Studios need to back R&D

Smallscreen threat more dire than ever

I’m back from the Consumer Electronics Show with a wakeup call for Hollywood and the majors.

Exhibitors, and by extension the entire movie biz, have seen TV as their nemesis since the smallscreen ripped away a huge chunk of the moviegoing audience 60 years ago. Today that threat is more dire than ever, and business-as-usual from the majors and their parent companies isn’t going to cut it this time.

Let me explain:

Ultra-high-definition 4K TV was the big news at this year’s show. (3D is so five minutes ago.) At any CES, Sony’s gargantuan “booth” is a highlight and so it was this year too. Sony is not only pushing 4K UHD TV, it’s remastering its library classics in 4K and pushing the F65 digital camera, which captures at 4K.

Sony and the other TV makers are absolutely determined to bring 4K UHD into the home. As my colleague Marc Graser has been telling anyone who’ll listen, that’s bound to put a lot of pressure on movie theaters, since most theaters aren’t even equipped with 4K projectors yet.

Yet as multibillion-dollar conglomerates try to turn every living room into a better theater than most in multiplexes, the multibillion-dollar conglomerates that make movies have been typically lethargic. That must change or movies are going to turn into TV’s shabby cousin.

Many years ago, the studios spent liberally on tech R&D; Fox spent a more than a million to try to get stereoscopic movies off the ground in Hollywood’s early decades, without success (which may be why the studio didn’t embrace 3D in the 1950s). In recent decades, aside from Sony, which was a technology company before it bought a studio, the Hollywood majors have seemed mostly content to let other companies take the lead in improving the movie experience. That worked well enough when the technology leaders (Kodak, Technicolor, Deluxe, Panavision, Christie and Barco) were basically in the movie business and movies had the advantage of a better capture and delivery medium — film.

But film is going the way of horse-drawn carriages. As 3D pioneer Lenny Lipton has observed, digital cinema is just an advanced form of television. Today’s technology leaders (Apple, Samsung, LG, Panasonic, Microsoft, Google and yes, even Sony) have very deep pockets and an agenda at odds with that of the movie business. To me it looks like suicide for the movie business to put its future in their hands.

The companies that dominate TV technology development aren’t focused on selling thousands of projection systems to theaters; they’re focused on selling millions of televisions to consumers. They are working very hard to bring the theater experience into the home and make theaters redundant.

With 4K TV, they’re ready to leapfrog today’s theater tech. Most movie theaters that have made the switch to digital are still 2K, which is about the same resolution as HDTV, even as TV is looking to go 4K.

When I look around the movie business, I see a few upstart companies trying new things, like D-Box, a few established companies trying to advance existing tech, like RealD and Dolby, but only one company really trying to summon a future that 4K TV can’t match: Imax. I happen to not enjoy seeing most narrative films blown up to Imax size, but bless ’em for trying. I think Imax’s combination of giant screens, bright projection and enhanced sound is the future of movie theaters — unless somebody invents something better.

The majors invest lots of money on R&D these days, but it’s mostly on developing intellectual property: script development. They are in danger of finding they’re creating content for a disappearing platform.

The majors, though, are part of congloms that have the deep pockets. Those big companies need to invest in improvements to the movie platform, and soon.

By the way, just over the horizon lurks 8K TV, which only makes sense if home screens are going to get so big, and so immersive, they’re going turn into the home version of Imax.

Oh, did I mention Sharp has shown an 8K TV at CES the past two years? Well, don’t worry. By the time 8K TV is ready to get a foothold, we’ll probably be watching holograms.

But mostly at home, not in theaters, unless things change.

