Run and Gun

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Thu, 11/19/2009 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

“We got last minute approval to shoot at Tanglewood ” says Jerry Simpson veteran director/cinematographer and the principal of production company Simpson Films of Long Island City New York. “I needed an ENG style run-and-gun style camcorder—it couldn’t be too heavy and we needed to be able to set-up fast.” Simpson recently shot a pilot for a documentary profiling drummer Steve Gadd. Gadd is an American session and studio drummer notable for his work with popular musicians from a wide range of genres. While hardly a household name Gadd is a favorite of discriminating musical artists; a short list of musicians with whom he has worked includes Paul McCartney Paul Simon Steely Dan Joe Cocker Chick Corea Eric Clapton James Taylor Jon Bon Jovi and the Bee Gees. Every drummer wants to play like Gadd because he plays perfect ” jazz great Corea once said. The untitled documentary is being co-directed by Simpson and Bill Zules themselves both drummers.
 Simpson is well known as an advocate of digital production in the advertising industry and through his outreach to camera manufacturers became familiar with earlier generations of P2 HD camcorders. He was eager to work with Panasonic’s HPX3700 and decided to take two of the P2 HD VariCams to the Tanglewood Music Festival where he shot five days of rehearsals master classes and concerts featuring Gadd. The drummer was performing with Tanglewood favorite James Taylor who gave a series of four sold-out concerts in late August.
Simpson has also used the HPX3700 to shoot sit-down interviews with Taylor Sheryl Crow and Lou Marini among others with the performers discussing their work with Gadd. He interviewed Gadd as well. Simpson was experienced with the P2 workflow and was confident that they could get what they needed with P2 media. He also thought the HPX3700 would be well suited to the interview work.
  “I usually insist on painstaking camera testing before taking a new model in the field but there was no time to test the HPX3700 before leaving for Tanglewood ” Simpson says. “We essentially took the two camcorders out of the box and set them up on fluid heads in the balcony of Ozawa Hall where we changed out three 32GB cards between the two cameras to shoot a percussion master class.” More cards arrived shortly thereafter.
All the material was shot in 1080p-24pN in AVC-Intra 100. The HPX3700s were equipped with Fujinon XA17x7.6BERM HD zoom lenses.
  “We could go through the HPX3700’s basic settings and know we’d get a superior image ” says digital supervisor Sean Donnelly a longtime Simpson collaborator. “The AVC-Intra codec looks a lot better than DVCPro HD. We were thrilled with the camera’s latitude. At this type of event we had no control of the lighting. For instance James Taylor would be in the foreground of the stage and two or three stops higher than the band. But the HPX3700 really held detail in the highlights and shadows.”
  “We did engage the Dynamic Range Stretch function which reduces blocked shadows and blown highlights ” Donnelly says. “While we didn’t shoot off-speed we did a time lapse interval record at one frame per half second to give the effect of the Tanglewood performance space filling up.”
 “It’s easy being out in the field with P2 equipment and we loved being able to see the material right away ” he says. At Tanglewood Donnelly used the AJ-PCD20 five-slot P2 drive to offload footage to a MacBook Pro; material was then output via FireWire 800 to mirrored RAID1 drives.
While the official edit of Gadd documentary has yet to begin Donnelly has done rough cuts of the material in Final Cut Studio 3 which he says he finds twice as fast as Studio 2 when importing AVC-Intra material. “I’ve applied some color grading and it’s amazing how much range you have for adjustment with the HPX3700 source material.”
Simpson plans to use the HPX3700 to shoot a food show intended for broadcast as well as for possible pick-up segments for the Gadd project. “At the moment there’s nothing better than the HPX3700 for documentary and lifestyle magazine-style shooting ” Simpson says. “It’s not a big camera and consequently the crew gets smaller. It has that 4:2:2 10-bit depth of color: it’s where we want to be with acquisition.”
