Imagine if a Hollywood time machine whisked helmer John Ford from the set of 1935 release “The Informer,” which earned him his first Oscar, to the shoot of “Brokeback Mountain” some 70 years later.
The crusty master might have been taken aback by the newer pic’s subject matter but he would have been quite at home with the actual process of shooting: 35mm film cameras, magazines, the shouts of “Action!” and “Cut.” After all those years, moviemaking was still moviemaking.
Yet just a few years later, filmmakers of that generation are reeling from future shock. Instead of film stock, it’s digital files. No magazines, no need to cut, cameras can record continuously. Release prints are dying, replaced by DCPs. Digital 3D is the rage. Higher frame rates are on the horizon. Sound is moving to 7.1. Advances are about to put colors on the screen that film couldn’t duplicate, and to expand the dynamic range of images to something like that of the human eye.
It’s a brave new world of possibilities, but it’s turned movies into a kind of tech mad lib: 3D at 60p to the right of us; 4K with 7.1 to the left of us; Imax in front of us — in 3D or 2D.
“For the first time, whether they will say it out loud or not, most everybody is looking at (the technological change) and beginning to realize that the industry that they knew isn’t going to be the industry that is going to be there in, pick a number: a decade? Two decades?” says Ray Feeney of RFX, one of Hollywood’s leading technologists. Even actors, notes Feeney, are seeing their craft evolve thanks to performance capture.
Feeney is among those calling for an industrywide conversation to bring some order out of this chaos, and not just for the sake of finding something as stable as the 35mm film platform was. He notes that while the industry has sunk fortunes moving from 35mm to digital projection — a lateral move in terms of quality — the home-theater experience has improved by leaps and bounds.
“One of the most important things that has differentiated cinema in the past has been spectacle. Compared to any other way of getting your story presented, it’s been head and shoulders above.” But what qualified as spectacle even 20 years ago doesn’t stand out anymore, compared to what auds can get at home today. Feeney says he’s seeing a growing consensus that the industry must change, but suggestions range from 3D to more luxe accommodations at theaters.
Peter Lude, prexy of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, says the industry needs to view this not as a problem but as an opportunity. “Theatergoers are going to see better quality images in a number of these ways,” he says. “And it’s not subtle.”
Today filmmakers have to choose which of these new features they want to work with, if only because the sheer amount of data of 4K/3D/high-frame-rate would be unwieldy at best. “I’d like not to have to choose between those technologies, but rather have a platform that the filmmaker could decide what’s most appropriate for their particular story,” Lude says.
Feeney and Lude agree the industry needs to start talking, as it did when it created the Digital Cinema Initiative to set specifications for d-cinema. Says Lude: “I think everybody has skin in the game to map out the evolution. It’s not a studio problem, it’s not an exhibitor problem, it’s everybody’s problem. Or everybody’s challenge: to be able to take what we’ve got and keep those growing to support future needs.”
Keynote Conversation with director Shawn Levy, interviewed by Variety’s David Cohen.
Keynote Conversation with director Roland Emmerich, interviewed by Variety film editor Josh Dickey.
The State of Technology in Film: From Production to Exhibition. Speakers: Chris de Faria, Warner Bros.; Cliff Plumer, Digital Domain; Curtis Clark, chairman of the American Society of Cinematographers Technology Committee; Robert C. Bailey, Colorworks, Sony Pictures Entertainment; Moderator: David Cohen
New Realities on the Set: How Are the Roles of the Film Crew Impacted in the Digital Age? Speakers: Steven Fierberg, d.p.; Oliver Bokelberg, d.p.; Bill Bannerman, co-producer and aerial unit director; Steven Poster, prexy of the Intl. Cinematographers Guild; Josh McLaglen, first AD/producer; Guy Hendrix Dyas, production designer. Moderator: Peter Caranicas, deputy editor at Variety
What’s Next for CGI Animation? CGI/Live-Action Hybrids, Motion-Capture, and More. Speakers: Cary Granat, Reel FX; Richard Hollander, Rhythm & Hues; Erik Nash, Digital Domain; Rob Bredow, Sony Pictures Imageworks; Steve Sullivan, Industrial Light and Magic.
The New Technology Landscape. Speakers: John Schwartzman, d.p.; Peter Lude, president of SMPTE; Wendy Aylsworth, Warner Bros. Moderator: David Cohen
Film Restoration. Speakers: Grover Crisp, Sony Pictures Ent.; Robert Heiber, Chase Audio by Deluxe; Andrea Kalas, Paramount Pictures; Moderator: Leonard Maltin.
Masters of Technology: Making Movie Stars Out of Special Effects and Unique Imagery. Speakers: Steven Quale, director of “Final Destination 5”; Raja Gosnell, director of “The Smurfs,” Chris Miller, director of “Puss in Boots”; Marti Noxon, writer “Fright Night” and “I Am Number Four”; Apurva Shah, supervising technical director on “Cars 2.” Moderator: Variety’s Karen Idelson