Bits & Bytes:

Tim Thorsteinson has joined Grass Valley as president and CEO. Thornsteinson was most recently president and CEO of Enablence Technologies. Alain Andreoli has stepped down from Grass Valley and leaves the company at the end of the month. … Gravity has inked compositing supervisor Alex Lemke, to become senior vfx supervisor and compositing supervisor, feature films & commercials. Lemke worked on “The Lord of the Rings” pics at Weta and contributed to the vfx on “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” …

Company 3 has added a new sound division, offering sound design, music composition and mixing. The audio division, located in Company 3’s Atlanta and New York facilities, offers three 5.1 audio suites. Its clients include USA Network, Turner Broadcasting and espnW, as well as major advertisers. … Company 3 has added colorist Bob Festa, a former winner of Da Vinci’s Master Colorist of the Year award and a four-time ITS Monitor Award finalist. …

Digital post house Light Iron has expanded to New York through the acquisition of OffHollywood at 580 Broadway in SoHo. Remonickered facility is open immediately as Light Iron NY, offering a DI grading theater, DI grading suites, a digital lab and archive center. Light Iron topper Michael Cioni is relocating to New York to oversee the new location. … Special effects makeup company B2FX has expanded into new space in North Hollywood’s Arts District. B2FX, the company of makeup maven Barney Burman, is working on the second season of NBC’s “Grimm.”

Voting is under way for the Intl. 3D Society Awards, to be held Feb. 6 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Honorees this year include Ang Lee, DreamWorks Animation and 3net. Voting for the competitive awards closes at 5 p.m. PST on Jan. 23.

The latest installment of Fox’s “Die Hard” franchise, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” will be released in the Dolby Atmos sound format, as will “Lost Place” and “Trance.” “Lost Place” is a German thriller shot in 3D, skedded for release April 11 in Germany. “Trace” is a British thriller and is to be released in the U.K. and France.

Image Engine provided more than 300 visual effects shots for “Zero Dark Thirty,” including the stealth helicopters, CG environments for the military encampments, digital soldiers and vehicles. … Moving Picture Co. contributed visual effects for two pics nommed for the vfx Oscar: “Prometheus” and “Life of Pi.” MPC did more than 130 shots in “Life of Pi,” mostly on the storm and ship-sinking sequences. For “Prometheus,” MPC did over 420 shots. All shots on both pics were in native 3D. … Four best picture nominees used Codex recorders and workflow systems: “Amour,” “Argo,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Life of Pi.”

London-based Lipsync is providing equity investment and post services for “Desert Dancer” from Crossday Productions. Pic is the story of Iranian terp Afshin Ghaffarian, toplined by Freida Pinto and Reece Ritchie. … Colorflow has opened a 7,500-sq.-ft. facility in the Saul Zaentz Media Center in Berkeley, Calif. New space offers three color grading and finishing suites, and a DCI-compliant DI grading theater. Colorflow provided color grading on docu “A River Changes Course,” which is preeming at Sundance. … Company 3 and Efilm provided post and color grading on the following pics to be screened at Sundance: “The East” (Andrew Francis, Efilm); “Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes” (Andrew Francis, Efilm); “The Imposter” (Rob Pizzey, Company 3, U.K.); “Kill Your Darlings” (Tom Poole, Company 3, N.Y.); “Magic Magic: (Tom Poole, Company 3, N.Y.); “Metro Manila” (Adam Glasman, Company 3, U.K.); “Mud” (Mitch Paulson, Efilm); “Sightseers” (Rob Pizzey, Company 3, U.K.); “Skin” (Anthony Raffaele, Company 3, N.Y.); “The Spectacular Now” (Sean Coleman, Company 3, Santa Monica); “Wuthering Heights: (Rob Pizzey, Company 3, U.K.). … West Post Digital of Santa Monica is offering offline suites for rent within its facility. Rentals include Avid Media Composers, Producer Stations and Unity.

RCR has licensed Cinedigm’s Theatrical Distribution System. … Southern Theaters has chosen Cinedigm Enterprise to manage the operations of its locations in the Southeastern U.S..

CBS has launched the CBS Connect second-screen app for all Eye programming. … SMPTE is offering a live interactive webcast, “Closed Captioning Challenges for IP Video Delivery: One Deadline Down, More on the Way” at 10 a.m. PST on Jan. 24. CPC Close Captioning’s Jason Livingston leads the webcast. SMPTE’s Virtual Classroom classes begin Jan. 28. … Testronic is expanding its file-based quality-control lab services out of its Burbank facility. New services include UltraViolet Interoperability Testing.