 Simpson Films ,1401
Flight of the Dragon,2009-11-20, Super 78 Studios has completed their film for Overseas Chinese Town and the 220-acre Happy Valley Theme Park. Located in the Sheshan Resort area it is Shanghai’s largest theme park and is anticipated to attract between three to five million guests annually.  Flight of the Dragon is the first ever digital large format live-action aerial film produced for the China market. Super 78 Studios was sought out by OCT for their ambitious and powerhouse approach to making a film that was considered by most nearly impossible. Through a series of detailed design strategies innovative digital mastering techniques and a solution-oriented philosophy Super 78 delivers this unique attraction film set to debut in 2010. Flight of the Dragon written and directed by Brent Young Super 78’s principal and chief creative officer is a large format film that captures astonishing aerial footage of China’s Great Wall scenic views of the Yellow Mountains Zhangjiajie and the Lijiang River taking guests through an extraordinary tour of China’s most famous and beautiful landmarks.  The story of China begins with a computer-generated dragon that accompanies the audience through the spectacular landmarks while guiding them towards the grand finale fireworks display over Shanghai’s futuristic Pudong district. “Our team spent nearly eight weeks in helicopters over various locations to film a truly one-of-a-kind film ” says Brent Young. “Integrating unique animation elements enabled us to incorporate the rich Chinese culture on a grand scale.” Dina Benadon Super 78 CEO adds “As an independent Hollywood-based studio we faced a lot of challenges in the production process--dealing with the government the military and local production studios is very different from what Western producers are accustom to. We had to learn how to work in a new culture with very unique customs and business practices while producing a film of this caliber. I think our exceptional team opened doors for future producers and this film will certainly play a key role in further bridging the cultural differences between our two countries.” Charlotte Huggins a feature film producer with acclaimed production credits that include Journey to the Center of the Earth (Warner Bros.) Honey I Shrunk The Audience (Disney) and Fly Me to The Moon (nWave Pictures) says “The combination of securing multiple permits access to equipment restricted air space in addition to cultural and language barriers was considered virtually impossible but we did it. Our American and Chinese crews delivered an unprecedented experience for the people of China.  We’re thrilled to capture the beauty of the countryside from the air which has been seen by so few Chinese—the visual experience is spellbinding.” The film will be projected on an air-suspended 30-meter by 17-meter dome screen on four Christie projectors. Super 78 assembled a world-class team and developed proprietary image manipulation tools. The color correction process was completed at Fotokem and supervised by Rick Gordon whose credits include Wild Ocean 3D U2 3D and Sea Monsters.  Using a proprietary technique known as the Super Canvas process and led by Super 78 in-house artist Michael “Oz” Smith the film was made to maintain its integrity when projected on any exhibition platform.  Super 78 converted the footage to fit the custom dome projection system and to perform in the highest resolution possible. Further enhancements to the attraction include a 35 000-watt sound system delivering a musical score by Emmy award-winning composer Dan Zank. The music exudes Chinese melodies and accents and was recorded by members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  To complete the total immersive guest experience in-theater effects include wind mist and aromatic scents like bamboo-forest. Super 78 Studios ,1403
A Conversation with Caleb Deschanel ASC,2009-11-20, By Bob Fisher Caleb Deschanel will receive the American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award. When the ASC holds its 24th Annual Outstanding Achievement Awards celebration in Hollywood on February 27. He recently sat down for a conversation with Bob Fisher for Digital Cinema Report. Digital Cinema Report: Where were you born and raised? Caleb Deschanel: I was born in Philadelphia. My family moved to Annapolis when I was 11 years old. We lived there until I went to college. DCR: What was your first experience with photography? CB: I got a Brownie Hawkeye as a gift on my 11th birthday. I didn’t ask for a camera and didn’t particularly want one. I enjoyed taking photographs but I never really thought much about any of the pictures I took until we got a family dog. It was just a puppy. We were using a big cardboard box as a doghouse. I remember taking a picture of the puppy and doghouse. When that photo came back I remember thinking that it was better than the other pictures I had taken. That inspired me to take more photographs and to try to figure out why some were better than others. DCR: Where did you go to college? CB: I studied at Johns Hopkins University. DCR: Were you still a photography hobbyist at that stage of your life? CB: I took pictures for the college newspaper and yearbook. My brother-in-law knew a photographer in New York. His name was George Pickow. I thought it would be really great to get a summer job with him. I called him but I was just 17 years old and I was embarrassed about asking for a job. Finally he asked me if I wanted a job. He hired me to come to New York to be his assistant but soon I started to take still photographs for everything from catalogs to record album covers. DCR: Let’s backtrack for a minute. Did you enroll at Johns Hopkins because you were interested in a career in medicine? If so what was your inspiration? CB: There were doctors in my mother’s family for generations including her father. I was really good at science and math and loved analytic geometry calculus chemistry and physics. When I was a kid I used to build toy rockets and mixed chemicals for fuel. There used to be a 6:30 a.m. television program called Continental Classroom that taught chemistry and physics. My father and I would both get up early to watch that show. I did all the calculations with his help. It was really fascinating but in college chemistry was suddenly like studying quantum mechanics. DCR: What steered you in a different direction than medicine and chemistry? CB: My friends were mainly creative people who were interested in things like the history of art and writing including Matt Robbins and Walter Murch who were a year