Change Comes To LFCA
The 70mm Newsletter
by: William Kallay
May 7, 2004
No longer is it an issue of digital versus film, 2-D versus 3-D or
tradition versus Disney. Instead, this year’s annual Large Format Cinema
Association Conference (LFCA), held at Universal Studios in California,
seemed to focus on change for the large format industry. Change was seen
as a positive, not a negative. This year's theme was "The Business Of
in 70mm reading:
The Frank Marshall Connection
To Right: Paul Holliman (Buena Vista Pictures), Frank Marshall and
Robert Dennis (Technicolor/CFI)
The keynote speaker this year was producer Frank Marshall. His extensive
"Raiders Of The Lost Ark" (1981), "The Color Purple"
"Who Framed Roger Rabbit" (1988), "The Sixth Sense"
"Seabiscuit" (2003) and the recent IMAX film, "The Young Black
The producer has been involved with large format since he spearheaded
"Olympic Glory" (1999). On
"The Young Black Stallion", he once again worked with large format
cinematographer, Reed Smoot, A.S.C. The result was a stunningly filmed epic
horse race in the desert, directed by Simon Wincer.
Marshall is continuing to produce films for the large format screen. His
company, Kennedy/Marshall, is working with NASA on a film called
"Mars". Pictures from the recent Mars expedition are being beamed
down to Earth and will be used in the large format production, directed by
Of The Deep"
He did stress that he feels that the large format can be used to tell
more "human" stories. He also stressed some ways of clarifying the
differences between true IMAX and "faux" IMAX presentations.
"I think that the way to do this is by making movies that were meant for
the big screen and not by blowing up mainstream films and releasing them
into the marketplace. I believe this is confusing the audience, as they
cannot tell the difference between a movie “IN IMAX” as opposed to a movie
“ON an IMAX screen.” For example, I have had several very upset friends who
thought they were actually going to see the
“The Matrix” that was actually shot in IMAX, not just blown up.
This creates great disappointment when something is promoted as “ the IMAX
Experience”, without delivering what people have come to expect. My big fear
is that we are driving both filmmakers and the audience away."
He had some comments about DMR, the practice of blowing up standard 35mm
and 24p films up to large format.
"The results of the DMR releases have been mixed, at best. My friends Ron
Howard and George Lucas expected much more. But these results make sense to
me. The movies were compromised and not shot or composed for the format, so
why should they work just like the 35 mm versions? If Ron Howard or George
Lucas wanted their films to be shorter; they would have cut them that way. I
believe the poor showing of
“Apollo 13” and the disappointing performance of “Attack of
the Clones” is having a negative effect on mainstream filmmakers who
might be interested in the medium and really hurts the possibility of future
studio involvement. We cannot let DMR be the only way to provide more
product. It’s the easy way out. We must all push for original product shot
and presented in the traditional way people have come to expect from large
format. That is the only answer."
How does Marshall propose to improve the fortunes of the large format
"I truly believe it’s in the product. If you make good movies, they will
come, and if they come, more screens will be built. It’s my hope to entice
mainstream filmmakers like Jim Cameron, Simon Wincer, Fred Roos and others
to push the envelope and create product that really moves the audience, as I
know this format can."
Disney And Digital
In contrast to previous conferences, delegates from all aspects of the
large format industry were upbeat about the future of the format. With new
digital technologies, such as High Definition cameras capable of 8K
resolution and improvement in computer generated graphics, the large format
industry has a number of tools at its disposal. Rather than shunning change,
certain quarters of the industry have utilized those tools to bring large
format films to audiences around the world. In addition, the industry has
teamed with two major studios, Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros., to
release films in the large format.
The Walt Disney Company, as an example, is now seen as more of an ally
than an “enemy.” When the company announced its plans to enter the world of
large format with the release of
"Fantasia/2000", many delegates were sceptical. Disney was seen as
an outsider and mostly a commercial filmmaking company. But within the last
couple of years, Disney has provided the large format industry with some
“Ghosts Of The Abyss” (2003) and the 2002 reissues of “Beauty
And The Beast”, and “The Lion King”. This is not to say that
Disney has had a solid ride in this niche market. The beautifully filmed
“The Young Black Stallion” has been a disappointment, earning
about $6 million at the box office. But there are hopes that its recent
"Sacred Planet" (2004) will bring audiences into IMAX theatres.
