Exhibitors need to provide premium experience to movie auds

Like most entertainment reporters — and, apparently, most of the human race — I was itching to see “The Avengers” a couple of weeks ago but had not received a screening invitation. Then, last Monday, a Disney publicist emailed me, inviting me to the next night’s 3D screening at the ArcLight Hollywood.

Though I had a story to write about the picture, I declined, writing to the publicist, “We’ve had such terrible experiences with the 3D projection at the ArcLight, neither I nor my family is willing to sit through another 3D movie there.”

Now I’m kind of sorry I missed that screening, because that night the ArcLight’s problems with 3D blew up into a public debacle.

In case you missed it, several reporters and critics at that screening had problems with their battery-driven Xpand glasses. Some ended up shouting from their seats, then shuttling between their seats and the lobby, trying to get glasses that worked for much of the pic’s first act. Movieline blogger Jen Yamato and Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern both wrote about the problem.

Yamato published Tweets from Fred Topel, who said he went through seven pairs of glasses before finding one that worked and that a theater manager told him “they fixed the broken 3D by adding a second emitter in the booth.”

Morgenstern, who had a similar experience with a bad “Clash of the Titans” screening, said in his review: “The third try did the trick… By then, though, I’d been distracted for most of the first act, and felt more empathy than I would have preferred for Bruce Banner’s problems with anger management.” He went on to say that may have influenced his review, which was tepid. He also said something that should prick the conscience of everyone involved with 3D production and distribution: He called the experience “the height of absurdity” and said, “Here we were watching a production that cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter-billion dollars. Yet our enjoyment was compromised by button batteries that can’t cost more than a buck a pop. And we were an invited audience, privileged to see an advance screening, not moviegoers paying hefty premiums for their 3D experience. I shudder to think what they see.”

Mr. Morgenstern, you do not shudder alone.

In this case, it appears the ArcLight simply failed with either maintenance of the glasses or the emitter system. But here’s the larger problem: The theatrical movie business, which was technologically stable for decades, is now competing with consumer electronics, which are in a state of constant churn and turmoil. That’s true in production and exhibition. For movies, 3D and 4K are the tip of the spear. More innovations are coming, including high frame rates. Movies are going to have to change to keep up.

As will theaters. In exhibition, movie theaters used to be able to buy a 35mm projector and keep it running for decades. They wanted d-cinema to be similarly stable. To their chagrin, they’re finding they now need to be in a much faster upgrade cycle. That’s an expense they didn’t want.

Moreover, consumer electronics and the Internet add convenience theaters can’t match. Theaters, after all, require auds to go out of the house, get tickets, wait en masse for the movie to start at a time of someone else’s choosing, sit quietly and watch without a second screen. These habits seem increasingly alien to young auds, Hollywood’s target demographic.

Theaters need to offer a great experience, including comfort, ease and fun in simply being at the theater. I think 3D can and should be part of that experience. But those heavy Xpand glasses still in use at the ArcLight and the Grove are years old now. As gadgets go, they’re ancient. (Newer, lighter models are available.) And when auds end up having to check and clean those glasses, exhibs are asking auds to do theaters’ own work — and pay extra for the privilege. That’s one reason why a large swath of the public suspects 3D is a ripoff. Unless 3D “just works,” to borrow a phrase from Steve Jobs, it can add more nuisance than enjoyment.

The industry needs an unrelenting effort to make movie theaters easier, more comfortable, more convenient, more fun than ever. Better 3D (never mind better movies) would be a good start on that, but it’s just a start.

I hope the “Avengers” screening incident will fuel a sense of urgency across the movie business. Because if Hollywood and its exhibs stand pat with old gear and practices, the auds that flocked to “The Avengers” will find fewer and fewer reasons to go to the movies in the years to come.

Bits & Bytes: Miles Perkins has been upped to director, corporate communications, at Lucasfilm. Perkins had been director, marketing & communications for Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic. ILM has upped Greg Grusby to senior manager, PR & communications. … Amy Wixson has rejoined Tippett Studio as head of business development & marketing. … Evil Eye Pictures contributed nearly 200 vfx shots to “The Avengers,” notably including the “atrium” outside the Wishbone Lab on the Helicarrier. Dan Rosen and Matt McDonald were vfx supervisors for Evil Eye, working under the pic’s vfx supe, Janek Sirrs. … Also contributing vfx to “The Avengers” was Luma Pictures, which worked on the Helicarrier bridge, tornado effects, Thor’s armor and multiple exterior environments. … Rogue State has delivered over 100 shots for Syfy’s upcoming “Dragon Wasps” telepic. …Technicolor’s MPC Film has launched an iPad/iPhone app including company’s filmography, vfx technical breakdown reels, company news and jobs.

Juergen Schwinzer has joined ZGC and Cooke Optics in “a wide-ranging sales and technical capacity.” … The ATSC has announced that S. Merrill Weiss is the 2012 recipient of the Bernard J. Lechner Outstanding Contributor Award, the org’s highest honor.

SMPTE will kick off its new one-day seminar “How to Generate & Automate Content for Multi-Platform, Multi-Display Distribution” May 24 in Washington, D.C. Seminar will be repeated in Melbourne, Fla., and Montreal, Canada, in September and Gotham and Toronto in November. … Creatasphere’s Entertainment Technology Expo will be held in Burbank Nov. 7-8. … Hollywood Post Alliance will present “High Noon: Shoot Out at the Editorial Corral,” about the changing landscape of editorial tools, on May 17 at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn in North Hollywood. Herb Dow, A.C.E., will moderate.

London’s Lipsync is providing equity investment and post services on Michael Winterbottom-helmed feature “The King of Soho,” from Winterbottom’s Revolution Films. Pic stars Steve Coogan, Anna Friel, Imogen Poots and Tamsin Egerton. … Cinelicious provided color grading and scanning on documentary “Marley,” now in release. …

3D@Home Consortium has released to the public its “3D Eco-System Metadata Chart” and “3D Technology Matrix” as parts of their flash-based, online 3D Eco-System Diagram.

Barco is finding a market for its Auro 11.1 3D sound format. Cinema City Intl. and Blitz Cinestar have selected Auro as their preferred sound cinema sound format. … Arts Alliance Media has pacted with Sony Pictures Releasing Intl. Corp. to enable exhibitors across Latin America to convert their cinemas to digital. Companies have had a similar deal covering some European territories since 2007. … AAM has also struck a deal with Spain’s ACEC Cines to convert 75 screens. Conversion will be financed, subject to final bank approval, through the Barco Leasing Program. … Polson Theaters of Montana has selected Barco as the exclusive d-cinema provider for its 26 screens across 11 sites. … Fandango is expanding its paperless mobile ticket system to more than 1,300 Cinemark screens and 100 Regency Theaters screens, bringing the total for the program to over 2,600 screens nationwide. … AXS Ticketing is expanding to Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif. …

DFT Digital Film Technology has received approval of its Flexxity software as an ARRIRAW certified image processing tool. … Litepanels has unveiled its Inca series tungsten-balanced LED fresnels. … Canadian broadcasters CTV/Bell Media, Rogers Media and CBS are using Dejero LIVE+ for cellular newsgathering … Radio & TV broadcaster Radio Televizija Bosnia has installed Cinegy Workflow for its three channels. Provis is Cinegy’s local partner in the territory. …

E-on software will be releasing Vue 10.5 in Q2 2012. … Software maker Luxion has announced the launch of its 2012 3D rendering and animation competition. Deadline for entry is Saturday, May 26.

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