ahead of me at Hopkins. DCR: We recall hearing a story about how a picture of Stanley Kubrick in the student newspaper influenced your thinking about becoming a filmmaker. CB: There was a picture of Stanley Kubrick when he was working on Dr. Strangelove. He was holding an Arriflex camera with a zoom lens on his shoulder. I saw it in some publicity that came into the Hopkins newsletter office about the film and I remember thinking that I would like to do whatever he’s doing. And I had no idea what that was. It just looked exciting. But the truth is I had no ambition to make Hollywood movies because I didn’t particularly like them. DCR: What put you on that path? CB: I had a professor Richard Macksey who taught literature and history. He and another teacher helped organized film showings at Hopkins of French New Wave films Italian Cinema and Bergman. I remember thinking that maybe I could make that kind of film. Walter Murch and Matt Robbins graduated a year ahead of me and went on to the film studies program at the University of Southern California (USC). They encouraged me to apply to USC and I did. Because of my background in stills I started shooting student films right away. DCR: What did you do after graduating from USC? CB: I went on to AFI as a cinematography fellow. If I am remembering correctly there were only around 15 students in our class and I was the only cinematographer. DCR: Who were some of your mentors? CB: Haskell Wexler (ASC) was sort of an unofficial mentor. Walter met him through Cal Bernstein who was Haskell’s partner. He introduced me. I have vivid memories of both Haskell and Gordon Willis (ASC) sounding off about us ‘young guys’ not knowing anything about cinematography because we had never shot black-and-white film. I had shot a lot of stills in black and white but never a movie. I got a grant to produce direct and shoot a short film called Trains in black and white. Haskell loaned me his black-and-white filters. I really learned a lot from doing that film including the extent to which you have to separate images with contrast rather than just colors. There were shots that I really loved when I was shooting it such as one with the train leaving the station in the fog. But what made it interesting was the grey of everything in the fog and the red light at the rear. This did not work in black and white. That film made me think about what I wanted to do with my life. DCR: How did you meet Gordon Willis? CB: I applied for an internship from the AFI. I wanted to do it with Gordon Willis. This was before he shot The Godfather but I had seen his work and thought it was really terrific. The folks at AFI said ‘No we don’t know who he is.’ When I persisted they reneged on the internship but I was making some money shooting educational films so I did it on my own. My sister and brother-in-law lived in New Jersey. He was a record producer. He had an apartment in New York that he used when he was in the city that had a Murphy bed in it. That gave me a free place to stay during the time I spent with Gordon. DCR: What did you learn during your internship? CB: One of the big things that I learned was that Gordon always used light to create separation of images even if it was a color film. If you really look at his films you’ll see people who are lit against dark backgrounds. They suddenly go in the shadow when they walk and the background lights up. If you think about it you realize that he is creating a three-dimensional effect by using contrast and lighting. DCR: How did you meet Carroll Ballard? CB: I was living in Venice (in Los Angeles). Carroll lived across the alley from me and Ron Dexter (ASC) lived next door. Ron had gone to UCLA with Carroll. Ron got me started shooting commercials. Carroll and I were also working for the same educational film producer. Carroll was going to produce a short film called Rodeo. He had heard about me and asked me to come work with Steve Burum (ASC) who was the main DP. I ended up shooting a lot of that film. I guess Carroll liked my eye. I did a couple of other short films with him and then he asked me to shoot The Black Stallion. That was my first feature film. DCR: That was in 1979. Share a memory about that experience. CB: Carroll and I were both convinced we were going to be fired from the beginning because neither of us had worked on a feature length movie. We started shooting in Toronto where the crews were used to buttoned-down television schedules and not used to the way Carroll worked which was much loser. I don’t think they thought Carroll was a very good filmmaker. We finished shooting the rest of the film in Italy with a very small crew mainly with one camera filming the horse and the kid (except for the shipwreck at Cinecitta). DCR: You followed The Black Stallion with Being There with Hal Ashby directing and a magnificent cast including Peter Sellers and Shirley MacLaine. You earned your first Oscar nomination for The Right Stuff in 1983. It was a wonderful drama about NASA and the astronauts. Your next project was The Escape Artist which you directed. Why did you decide to try directing? CB: I’ve always directed including student films at USC. I like going back and forth between directing and cinematography because you get to see filmmaking from different perspectives. DCR: What appeals to you about directing? CB: First of all I love working with actors. I really like thinking about performances and talking to them. I also like thinking about storytelling from an overall perspective. I like conceptualizing about how we are going to tell the story both visually and in terms of performances and everything else that goes into directing. One of the things that I learned from Gordon is that cinematographers have to be really good at conceptualizing the visual style of a movie and the director must conceptualize how he’s going to tell the story. The magic happens when a cinematographer develops and executes a visual style that compliments the director’s vision for the story. DCR: Around 1994 you organized Dark Light Pictures a commercial production company. By then you had shot Being There The Right Stuff and you earned your second Oscar nomination for The Natural in addition to directing another film and episodes of a television series. What motivated you to start a commercial production company and what have you learned from that experience? CB: I stopped shooting features when my kids became too old to take them out of school and take them on location. So I stopped shooting features for eight years. Commercials gave me an opportunity to use a lot of different tools and techniques. We