Young Black Stallion"
Besides the Disney connection, the LFCA Conference was abuzz with that
magic word, “digital.” In the last five years, digital has been somewhat of
a dirty word in the realm of 70mm film. Shoot on High Definition and blow it
up to 15/70? Come on! Yet tests have been performed and have been presented
to delegates almost every year. And each year, the quality of the images has
improved. Once again, Olympus' 8K camera test was shown again in 15/70 and
the results were very good.
Another digital-to-large format blow up test was shown, too. Tests were
performed on the new Viper Filmstream Camera. The camera shoots uncompressed
high definition video on three CCDs that combine for 9.2 million pixels. The
footage is then color corrected and filmed out to 15/70 print stock. The
result on the IMAX screen is a good picture, but the imagery is soft. Where
this camera shines is in its ability to capture nighttime images. Shots over
the Los Angeles region were sharp and without noise. These are certainly not
replacements for large format filmmaking, but they are extra tools that
filmmakers can use.
The new cameras and digital technologies were discussed in a day-long
symposium on May 1, 2004, at the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) in
Film Festival Entries
This year's entries at the conference ranged from traditional IMAX
documentaries to the latest Hollywood large format releases. Features
"The Young Black Stallion", "Roar: Lions Of The Kalahari",
"Virtual Actors", "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience" , "Sacred
Planet", "Volcanoes Of The Deep Sea" and
"Forces Of Nature". Shorts included "A Better Mousetrap",
"Stage Fright", and "Hubble: Galaxies Across Space And Time".
"Roar:" Lions Of The Kalahari" was notable for its up-close shots
of a lion king and his pride in Botswana. Director Tim Liversedge, true to
National Geographic's photographic and story coverage of the wild, took the
audience to the savanna to witness a lion's survival during the dry season.
The film was mostly shot in 35mm. It is the first large format film to go
through the digital intermediate process and the 35mm originated footage
hold ups well in large format. The film was shown in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio.
"Virtual Actors" is a combination of a CGI short called "The
Boxer", and new material to bookend the piece as an educational film
about computer generated actors. Two notable aspects about this film were
its renderings of CGI actors and the new 96/24-bit DTS soundtrack. The
virtual actors and animation is incredible. The actors are fluid and
lifelike (though exaggerated in computer animation form). This is computer
animation on par with Pixar. This was also the first film anywhere to use
DTS' new 96/24-bit sound. DTS sound is very good in the large format as it
is. But for audiophiles, the extra "breathing room" on the 24-bit soundtrack
Director George Casey, who directed the wonderful "Amazing Journeys"
"Forces Of Nature". This film, though mostly complete, was shown
in 15/70 with a temporary 35mm magnetic track. Tornados, earthquakes and
volcanos are featured in this film. In fact, Casey and his crew caught
footage of a volcano's sudden eruption. The film won the LFCA's Best Of
Festival Feature Award, and
"Hubble: Galaxies Across Space And Time" won for Best Of Festival
Stephen Low Honored
To Right: DPs Dominique Gentil, Sean McCloud Phillips, David
Douglas, James Neihouse, Rodney Taylor, Reed Smoot and writer Bob Fisher
Though I wasn't able to attend the Kodak Vision Award Ceremony, I was
pleased to hear that filmmaker Stephen Low was the recipient this year. He
was the director and producer of
"Super Speedway" (1997), which not only has some great racing
footage, but one of the most dynamic soundtracks in an IMAX film. He's also
directed and produced other notable large format films like
"Across The Sea Of Time" (1998), "Titanica" (1995),
"Beavers" (1988) and the recent
"Volcanos Of the Deep Sea" (2003). His father is a past Kodak
Vision Award winner, Colin Low, who directed the multimedia classic,
"Labyrinth" (1967), and his brother, Alex, is a producer and
writer in large format.
