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"Oklahoma!" screening & Report of visit to the studios in Los Angeles

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Fred C. Matthews and Frank Riffle, August 1955. Text prepared from a vintage papers by Anders M. Olsson Date: 01.01.2017
The DP70 prototype installed in the half-scale Todd-AO cinema in the AO Research Center in Southbridge. Note the screen far right, and the chairs.

We saw TODD-AO production of "Oklahoma!" at MGM's Culver City Studio at the special invitation of Mr. Woodbridge, President of TODD-AO.

The picture was shown on a 60 x 30 ft. curved Raytone Screen. The six track sound was magnetically recorded on the film for reproduction through 5 loud speaker systems and auditorium speakers. Projection equipment was a Phillips 70mm projector containing both 6 track magnetic pickup equipment and a single track optical pickup built in the projector itself. Picture and sound quality was excellent. The light source utilized was a Peerless Hicandescent arc lamp operating at 180 amperes with National Carbon Company Hitex 13.6mm positive carbon. (TODD-AO, MGM and Fox technicians favor this type of lamp over the reflector type arc for the wide aperture). TODD-AO, we understand has contracted to purchase additional projection equipment from Phillips of Holland. This equipment is to be sold by TODD-AO direct to the theatre. The package is to consist of the projectors, bases, magazines, lenticular screen and a portion of the sound reproducing apparatus, namely a 10 channel preamplifier and associated switching apparatus, reels, rewinds, lenses, etc.

When the theatre is equipped with a stereophonic sound system it will naturally require additional power amplification and loudspeaker equipment. Such equipment is to be purchased from a local dealer either direct by TODD-AO or by the theatre in which the installation is being effected. In the event R.C.A. equipment is being utilized, such equipment would be purchased from R.C.A. dealers. In the event Altec Lansing or Motiograph equipment is employed, the equipment will be purchased from the Motiograph dealer.

The Phillips equipment that we saw at the MGM studios was apparently still subject to further changes. We understand that the techicians employed by MGM had made a number of mechanical changes in the projection apparatus. It is believed that TODD-AO selected Phillips as manufacturers of the projection equipment because they felt that Phillips with its wide flung offices and representatives could possibly assist TODD-AO in securing motion picture producers to license under TODD-AO patents.
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MGM plans to use 65mm film in its photographing processes. They expect to reduce a 65mm negative so that it might be shown with 35mm projectors, but they also plan to show on a Road Show basis some forthcoming pictures with a 70mm print. As far as we could determine from information given us, MGM does not plan to ask any projector manufacturer to make special projection apparatus so that MGM might show forthcoming pictures on 70mm equipment. They apparently feel that their prints can be shown in such theatres as might be equipped with Phillips 70mm projectors.

It is to be noted that MGM plans to use 6-track optical sound reproducing equipment rather than 6-track magnetic sound reproducing equipment utilized in the TODD-AO process. Therefore, Phillips projectors must be modified to reproduce forthcoming MGM prints.

Twentieth Century-Fox

Apparently the Hollywood producers are of the impression that TODD-AO process pictures will secure a tremendous public response and for that reason MGM and 20th. Century-Fox particularly, are planning that some of their top flight productions will be first shown with wide film. Unlike MGM, 20th. Century-Fox is planning the use of 55mm film. (actually 55.625mm) 55mm film may not be shown on a Phillips projector as the Phillips projector is designed to project either 35 or 70mm prints. (the 65mm film can be processed so that it may be run on a 70mm projector).* We do not know it to be a fact, but we understand that General Precision Equipment Laboratories are making a prototype 55mm projector on order from 20th. Century-Fox.

There is a slight possibility that MGM and other producers might make an agreement with the technical people at Fox so that pictures issued by all companies can be reproduced on the same projection and sound apparatus. We have some doubts as to agreement.

Technicians at 20th. Century-Fox are still very much in favor of the reproduction of 4 track magnetic print on standard projection apparatus. They are not in favor of a mixing system. They are asking suppliers of sound reproducing equipment to make available to theatres not now equipped with stereophonic sound or mixing devices, a kit consisting of penthouses, preamplifier and control apparatus which will reproduce the sound on the #2 track of the 4 track magnetic print.

Two manufacturers of sound reproducing apparatus have already agreed to make available such a kit. Motiograph should have such equipment available within the next few months. The proposed price of such equipment will be $700. to $750. per kit not including supervision of installation. The equipment will be very similar to current mixing apparatus except that the pickup heads will be capable of reproducing the sound from the #2 track only. As the pickup heads should have a lesser manufacturing cost, it may be possible for manufacturers to produce the equipment at the low $700. - $750. figure above quoted.

As far as we could determine from the interviews we had with technicians at MGM, 20th. Century-Fox, the Research Council and other studios, it appears that the studios are thinking of wide film for a Road Show basis only. After road showing, pictures are expected to be made available on standard 35mm prints. As the number of theatres in the United States that are large enough to install 55 or 70mm projection and sound apparatus are limited, it stands to reason that there will be a very limited amount of demand for such equipment. As no projection manufacturer can afford the research and development program and the tooling up of their factories to make 55 or 70mm projection apparatus in small quantities, it is not believed that such equipment will be made available to any dealer group.

There is still a wide variance in the thinking of the technicians employed by the various studios. Paramount will continue to make standard 35mm Vista-Vision prints but is expected to also make some prints to be shown on the Century horizontal projector. Incidentally, there are only 14 theatres in the United States equipped with horizontal projectors which we understand were purchased by Paramount and either loaned or leased to the theatres in which they are installed. Though Century Projector Corporation has made these projectors available to theatres through its dealer organization, we do not know of any sales of such apparatus since installation of the first 14.

Motiograph will continue to try to keep abreast of developments in Hollywood and when there appears a likelihood of sale of a reasonable amount of new or different type of projection or sound apparatus we will undertake to make that equipment available. At the present time it would appear folly for us to make 55 or 70mm apparatus in view of the probable small demand and the heavy investment required to design and make such equipment.

* It might be well to clarify the 65-70mm film as used by TODD-AO. The camera uses 65mm and to get the extra soundtrack area they add 5mm for the release print. The distance between sprocket holes (width ) is the same for 65 or 70mm film.
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Updated 30-06-22