were doing color correction and things like that in telecine suites long before there were DIs on movies. Directing and shooting 30-second commercials also gives you the discipline to concentrate on what’s really important to telling the story. And they only took me away from home for short periods of time. DCR: We are just going to mention a few of your other films and see what memories they evoke. Can you tell us about Being There? CB: Being There was my first Hollywood movie. It was a wonderful experience from every point of view. I felt from the beginning that we were making a really special film. Peter Sellers was terrific and funny all the time Hal Ashby was a wonderful director and I thought that I had the best crew that there ever was. DCR: We mentioned that you earned your second consecutive Oscar nomination for The Natural in 1985. Will you share a memory from that film? CB: It was about baseball our national sport. It was a wonderful film to work on with a great director Barry Levinson. DCR:  Was Anna and the King a different experience? CB: It was a totally different experience shooting a period movie set in Siam during the 1860s. The original version was shot in CinemaScope format by Leon Shamroy (ASC) during the 1950s. We were going to shoot in Thailand where some of the original locations still existed but Thailand still had a king and didn’t like a story that treats him as human. We went to Malaysia instead — right next door so similar scenery different culture — where they designed and built sets recreating Siam in the 1860s. Jodie Foster and Chow Yun-Fat were absolutely great in the roles of Anna and the king. They made you care about and empathize with their characters. You felt like you knew them by the end of the picture. Isn’t that what filmmaking is about? DCR: You shot the Oscar nominated The Patriot a year later right? CB: I loved working on The Patriot. I loved helping to tell a story that took place when the Revolutionary War was being fought. I enjoyed collaborating with (director) Roland Emmerich and Mel Gibson was terrific in the leading role. We didn’t want to glamorize the war. We wanted audiences to feel and understand what it was like to be there in 1776. Every minute of each scene had a purpose. DCR: You earned your fifth Oscar nomination for The Passion of the Christ which was directed by Mel Gibson. Can you share a memory? CB: I studied a lot of art history in college. I love the way Caravaggio used light in his paintings. Mel produced the film in Aramaic and Latin so it freed him to cast great actors from Romania Poland Italy France North Africa and other places who you would never cast in an English language film. Every actor had to learn a dead language in order to be in the movie. I thought it was a brilliant idea. It created a feeling of reality that would not have been the same in an English language film. DCR: This is a different topic. Have you heard or read the Academy’s Digital Dilemma report which sums up a two-year study comparing film and digital archiving? CB: I have and one of the things that strikes me is that negatives from films that the Lumière brothers produced in France during the 1890s are still around but people who took digital photographs of their kids five years ago can sometimes no longer recover them. Digital technology has been a quantum leap forward in film restoration technology but I wonder if today’s digital movies will be around for tomorrow’s audiences. DCR: We are changing the topic again. What role do you think movies play? Are they just entertainment or something more than that? CB: I didn’t get involved in filmmaking just because it is entertainment. I think that movies at their best can inspire us to be better human beings. DCR: This isn’t an easy question but we will ask it anyhow. If you could go back in time and pick out a deceased or older director to work with who would it be? CB: You are right. That isn’t an easy question. I would have loved to work with (French director) Jean Renoir. He had a great understanding of the foibles of humanity and a wonderful sense of humor about the failings of mankind. DCR: How do you respond when aspiring cinematographers ask you for advice? CB: I tell them to look at visual images as much as they can whether it’s paintings photographs or movies and shoot as much as they can. I am still learning every time I shoot a frame of film. When I’m not learning I will know that it’s time to quit. ,1404
Making Avatar,2009-11-20,Vince Pace of Pace Technology talks about the challenges of making Avatar and about the future of digital cinema and stereoscopic 3D. ,1409
Creed Live ,2009-12-10,Sony Electronics presented Creed Live earlier this month the third in its series of digital cinema music concerts as part of an ongoing alternative content initiative by its Digital Cinema Solutions and Services group. An exclusive one-night-only event the concert premiered in select U.S. theaters on December 7 and marked the band's first full live performance ever recorded. The music concert series has become a major part of Sony's efforts to highlight the potential of alternative content for providing exhibitors with an additional revenue source during non-peak times as well as an expanded menu of programming. After nearly a decade in hiatus Creed's original line-up was featured in this performance which was recorded live in Houston in front of 17 000 fans. The concert was shot in high definition with 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Making this DVD was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us said Creed lead singer Scott Stapp. [Producer/director] Daniel Catullo and his staff not only set a world record filming this but set a whole new benchmark for filming the live show with unprecedented vision and creativity. I have never seen anything like this nor have our fans. I am so excited to finally give Creed fans something they will never forget. I know this is something that will keep us connected at all times through the live experience. Honestly I am blown away. The concert played on 142 theater screens across the country. Select theaters showed the concert using Sony's i4K digital cinema projectors. The event broadcast the band's September 25 concert. The show was notable for having entered the Guinness Book of World Records for its record use of 239 high-definition cameras for a live music event. Creed attended the West Palm Beach screening in Florida and signed autographs. According to Media Push Entertainment the series targeted those who live in areas that the tour did not visit young people who might not