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A "Niche" Distribution Model for 65/70mm

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Ramon Lamarca Marques, Brian Guckian and Mike Taylor Date: 01.11.2008
Distribution model. Click image to see enlargement


This article proposes a new distribution model for productions shot on 65mm and distributed on several formats, including IMAX, 35mm, 2K and 4K digital video, limited 70mm prints, Blu-Ray DVD and HDTV.

Use is made of previous work carried out by the Workshop, namely 65mm - The Versatile Shooting Format, Limited Exhibition and Funding - the 'Premiere Screen' concept (both in Exhibitor's Toolkit: Re-awakening "dormant" 35/70mm machines).


Many cinema industry commentators wrongly dismiss any possibility of a return to the use of the 65/70mm format by incorrectly assuming that the only distribution model possible is the former large-scale model from the 1950s onwards. Striking several hundred prints is seen to be uneconomic and such critics further point to the smaller remaining installed base of 70mm projectors worldwide.

Whilst this is true, it ignores other distribution methods that might be practical, involve far less cost and which would tailor release to the smaller installed base of 70mm-equipped theatres. This model, proposed here, could be called a "niche" distribution model, and fits in well with a more informed understanding of film exhibition (in its totality, including home cinema) as being diverse and able to accommodate a range of viewing formats simultaneously.

This thinking informed breakthrough work by the Workshop in 2007 that showed how 65mm origination is actually making more, not less, sense in an era of increasing proliferation of digital technology (it is no coincidence for example that manufacturers of high-end display equipment - such as 4K digital projectors - frequently use content derived from 65mm film material to optimally demonstrate their products). It further showed how a 65mm negative would require relatively minor magnification (1.8X) for IMAX blow-up, and also suggested that this process could be done optically, eliminating the cost of the proprietary IMAX DMR 35mm to IMAX re-purposing process.
More in 70mm reading:

65/70mm Workshop

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Re-positioning 70mm Print as a Niche Distribution Format & The "Mini-Roadshow" Concept

A 65mm -originated production can yield very high quality masters not only for IMAX, conventional 35mm, 2K and 4K digital video and HD domestic viewing formats, but also importantly, limited quantities of 70mm prints. The "need" for "hundreds" of such prints is removed by re-positioning the premier 70mm format as a specialist "showcase" platform for the title in question.

Only small numbers of prints need to be struck for a territory, initially for pre-release screenings, via the "Mini-Roadshow" concept that has been trialled successfully with conventional 35mm releases in locations such as New York [1]. The Mini-Roadshow concept acts to build excitement and generate word-of-mouth, whilst also permitting higher ticket prices. Typically, the Mini-Roadshow "pre-release" may occur three weeks prior to the normal wide "day-and-date" release.

Of course, pre-release screenings on their own are unlikely to justify the striking of 70mm prints, even today with DTS sound eliminating the need for costly and time-consuming magnetic striping. Additionally, prints struck exclusively for the short pre-release, Mini-Roadshow window proposed would deprive other 70mm-equipped cinemas from screening them later, as would inevitably be desired. The logical resolution of these issues is to "crossover" the initial 70mm prints to a new set of locations at the time of the day-and-date release, then let these play for a further three weeks. After this period, the prints are crossed over once again to a third set of 70mm venues, thus maximising the revenue-earning life of the prints.

A very small number - perhaps just one or two - "key" 70mm venues could be facilitated to retain their prints for longer than the three week period, by striking a slightly greater number of prints than the minimum required to service the small cohort of 70mm venues in each territory. And, the prints could see further life for later screening at 70mm festivals and other special shows, thus additionally "asset sweating" the investment by the studio / distributor.

The Waiting Game - Audience Selectivity Facilitates Small Print Release Pattern

Anecdotal evidence [2] suggests that certain cinema-goers, in the areas not served by the initial pre-release 70mm Mini-Roadshows, or in the initial "day-and-date" period, would be prepared to wait until the 70mm print arrived at their nearest 70mm location. Further enquiry suggests that people are prepared to travel - beyond the range of their local multiplex cinema if necessary - to see films in 70mm, usually at specialist single-screen cinemas [3]. Other cinema-goers, impatient to see the film immediately as it goes on release, could view the film on 35mm or digital video as normal.

This thinking acknowledges that audience behaviour is not necessarily as homogeneous as is sometimes believed, and suggests that a "niche " distribution model for 65/70mm could be successful.

Funding a Niche 65/70mm Distribution Model

Designing a limited distribution model for small numbers of 70mm prints made from 65mm-originated material must take account of the fact that studios / distributors are highly unlikely to accede to any additional expenditure on prints, even if such expenditure would be relatively low [4] in the context of typical overall P&A (Prints and Advertising) spend on a major title. However one way of addressing this is to examine where savings could be made in other areas that could offset the small additional cost of striking 70mm prints. A possibility is that reduction in IMAX release costs by using a 65mm source rather than conventional 35mm digitally scanned and enhanced (IMAX DMR), would free up the necessary funds to cover the cost of 70mm prints.

Other Advantages of Niche Distribution

A limited number of 70mm venues or screens is in fact an advantage as it suits the higher quality control, film handling and projection standards the format demands. Venues could be accredited, and would not be eligible to receive prints unless they fulfilled a set of accreditation criteria*. Comprehensive training could be arranged at cost and allied to the accreditation process.

For the projection and handling of 70mm, as well as high standards for same, training is absolutely essential, and should be made a condition of receiving 70mm product by the studios. Training would cover issues in handling classic prints as well as new titles in 70mm, and standards could be maintained via an Accreditation Programme*.

[* More will be added on this concept at a later date]


[1], [3] www.film-tech.com

[2] M. Taylor, 65/70mm Workshop

[4] Print cost data sourced by the Workshop
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