Large Format Discussions
Carlson of the Pacific Science Center, Seattle, WA
There were a number of discussions about cinematography in large format,
funding and marketing at the conference. It was felt by some, as in other
LFCA Conferences, that the large format industry still has its work cut out
for itself in getting films into the public's eye. Many IMAX films simply do
not perform well at the box office. This constitutes, with very low
advertising budgets among exhibitors in large format, using clever
Diane Carlson, who heads the IMAX theaters at the Pacific Science Center
in Seattle, devised clever and inexpensive marketing for her venue. For
example, she's used people dressed up in
"Star Wars" costumes to visit various locations in Seattle for the
"Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones-The IMAX Experience", The end
result was a lot of free press and people in theater seats.
But for others, marketing means something different.
"Title is king," said Toby Mensforth of the Smithsonian.
He said that "To Fly" , a 27 year-old film, is still playing at
the museum! Other films like
"T-Rex: Back To the Cretaceous" (1998) is another example of a
good title that draws in audiences. He went on to explain that IMAX is still
not a familiar name with the public. Audiences seem to know of a title like
"T-Rex" , but not the format it's in.
IMAX Goes Hollywood
it's been announced, "Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban" and
"Catwoman" are slated for day-and-date release in both 35mm and
IMAX this summer of 2004. Warner Bros., which has had success with
"NASCAR 3D", is continuing its alliance with IMAX by releasing
these 35mm productions via the DMR process (Digital Remastering).
The great news is that "Harry Potter", according to Patricia
Keighley of DKP 70mm, Inc., will be converted to IMAX from the original
digital files, and not scanned as previous DMR releases have been done. This
will mean that picture will be extra sharp and detailed. The consensus among
delegates who saw the preview of
"Harry Potter" is that the picture quality looks very good. And
"Polar Express" is slated for the IMAX screen.
This year's conference was relaxed, more than any other year in recent
memory. Former "enemies" have become important allies, like Disney and now
Warner Bros. Digital technology has been embraced by more large format
filmmakers as another tool to work with, rather than a replacement for large
Yet, some things haven't changed. Much of the public still isn't aware of
what IMAX really is and can be. Is it an "enhanced 35mm print?" And what
does an "enhanced 35mm print" mean anyway? A potential customer at an IMAX
theater might complain, "I've seen IMAX before. Why doesn't
"Harry Potter" fill the entire screen?" Or, as some at LFCA made
comments about, "If I see another IMAX film about sharks or coral..."
On one hand, the large format industry has done a superior job in keeping
the institutional market alive with some excellent large format films. On
the other hand, the industry has struggled to forge an identity with the
public. As it has been in year's past, much of the public may remember
seeing an IMAX film, but it's usually within the caliber of a big hit like
"Fantasia/2000". Many other well made films fall by the wayside and
barely register with those same paying customers.
As for the commercial markets, the large format industry and their major
studio partners have to give audiences something special to see. A few years
ago, there were plans for a
"Star Trek" film in IMAX. But after those plans fell through,
there hasn't been another franchise film to take its place. It's been proven
that audiences will see short films, as evidenced in some theme parks, again
and again if they're given something worthwhile to see. The same could hold
true for a selection of large format films from the commercial world of
As for the confusion over what IMAX or large format is, the paying public
should be educated on the differences between DMR, enhanced 35mm prints and
IMAX. This could be done inexpensively and in an easy enough way that they
will understand. Otherwise, they will continue to be confused.
There is hope on the horizon. Both Frank Marshall and James Cameron are
producing new films for the large format screen. Box office returns on
"NASCAR 3D" have been promising. It seems that for the first time
in a while, the large format industry is realizing that change can be a good
thing. Change is happening in large format and hopefully, for the positive.
Galaxies Across Space And Time
Of LFCA Meet At The Hilton
Cineplex Universal Studios
Meet In Loews Lobby
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