have had access because of age restrictions and fans who may have attended the original concert and hope to experience it again. Creed is a fantastic addition to our series of theatrical music events said Mike Fidler senior vice president of Digital Cinema Solutions and Services for Sony Electronics. The band's long-standing commercial success and loyalty of their fanbase is sure to make this movie-concert experience a success. The ability to see this performance in 4K resolution will only heighten the level of excitement and create a truly unique and immersive entertainment experience. The program will also be available for a 30-day period on Sony's Bravia Internet Video platform as video-on-demand IP content. The digital cinema music concerts from Sony are managed in collaboration with Media Push Entertainment and the theater venues are being booked in collaboration with entertainment industry consultants Evan Saxon and Doug Kluthe. Premiering a band of Creed's magnitude in a production of this caliber demonstrates Sony's commitment to developing digital cinema events that deliver true benefits for exhibitors and unrivaled value for consumers said Steve Sterling of Media Push Entertainment. Creed Live will expand to Germany and the U.K. in January with a similar one-night event in conjunction with the international release of the concert DVD. ,1429
Digital Cinema’s First Decade,2009-12-10, The case could be made that digital cinema has been around much longer than just the past ten years. For example I wrote an article for Variety in 1990 about electronic cinema’s potential to transform the movie industry. The consensus at that time was that any serious implementation was a decade away. However cut to May 1999. That was when Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace opened with a handful of digital screenings in movie theatres in and around New York and Los Angeles. Admittedly major developments were decidedly slow for many years after that but that movie gave the idea of digital cinema serious momentum and the transformation had begun: digital cinema’s first decade was underway. To be sure there were serious efforts prior to 1999. JVC with their D-ILA technology can make a legitimate claim for the first digital cinema demonstration. On March 19 1998 they collaborated on a digital presentation at a cinema in London. Another early effort was the movie The Last Broadcast which may have made cinematic history on October 23 1998 when it became the first feature to be theatrically released digitally via satellite download to theatres across the United States. Wavelength Releasing Texas Instruments Digital Projection and Loral Space headed that effort. In 1999 it was repeated across Europe using QuVIS technology and The Last Broadcast became the first feature to be screened digitally at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2000 Disney Texas Instruments and Technicolor worked with several U.S. and international exhibitors to deploy prototype digital cinema systems in commercial theatres. Technicolor assembled and installed the systems using the TI mark V prototype projector a special Christie lamp house and QuVIS’s QuBit server with custom designed automation interfaces. But the Phantom Menace digital screenings generated widespread visibility and publicity and developments began to occur on a more regular basis. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers began work on standards for digital cinema in 2001. The Digital Cinema Initiatives formed in March 2002 as a joint effort by Disney Fox MGM Paramount Sony Universal and Warner Bros.  The serious technical groundwork was being laid. The rest as the cliché goes is history. End of year recaps usually include projections about where we go from here. Predicting the future is always problematic but while digital cinema development has focused on the United States in general and Hollywood in particular in its first decade it seems clear to me that the coming years will be increasingly dominated by developments around the world – in Europe Asia India and Africa – and by the widespread growth of alternative content of all kinds. By the end of the next decade 3D will be mainstream in movie theatres and glassless 3D will have begun to make serious inroads. I confess my last prediction is actually more of a hope but it is this: Surely by the end of the next decade a business model will be found to enable more independent movies to find a home in a significant number of movie theatres at the very least on a regional basis. One thing is absolutely certain: over the course of the next ten years there will be a long list and setbacks advancements and surprises. For now here in chronological order are the highlights of digital cinema’s first decade. 1. The ASC Embraces Digital Cinema – 2003 Importantly in my mind the DCI almost immediately opened its doors to the American Society of Cinematographers which tops my personal list of the highlights of digital cinema’s first decade. At the time Curtis Clark who chaired ASC’s technology committee said Our purpose is to help assure that standards recommended for digital cinema enhance the movie-going experience and maintain the integrity of the art form. The test material we are producing will provide a standard way to evaluate the capabilities of digital projectors and compare them to film.” DCI is excited about working with ASC and it's Technology Committee on this project that will enable us to perform various testing using standardized evaluation material to generate consistent and objective results said Walt Ordway DCI's chief technology officer. We are also pleased to make this test material available to other companies and organizations for use in their various testing programs. Clark said that members of DCI and the ASC Technology Committee had an in-depth dialogue before reaching a consensus regarding the original footage needed to adequately stress test digital projectors for technical performance and also to compare the emotional impact of digital and 35mm film. The film sequences they produced were used as a standard test for evaluating current and future digital projectors. Daryn Okada now the ASC president helped design the test. Up until now projector manufacturers have selected scenes from existing films to demonstrate products he said.  