What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty

Biz needs to commit to better quality in theaters

Memo to the movie industry: The first step toward recovery, as AA has taught the world, is admitting you have a problem.

Well, you definitely have a problem: You are making a highly polished product, but that polish isn’t making it to your customers. You see bright clear images in your screening rooms but many auds get murky, fuzzy pictures — and, if they’re watching 3D, they pay extra for it.

And, judging by the response to my last column, where I suggested that movie theaters need to make the same commitment to quality as the Apple Stores do, you haven’t admitted it — not all of you, at least. (Par is acknowledging the 3D brightness problem by sending out 2,000 digital prints of “Transformers 3” graded for twice the usual brightness of a 3D theater. But they can’t go into all 3D theaters because some aren’t bright enough.)

You already know you have this problem, by the way. You’re just choosing not to do anything about it. Odds are, if you make movies, you’re unhappy with what you see in civilian movie theaters.

There’s dim projection, but I also hear stories of 3D pictures being shown with the left and right eyes flipped, and of improper framing, and of masks left off projectors, and all kinds of sound problems.

Maybe you read Terrence Malick’s projection instructions for “The Tree of Life,” which appeared on the Internet. Malick wrote: “With all the recent talk of ‘darkier (sic), lousier’ images, operators are asked that lamps are at ‘proper standard (5400 Kelvin)’ and that the ‘foot Lambert level is at Standard 14.’ ” Having to ask projectionists to hit 14 foot Lamberts of brightness is like having to ask American motorists to drive to the right side of the road.

Not your fault, you say? You’re collecting the checks, so it’s your responsibility. The product you are selling isn’t what you see in the studio screening room, or even what you send out. It’s what the audience sees. It’s as if you’re bottling a fine Bordeaux but your consumers are being poured Two Buck Chuck.

If you’re in exhibition, you’re probably bristling at this. I got a bunch of emails from exhibs and NATO responding to my column. Most were either denial or hand-wringing. One message said “This is ridiculous — everyone I know in the industry is trying their best to light up their screens and put their best foot forward.” Another predicted a shakeout and consolidation, where only big chains would be able to upgrade.

Then there was this note from a single-screen theater owner in the Midwest: “I too have experienced many cruddy exhibitions in my moviegoing life. A horrendous experience at a movie theater was one of my inspirations for becoming an exhibitor. At my theater, we strive to give our audience the best possible exhibition that we can afford. And those last four words are key: ‘that we can afford.’?”

He added that state-of-the-art upgrades are simply beyond his means.

“There is no doubt that the peak of the exhibition industry is over,” he went on to say. “Costs are up (you should see my power bill), attendance is down, and it’s increasingly difficult to get a jaded audience to make the effort to come to a theater. Certainly exhibitors hurt themselves with poor presentation, but to imply that the answer to our problems are huge investments in equipment and maintenance is to ignore the financial facts.”

I’m not as pessimistic as that about theaters and exhibition. But box office has been flat for several years, despite 3D and Imax, and now there’s talk about the need to “save” 3D. I happen to think 3D is worth saving, but even if it goes away tomorrow, you still have to find way to maintain quality all the way to your customers’ eyes and ears.

Most of you, whether in production, distribution and exhibition, know this is a problem. A few of you are pushing for change. You need to push harder. The competition from television, home theater and the Internet is only growing fiercer. If you choose to do nothing, your audience will continue to drift into indifference — and away from your theaters.

BITS & BYTES: Tracey Farrar has joined cloud-based rendering company Render Rocket as VP of business development. Farrar comes from GPL Technologies and PipelineFX, where she led sales. She will look to expand Render Rocket’s customer base in film, vfx and games, expand the company into new markets and strike strategic partnerships. … The Early Bird Deadline for submitting for the creative categories in the Hollywood Post Alliance Awards is July 1. Early Bird entries pay a reduced fee. Final deadline for HPA Award entries is July 29. … Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond will lead two master classes at the Cinema India Expo in Mumbai in collaboration with the ASC and Kodak.

