High tech Hollywood

It hasn’t happened yet, but don’t be surprised if within the next few years, someone stands on stage Oscar night and hands out the live action short subject Academy Award to an amusement park attraction.

Ridiculous? Hardly.

When the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences board of governors made their decision last week to maintain Oscar categories for short films, one of the reasons cited was that whole new areas are opening up for shorts, including interactive, ridefilms, IMAX and Showscan.

“We’re talking about theaters in theme parks and major expositions,” Academy president Arthur Hiller said, “as well as such venues as Iwerks’ Cinetropolis theaters and others dedicated to special processes like Showscan. The board clearly felt that all of these sites fall within the Academy’s ‘theatrical film’ province.”

So while members of the Acad’s short films branch, and filmmakers in general, are still celebrating last week’s decision, they are at the same time faced with several new issues with which to grapple: What to do with shorts produced for these new venues and how to make them available for consideration to Academy members.

For example, most ridefilms, including “Back to the Future: The Ride” at Universal Studios Hollywood, and many produced by Iwerks, among others, are dependent on seats that move with the film’s action. Since they are an integral part of the film, will Academy members have to view the film with the motion seats?

“That’s what the shorts committee is going to have to decide,” said Donn Camberin, who chaired the study committee looking into the feasibility of shorts. “What we learned is that the shorts committee is going to re-address these different aspects and that the short has changed drastically. That’s what part of the problem is. How that will be resolved in terms of consideration, we don’t know yet.”

The issue will have to be resolved soon, as “Journey to Technopia,” a ridefilm produced by Boss Film Studios for the Expo ’93 in Taejon, South Korea, was submitted for this year’s Oscars — the first ridefilm to be entered for consideration.

Because Academy rules state that a submitted film must show in Los Angeles County for three days during the eligibility year, “Journey to Technopia” was indeed booked into a local theater — without the specialized motion seats that were used in South Korea. The film was then shown for members of the shorts screening committee at the Acad’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, again, without benefit of the motion simulator seats.

“One of the difficulties in running these kind of films for the Academy is that they are set up for specialty projection systems,” says Boss Film’s founder and president Richard Edlund. “They are a new art form that didn’t exist, and therefore it’s part of a special venue.”

In the case of IMAX films, the situation has been a little easier for the Academy, since there is an IMAX theater in Los Angeles. Last year, for example, when the IMAX film “Fires of Kuwait” was nominated in the feature-length documentary category, the Academy set up special screenings for its members, even busing many of them to the theater, which is in Exposition Park.

“Logistically, it’s worked out,” says documentary branch member Freida Lee Mock. “The members got used to it.”

The situation is similar to that of years ago, when, during the heyday of Cinerama films, Academy members viewed nominated Cinerama films at the specially designed Cinerama Dome.

Another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration is that most ridefilms have what is known as a “pre-show,” where the audience — prior to getting on the ride — watches a video presentation setting up the ride’s story. For example, on the “Back to the Future” ride, Christopher Lloyd is seen onscreen giving the set-up.

“My theory on ride films is that the pre-show is part of the experience,” Edlund said.

“I think rides should be submitted in their entirety,” added Douglas Trumbull , who designed the “Back to the Future” ride. “A movie without the simulation is like a movie without the soundtrack.”

But Camberin isn’t quite so sure, adding, “Some rides are dependent on the entire experience and others can stand without the total experience. With some of these films, the pre-show is not the basis of what the film is.”

Still to be decided is the Academy’s definition of a theater. While Academy rules stipulate that a film must shown in a commercial motion picture theater, who’s to say that the theater where the “Back to the Future” ride plays is technically not one?

“If Doug Trumbull submitted ‘Back to the Future,’ the Academy would have hard time convincing him that it is not a theater,” says theme park ride producer Bob Rogers of Burbank-based BRC Imagination Arts, who has had two of his theme park and World’s Fair films nominated for Oscars.

“I, as a member of the shorts branch, would like to see the trend of expanding the rules to embrace the new media,” Rogers said. “The idea of considering an IMAX film has passed the test. That’s a short leap to considering ridefilms. We ought to expand the definition of the short film to include all this new stuff because it’s going to be very big.”

SOUTH OF THE BORDER: With Mexico City becoming one of the top advertising centers in the world, it’s no surprise that Virgin Television, which specializes in high-end post-production work, has opened a state-of-the-art facility in that city. For Virgin, which also operates L.A.’s 525 and London’s Rushes, both successful post houses, the opening marks the first major enterprise in TV broadcasting into Mexico since the NAFTA agreement went into effect.

According to Virgin Television president and CEO Steve Hendricks, who co-founded 525 with Kevin Duckett in 1987, the Mexico City facility will be located in an 8,000 square foot revamped mansion and is already being used on a project by McCann/Erickson.

Digital compositing is being done on a Quantel Henry, while film to tape transfers will be handled by a Rank Cintel/Gold Ursa telecine.

THREE INTO ONE: Compact Video, Image Transform and Meridian Studios, which were acquired by ATS Acquisition Corp. in August, have been reorganized into one operation and renamed Four Media Co. Company officials say that 4MC will mount an aggressive advertising and direct marketing campaign targeting the entertainment industry.

(Andy Marx can be reached by computer. His CompuServe number is 70324,3424.)

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