There was no way of telling whether the source material was negative interpositive or internegative film and that makes a big difference. We believe the same source material should be used for all demonstrations and for side-by-side comparisons. Our plan was to scan the negative at 4K now and at higher resolutions in the future presuming that continuing advances are made in projectors. Their plan succeeded and their efforts were critical. Many if not most ASC members still prefer to shoot film and have serious reservations about digital cinema but a growing number embrace it at least as another tool in their tool kit. Without some sort of buy-in by the top cinematographers in the world digital cinema would not be where it is today. 2. Collateral shows that a Good Movie could be Shot Digitally – 2004 Michael Mann’s 2004 thriller starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Fox was as far as I’m aware the first movie to be widely praised not despite the fact that it was shot digitally but rather because it was shot digitally. Many critics around the world praised the use of digital technology and the look of the movie. In her very favorable review Manohla Dargis chief film critic for the New York Times wrote “Collateral is very much the product of a distinct vision one as eager to push technological limits (the film was shot with the most advanced video cameras) as to upend the usual studio white-hero/black-villain formula. Variety critic Todd McCarthy seemed to sum up the feeling inside the Hollywood film community. “Mann's creative leap that led him to shoot most of the picture on high-definition digital video evinces an enormous sense of artistic concentration that translates into complete audience absorption in matters at hand ” he wrote. “Mann's decision to shoot about 80 percent of the film in high definition (a modified Thomson Grass Valley Viper FilmStream and the Sony CineAlta were both used) came from his conviction that the format more closely represents and exceeds what the human eye sees at night than does celluloid. Compared with the rich intense color palettes Mann has employed in his previous work Collateral has a more monochrome look that paradoxically combines a sense of deep darkness with a certain washed-out thinness and lack of visual weight. Punctuating this at all times though are the pervasive lights of the sprawling city the appearance of which justifies the use of the new technology; to be sure the sight of a succession of planes lined up in the air to land at LAX at night or the spooky yellow glare in coyotes' eyes have never been so strikingly or realistically rendered as they are here.” Thanks to Michael Mann and Collateral digital cinematography was on the map. 3. Texas Instruments and Christie Debut the First 2K Projector – March 2005 Texas Instruments had been working on a chip for a digital cinema projector for more than a decade by the time the breakthrough Christie CP2000X 2K projector debuted at the annual exhibitor’s convention ShoWest in March 2005. One highlight of the convention each year is the opening day session that always features clips from the previous year’s movies that generated $100 million or more at the box office. We will probably never know the names of all the Texas Instrument people who for years traveled around the world for countless meetings and conversations to gather input about what Hollywood and exhibitors required in a digital projector. There was resistance at almost every turn because quite honestly what the people at Texas Instrument were proposing was to completely transform an industry that was working well and had been doing so for a century. The Hollywood production community had already rejected the hundreds of so-called electronic cinema systems that were already in place in many theatres showing pre-show advertising and programs. They felt those systems could not properly show their work and were not shy about making their case. The studios supported them. Texas Instruments’ 2K chip changed that. At ShoWest the Million Dollar Reel as that presentation is called always generates great applause because in effect it’s an industry congratulating itself on its own success. But that particular morning – and I know I have a built-in bias – I would swear the response was louder and more enthusiastic than in previous years. One thing is certain: that projector and that event was a critical turning point in legitimizing the idea of digital cinema in the minds of exhibitors. 4. The DCI Specifications are released – July 2005 Developments began to take place at a more rapid pace after that. The Digital Cinema Initiative announced late the following July that it had completed the final overall system requirements and specifications for digital cinema. No matter what happens in the next several years as the world makes the transition to digital cinema the people who made this happen (and in particular Walt Ordway) deserve a tremendous amount of praise. The job they faced on behalf of the seven major Hollywood movie studios was formidable if only because it represented a group of extremely competitive companies somehow working together in a common cause. Then there were the equally formidable technology challenges. But there was a negative aspect to the announcement because there was no mention of when a business model would be approved. Without it the technical standards as important as they were could have limited impact. It was as if the blueprints for a great building had been approved but the funding wasn’t yet in place to start construction. 5. AccessIT Jumps the Gun – July 2005 The free market is rarely an orderly place. Competition and the demands of capital usually dictate that a monumental transition like digital cinema will have many twists and turns. In the vacuum created by the absence of a business model a company came along to create its own. That same summer AccessIT which has since changed its name to Cinedigm announced that it would fund theatres making the move to digital. Depending on whom you talked to at the time the announcement that AccessIT and Christie Digital Systems had created a framework to fund the rollout of digital cinema technology represented either the starting line for the industry’s future or a desperate move by two companies that had crossed the line. One insider even suggested that at best it was a waste of time and at worst that it could undermine the years of work by the Digital Cinema Initiative. Under the terms of the agreement AccessIT formed a subsidiary Christie/AIX to act as a funding vehicle and administrator. The new entity provided funding for a turnkey digital cinema solution that includes the latest generation 2K resolution digital cinema projectors and all related hardware systems. The companies insisted that the plan would satisfy the diverse concerns of movie studios and exhibitors by standardizing content format delivery and presentation. They said further that it minimized financial risks for studios and exhibitors by establishing an innovative template that allowed private investment in the burgeoning Digital Cinema industry. We can never know how things would have developed had Cinedigm and Christie not been so aggressive. But the world is currently moving at a steady pace toward 15 000 digital screens and the pace should pick up dramatically next year. Even their most ardent critics must give credit to those two companies for helping to jumpstart the process. 