Digital projections

Cameron, Fithian tout future of d-cinema

James Cameron and National Assn. of Theater Owners topper John Fithian talked shop on Sunday in Las Vegas, discussing the artistic and business issues raised by digital cinema at a National Assn. of Broadcasters panel moderated by Variety president and publisher Charles C. Koones.

Regarding the challenges involved in marketing d-cinema, Fithian said, “Let’s be real. You have a 105-inch screen at home. Ours is a whole lot bigger. Digital is not just as good as film. It’s better.”

Cameron weighed in: “It’s not scratchy. It looks better than film. Coming out of the theater with a better experience is probably measurable to the bottom line. Is it enough to buy back our 9% drop in ticket sales? Probably not.”

When asked about a possible future windowing process for 3-D movies, Fithian replied, “I sure as hell hope not. Movies need to come to theaters at the same time so you can take advantage of the buzz. Different windows of release spell disaster for us.”

As to piracy concerns, Fithian believes digital cinema can assist in that arena. “In the digital age, the day is coming when you can jam camcorders in theaters. Movie files are sent separately from the encryption keys.”

“You need a robust digital asset management system,” Cameron said. “People have to embrace the necessity to do that.”

Earlier on Sunday, Cameron kicked off the Digital Cinema Summit with his keynote address, in which he spoke of the future of the movie industry. “Digital cinema is an enabling technology for digital 3-D. It is the most important part of the digital strategy.”

He cited the monetary success of two recent digital 3-D movies: “The Polar Express” and “Chicken Little.” For “Express,” 2% of its theaters yielded 25% of its gross, while with “Chicken,” 2% of its theaters brought in 10% of its gross.

Cameron said the two pics show audiences are willing to seek out the premium experience of 3-D and to pay for it. “The costs associated with it will be paid for by the upside,” he added.

Content for 3-D is coming from three sources: live-action films, CGI animated pics and dimensionalizing movies that are already shot. Cameron said for the future, he is committed to shooting all of his films in 3-D.

He admitted the cost of dimensionalizing a film to 3-D is two to three times that of shooting it in 3-D in the first place. But then, he quipped, anyone who liked your movie has to go out and buy it again.

“I love movies,” Cameron said. “I love watching them on the bigscreen. I’m not going to make movies for people to watch on their cell phones.”

In his NAB keynote Saturday, Fithian said, “Digital cinema is the biggest transition in our history since the advent of sound. We need it to work beautifully.”

Saying the transition today is at the “beautiful chaos” stage, he added, “(We) need equipment to perform.” Fithian advocated comprehensive beta testing of all equipment before digital cinema can truly take off.

In the U.S., Fithian said, 400-plus screens are digital today; he predicted 1,200-1,500 digital screens will be in operation by year’s end. Domestically, he believes the entire digital conversion process will be complete within 10 years. The international picture is more complicated, he said, adding he hopes these models will evolve with the transition.

Calling the resolution debate of 2K vs. 4K overblown, Fithian eschewed the ” ‘mine is bigger’ mentality,” declaring, “Resolution is not the most important parameter.”