. Does content always trump imagery? Depends entirely on the content, as Mr. Mullen states above.

If I were starting out, would I buy a bunch of 35mm film cameras? No. Not even most Hollywood producers/cinematographers/DOPs own their own. These are TYPICALLY rental/lease items. If I were starting again, would I invest in my own future by taking a film course in addition to my video training? Perhaps. Even the digital cinema being produced at the mid to higher end uses a very filmic workflow. The fully tricked out Digital Cinema cameras have film crew friendly features in order to expedite on set crew performance.

IMHO, while film's days may be numbered (in the hundreds or tens of thousands, who knows...) the workflow that the stock is merely a small part of is likely to continue on for some time...
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Old February 13th, 2009, 07:22 PM   #9
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I'm finding, in my area, that a lot of cinemas have at least one of their theatres equipped with a digital projector. But they don't have DCI-spec cinema servers capable of playing out a secure DCP (Digital Cinema Package). A number seem to have an "MPEG 2 player" connected to their digital projector which pretty much offers zero effective protection against piracy.

The only DCI-spec servers being installed locally are for the 3D movies (last time I checked there were about half a dozen around town). Because Hollywood are currently rolling out 3D movies one after the other (Bolt, Journey to the Center of the Earth, etc.) cinemas only need one DCI-spec server at each location. But, because 3D movies are proving a real winner for Hollywood (as far as I know, every Hollywood 3D movie has grossed at least $100 million so far) there might be a proliferation of 3D movies in 2009, which should force these cinemas to install a second DCI-spec server, and so on. And I noticed that at least one local cinema charges a premium of around $3 for their 3D movies, which should help them quickly amortize their investment in the DCI-spec server and system.

3D seems to be the only effective catalyst (or "driving force") for getting cinemas to properly adopt Digital Cinema by installing DCI-spec servers and projectors.

So, whether or not 3D: turns out to be a short-term "fad", becomes the norm (like the introduction of color film replacing black and white) or eventually settles into a niche market (such as IMAX), I do not know.

But, from an indie viewpoint, I sincerely hope that 3D remains strong (and hopefully experiences a boom) for at least the next 3 years. I think most cinemas will majorly convert to DCI-spec Digital Cinema in that time, as long as 3D makes it profitable to do so.
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Old February 14th, 2009, 11:02 AM   #10
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I think some people are confused by seeing 'digital projection' at their local multi-plex, usually some form of previews like 'the twenty' or something. These are NOT 2k/HD digital projectors, but more likely the sort of projector you might be able to buy at your local Electronics sales. Just because the local house is screening 'digital projections' doesn't translate to 2k DCI quality images.
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Old February 14th, 2009, 06:53 PM   #11
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Very true.

Something I should have mentioned in my original post was that you cannot play out the feed from a DCI-spec server to a non-DCI-spec projector.

Per my current understanding, the DCI-spec server encrypts the dual-link SDI video stream that it sends to the projector. The DCI projector then decrypts the stream for playback. This, of course, is to prevent piracy by someone simply hooking up the dual-link stream (from the server) to their computer and copying it that way. The encrypted file would be useless to them without the key (called Key Delivery Message or KDM).

I'm very impressed with the security features implemented by the DCI and I guess it explains the long delays in rolling out the final, working DCI specs. Security is absolutely vital and it seems they might have needed the extra time to get that aspect right.

But, in the interim (during that long wait), there have been companies which were filling the void and installing what seem to be non-DCI-spec servers and projectors into cinemas.

For example (from my local area):

Welcome to d-Cinema.com.au

digitAll Shop

From what I can determine from their website (and I could be wrong) their servers don't seem to be DCI-spec. The projectors mostly range from A$4,000-$6,000 (US$2,600-$4,000) and mostly 1280X768 native resolution. (As Richard said, NOT 2K DCI projectors.)

However, current digital cinema distribution plans (indie) simply have to take this factor into account and adapt to it. Those existing projectors would suit a 1280X720 movie quite well and we're currently developing a prototype server for our current digital (720p) feature that will hook up to these existing non-DCI-spec 720p projectors (including, ugh, SD projectors if that's all a cinema has) and have a degree of built-in anti-piracy measures. But the whole thing is a big pain and the good news is that 3D is driving cinemas to upgrade and upcoming movies such as James Cameron's Avatar should speed this process up considerably.

Then all you have to do is buy software such as Wraptor by QuVis (Mac) or, for Windows, by Qube, etc., and simply generate your DCP (movie) and KDM (key).

But there's just this tricky interim period in the meantime ...
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Old February 16th, 2009, 12:16 PM   #12
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I personally think film is on it's way out. I don't know how long it will take, maybe 5-10 years? Who knows. But, even though theaters are now switching over to digital, doesn't mean film isn't a good acquisition format.
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Old February 17th, 2009, 09:47 PM   #13
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I agree with you Matthew. As a child of the digital age, i love digital acquisition but I am old enough to have taken a photography class in high school and can admire the art of darkroom processing. It doesn't mean that 35mm or medium format is a bad acquisition format but digital is less expensive and frees you up to take more shots than you need. I was talking to one of my photog friends and he was talking about the old days when taking more than 16 photos during a wedding service was wasteful and now he doesn't bat an eye at taking 60 or more photos in the ceremony. I think the same applies to movie film. It is a beautiful format and it's own artform but the technology is closing the gap. Like 35mm photos, I think we will see the movie industry embrace this tech and take it to the next level. There will probably always be some filmmakers who shot on film but I think digital acquisition and delivery will become the norm soon.
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Old February 18th, 2009, 04:18 PM   #14
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There's theory and there's practical reality, and the practical reality is that the current digital cinema cameras come close to delivering 35mm quality... but aren't quite there in all regards. So a total switchover now would not only be unnecessarily premature, but it would be admitting that we no longer hold image quality as the biggest determining factor in how we make movies.

That said, we are awful close, close enough that with some shooting care (and a lot of money spent in post), you can achieve the results of a "Benjamin Button" -- shot on five-year-old technology. So we are definitely close.

But I'm not comfortable with the notion of film's demise until digital gets better, particularly in terms of dynamic range.

In terms of theatrical projection, release prints and film projection have declined in quality to the point where I think current digital options are pretty good, if not often better than film projection.
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Old February 18th, 2009, 10:11 PM   #15
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David, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It is interesting to hear thoughts from one so closely affiliated with cinematography.

In my opinion, we are repeating the argument photographers have been having for years. It wasn't too long ago that digital images were banned from pro photography competitions and photo studios scoffed at DSLR camera owners. (In fact here is a link to a similar argument on a DP board from 2004 - https://www.dpchallenge.com/forum.ph...READ_ID=123396 ) Now, how many of you shoot with photographers still using film for the majority of their operations? There will always be advantages to using film but the reduced cost, time, and flexibility of digital acquisition will win in the end.

The only question is how long? If we are learning from our cousins in still imaging, however long you think it will take for the transition to occur, cut the time in half and you are probably closer to the truth. Whenever the switchover occurs there will be a place for film (just like you can still buy 35mm disposable cameras and rolls for your old still cams) but the greater market share will be digital and I believe it will be here long before we think the tech has equaled 35 mm quality. The cameras will close the gap enough that the software and post processing can bridge it. Then we will be reading articles where the "buzz" is that the Director of photography choose film vs. digital instead of the other way around, and this will all occur long before the flying cars that run on solar and hydro power that Shaun mentioned earlier...

And in response to the OP question, I would rarely consider it smart to invest in a dying tech. If you need film equip, rent it.
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