6. Chicken Little 3D Leads the Way – 2005 The industry seems to still be divided on the issue of 3D. Some insist that it’s still nothing more than a fad: Been there done that they say. Others – and I’m one – believe it will transform motion pictures in a way comparable only to the change from silent to talking pictures. Time will tell who’s right but for now – and for the last three years or more – audiences have been voting in a big way with their dollars. Disney’s Chicken Little 3D was an early bellwether of this. An important point to make is that with all due respect Chicken Little is not a great movie. While it’s certainly not a bad film – critics generally rated it average or a bit above average and audience ratings online suggested they only rated it a bit higher than that – but it is no Citizen Kane; it’s not even Toy Story. And yet it went on to gross almost $300 million dollars worldwide. The novelty of good quality 3D was certainly a big part of that story and all the anecdotal evidence suggested that in places where Chicken Little played in 3D audiences turned it into a genuine hit. Digital cinema was in its early days and there were only a limited number of screens but in the end those screens which represented about 15 percent of the total number generated almost 85 percent of the revenue. Thanks to Disney’s Chicken Little audiences around the world were suddenly aware of the idea of digital cinema and 3D. 7. The Metropolitan Opera Demonstrates the Value of Alternative Content – 2006 From the very start proponents of digital cinema promoted the idea that the real benefit of the technology is that it could expand the kind of content that movie theatres could present. Almost from the earliest days of the movie business theatres have made the majority of their revenue during the weekends. Now there are other possibilities. Early on Hollywood dismissed this kind of content as “alternative ” implying that anything other than a Hollywood feature film had less value. Regardless of what these different content choices are called exhibitors are discovering that there are new streams of revenue available to them and they are beginning to take advantage. Regal Cinemas had one of the early alternative content success stories when it partnered with New York’s Metropolitan Opera to present performances live in at that time a handful of movie theatres around the world. The Met: Live in HD series has featured a total of 24 live operas and one live Gala during its three-season run. The 2008-09 season was the biggest yet with 11 live high-definition opera transmissions including the Met’s Opening Night Gala starring Renée Fleming Lucia Di Lammermoor and Madama Butterfly. The first Met: Live in HD opera The Magic Flute was seen in 56 theatres in December 2006. Regal has since become a part of National CineMedia and the company’s alternative content division is called Fathom. Since that humble beginning the program has expanded its participating theatre footprint and now reaches nearly 500 movie theatres in the United States and shows no signs of slowing down. 8. The NBA All Star Game Live in 3D Sells Out – 2007 If alternative content and 3D represent the future of digital cinema sports live in 3D represents the successful marriage of the two. The 2007 National Association of Basketball All-Star Game was shot in 3D and projected live at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The game was being played at the Thomas & Mack Center a few blocks away. It was the first time ever that a live event was shown in 3D. Vince Pace Technology provided the five 3D HD cameras for the event and supervised the production.   “This is an exciting time for sports entertainment ” Pace who most recently worked on Avatar said at the time. “The technology innovation and creativity of 3D HD are the perfect fit to capture the excitement of the NBA and allow viewers to experience NBA All-Star like never before.” Naysayers would argue that the novelty factor prompted the people to make the trek the night before the big game so that they could watch the annual Slam Dunk contest in 3D. Fair enough. But on the following night a significant number of people traded their tickets to the actual game and paid a premium to instead watch it live in 3D. 9. Slumdog Millionaire and Benjamin Button Validate Digital Cinematography – 2008 The two movies widely considered the frontrunners for last year’s Academy Award for Best Picture – Slumdog Millionaire shot by Anthony Dod Mantle and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button shot by Claudio Miranda – had several things in common. Both could loosely be described as urban fairy tales in which the hero ultimately wins the lifelong girl of his dreams. Both were also in contention for the Oscar for Best Cinematography. And both were shot at least in part with digital cameras which the filmmakers of both movies said were the right creative tool to use each time they did. Clearly digital cinematography had finally arrived. For the record the two films together were nominated for a rather incredible 23 Oscars: 10 for Slumdog and 13 for Benjamin Button. In terms of percentage of screen time the digital cinematography played a smaller role in Slumdog than it did in Benjamin Button but even so it was a vital creative tool. Slumdog was shot with a range of Arriflex film cameras a prototype Silicon Imaging SI-2K digital camera and a Canon EOS-ID Mark III which is essentially a digital still camera. The scenes in the narrow crowded streets of the slums of Mumbai were shot with the two digital cameras. Mantle and director Danny Boyle said they chose those particular digital cameras for the street scenes because they were able to shoot without attracting attention. “People tend to ignore digital still cameras these days ” Boyle told one interviewer. And as one blogger reported Mantle used the SI-2K because it’s a tiny digital camera that allowed him to hold the lens in the palm of one hand and a minuscule monitor in the other; wires went up his sleeve and into a backpack carrying a hard drive. Once director David Fincher selected him to shoot The Curious Case of Benjamin Button cinematographer Claudio Miranda said the decision to use the Thomson Grass Valley Viper FilmStream digital camera for the bulk of the production was an easy one. “We were testing other cameras but it came down to the fact that I knew [the Viper] very well ” he said. “I shot some of David’s first commercials with a Viper.” The World War II battles scenes and the idyllic Caribbean interlude were shot with an Arriflex 435 film camera and a few additional shots used Sony’s CineAlta F23 digital cinema camera. But says Miranda “95 percent of the movie was shot digitally with Viper.” Slumdog Millionaire of course won a total of eight Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Cinematography. And it’s fair to say that no one will ever second-guess shooting digitally again. 