Vislink, specialist in secure communications products and services, has acquired Gigawave Ltd. for £3.75 million ($6.08 million) Gigawave designs, manufactures and supplies wireless camera, microwave and antenna products for broadcasting, especially “on board” gear for motorsports. Gigawave will be integrated into Vislink’s UK operations. …

Company 3 and sister facility Method Studios are offering 3D alignment fixes within their digital intermediate workflow. Pics that have already used the service include “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and “Fright Night.” Method has a dedicated stereography division. Both companies are owned by Deluxe, which also recently acquired 3D conversion company StereoD. … Stewart Filmscreen has introduced a new screen material, Silver 5D, that works with passive 3D systems while improving performance for 2D. Silver screens for 3D have been known for a center “hot spot” in 2D that gives center seats a much brighter image than seats on the sides of the theater. Stewart says the new 5D fabric offers “a significantly wider viewing cone.” … Volfoni has introduced 3D projection gear aimed at opening new markets for stereoscopic images. Company is touting its SmartCrystalTM Pro system for “boardroom presentations, conferences, classrooms, lectures” as well as theaters. The Volfoni system uses passive polarized glasses and requires a silver screen. Company claims it works with any single-lens 3D projector. … Panasonic has unveiled its “HDTV Producer” turnkey video production studio. Startup studio kit, priced under $20,000, is aimed at churches, schools, media centers and cable access channels … Cable net Wealth TV has purchased nine additional Panasonic AG-3DA1 HD 3D camcorders. Net now has 15 of the 3D camcorders and is building a library of 3D programs shot in notable destinations around the world. … Panasonic has also introduced a new entry-level pro shoulder-mount camcorder, the AG-AC7PJ. Unit is under four pounds and features full HD recording. …

North Hollywood-based testing and certificaton company BluFocus has opened an office in the UK to service the European market. Office is at 1 Lexington St. in London. … Testronic, also in the testing and quality assurance biz, has opened its File-Based Lab facility at their 1st St. facility in Burbank. New lab is specifically designed to meet the needs of studios and content holders as the industry migrates to entirely file-based production and distribution. Among the lab’s offerings is a 10 Gbps line for high-speed file transfer. … Fletcher Camera & Lenses, with offices in Chicago and Detroit, is now repping Fotokem’s nextLAB moble units in the midwest.

Bi-coastal visual design company Stardust Studios has opened a new 8,000 square foot HQ in Santa Monica with two render farms, multiple edit suites and a Flame suite. … Principal photography has been completed on Imax pic “Air Racers 3D.” Pic is skedded for release in 2D and 3D on Feb 10. Pic is produced by 3D Entertainment USA in association with Pretend Entertainment and Stereoscope. … Upcoming Aussie thriller “Bait 3D” was shot in stereo using the RED MX, Panavision lenses and Element Technical 3D rigs. Pic bows in Oz in October with U.S. release planned for spring 2012.

In a Place Post of Holly
wood recently completed post-production on docu “Dragonslayer,” which took the Grand Jury Award for Best Cinematography, Documentary Feature, as the SXSW Film Festival 2011. Pic also won Best International Documentary at the Hot Docs Film Fest in Toronto. Pic was shot on Canon DSLRs by d.p. Eric Koretz. Colorist at In a Place Post was Milton Adamou. …

Eden FX is creating all the visual effectd for MTV’s new skein “Teen Wolf.” … Vfx house The Mill created the crocodile for Sky Movies HD’s miniseries “Neverland,” a prequel to “Peter Pan.” “Neverland” airs July 8 and 15. … London-based vfx studio Framestore has adopted Shotgun software for production tracking and collaboration. Deluxe also recently moved to Shotgun.

Pixologic has released 3D sculpting and painting software Sculptris for Mac and Windows. Company bills the software as “an entry level ‘eye opener’ for artists wishing to explore 3D sculpting and digital creation,” both pros and hobbyists. … Luxion has released Keyshot 2.3. The new version of their real-time ray tracing and global illumination program has native support for Creo Parametric. A free plug-in connects Creo directly with KeyShot. Software is available for both Mac and PC. … Singular Software’s workflow automation application PluralEyes now supports the Grass Valley EDIUS non-linear editing application. … Automatic Sync Technologies has partnered with cloud content services provider Brightcove to integrate CaptionSync with Brightcove Video Cloud. Pairing streamlines video captioning and file transfer.

Want to comment or suggest a column topic? Email david.cohen@variety.com

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