10. Galaxy Theatres puts on a Show that’s Out of This World – 2009 For me the single most exciting moment in the development of digital cinema took place last January when a group of school children gathered at their local movie theatre for an experience that was quite literally out of this world. On Wednesday morning January 21st students from several nearby schools took their seats at Galaxy Theatres in Gig Harbor Washington and participated in a live twenty-minute question-and-answer session with Expedition 18 astronauts Mike Fincke and Sandra Magnus from the International Space Station. Students from Key Peninsula Middle School in Lakebay Washington one of two NASA Explorer Schools in Washington State were there as were students from Peninsula School District's Vaughn Elementary School Harbor Ridge Middle School and Peninsula High School. Galaxy Theatres CEO Frank Rimkus said the event drew more than 1000 students and more than 1000 adults including teachers parents and government representatives. Galaxy showed the Q&A on multiple screens and offered the venue for free. To prepare for the downlink Key Peninsula students studied the history and mission of the space station and mission control rocket fabrication astronaut selection and training and mission control and station operations. I would not be surprised if KPMS students are the first to walk on Mars discover life on another planet become instrumental in science education or develop new technology to improve life here on Earth Terry Bouck Peninsula School district superintendent said. “We are proud to be a part of this unique event ” Rimkus said at the time. He said he never considered charging admission for the event and is convinced that the good will that will be generated for his business will pay long-term dividends. In any case he said “Galaxy Theatres is committed to providing use of our state-of-the-art theatres to support the educational needs of the communities we serve.” Rimkus thought of the idea of the event himself. He said digital cinema technology is changing exhibition in profound ways. He believes that Hollywood movies will always serve as the backbone of the local theatre experience but that given all the possibilities that digital technology allows the concept of what a movie theatre can be will expand. Before digital cinema Galaxy’s programming library was limited to movies – in particular Hollywood movies – and other programs on film. “Now our library has grown to infinite proportions ” Rimkus said. Galaxy Theatres a very early digital cinema pioneer operates 100-plus screens in California and Washington and is now an all-digital chain. “We have the opportunity to be a social center ” he said. “One of the things we focused on was education.” He points out that this era in digital cinema is similar to the earliest days of movie exhibition when local theatres were centers of social events. People often gathered in theatres for events other than movies in part because the theatres themselves were so affordable comfortable and inviting. “It’s a little bit of an old fashioned idea ” Rimkus said. His goal is to recreate that concept with Galaxy Theatres. “We have multiple screens stadium seating clean bathrooms and free parking. Interactive education is on the rise. With all that in mind we’re offering our facilities for educational purposes.” 11. Avatar What an ideal way to end digital cinema’s first decade. Avatar signals all that digital cinema production post-production and exhibition can and will become in the years ahead. Despite a major snowstorm that virtually shut down the East Coast of the United States its opening weekend still managed to generate more than $75 million in tickets sales and has received almost unanimous praise from major film critics across the country who have used phrases to describe it that are all but unprecedented: Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times and an outspoken critic of 3D wrote: “Watching Avatar I felt sort of the same as when I saw Star Wars in 1977. That was another movie I walked into with uncertain expectations. James Cameron’s film has been the subject of relentlessly dubious advance buzz just as his Titanic was. Once again he has silenced the doubters by simply delivering an extraordinary film. There is still at least one man in Hollywood who knows how to spend $250 million or was it $300 million wisely. Avatar is not simply a sensational entertainment although it is that. It's a technical breakthrough… It is predestined to launch a cult. It contains such visual detailing that it would reward repeating viewings… It is an Event one of those films you feel you must see to keep up with the conversation.” Mahohla Dargis in the New York Times wrote “Cameron uses 3-D to amplify the immersive experience of spectacle cinema. Instead of bringing you into the movie with the customary tricks with a widescreen or even Imax image filled with sweeping landscapes and big action he uses 3D seemingly to close the space between the audience and the screen. He brings the movie to you. After a few minutes the novelty of people and objects hovering above the row in front of you wears off and you tend not to notice the 3D which speaks to the subtlety of its use and potential future applications.” And Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times summed it up this way: “Think of Avatar as The Jazz Singer of 3D filmmaking. Think of it as the most expensive and accomplished Saturday matinee movie ever made. Think of it as the ultimate James Cameron production. Whatever way you choose to look at it Avatar's shock and awe demand to be seen. You've never experienced anything like it and neither has anyone else.”