09 g322 section b film in the digital age

46,542 views

Published on

Published in: Education
0 Comments
1 Like
Statistics
Notes
  • Be the first to comment

No Downloads
Views
Total views
46,542
On SlideShare
0
From Embeds
0
Number of Embeds
151
Actions
Shares
0
Downloads
76
Comments
0
Likes
1
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

09 g322 section b film in the digital age

  1. 1. AS Media Studies Study Notes Unit G322 Section B Audiences and Institutions The Film Industry Part 9Film in the Digital Age 131
  2. 2. New Technologies and Cinema – a 120 year old love affair…The film industry has always used new technologies relating to the making and showing offilms (although crucially, this has not always occurred as soon as the technologies havebecome available). A brief list of crucial technological moments in the history of cinemawould include: 1. the projection of moving images to create the original silent movies in makeshift cinemas in the late 1890s; 2. the financially successful introduction of sound (the talkies) in the late 1920s/early 1930s which led to massive changes in the industry; 3. the widespread adoption of colour and widescreen in the 1950s in an effort to combat the competition from television caused by the mass production of TV sets, changing leisure patterns, and the movement of much of the population out to newly built suburbs following the Second World War; 4. the gimmicky, ultimately unsuccessful first efforts to offer the public three- dimensional film in the same period, again in an effort to offer the public something different from television; 5. the increasing use of television from the 1960s as a medium for showing films with the accompanying realization that in this way old films could effectively be recycled or resold; 6. the advent of VHS rental and recording from the 1970s opening up the possibility of again reselling old films but also effectively re-releasing relatively new films to a new window after a period at the cinema; 7. the introduction of satellite and cable channels from the 1980s which again offered a further window for both old and relatively recent films (main package channels, premium subscription channels and pay-to-view channels of course effectively further subdivided this window); 8. the increased marketing of the home cinema concept from the 1990s so that with technology allowing larger screens and surround sound something approaching an analogous cinema experience becomes possible; 9. the move to DVD technology from the late 1990s which with the use of extras and an enhanced experience encourages consumers to replace their old video film library with the latest disc format; 10. the increasing use of the Internet from the late 1990s, for marketing initially but also increasingly for downloading films; 11. the advent from around 2000 of digital filmmaking and digital projection facilities in cinemas; 12. the recent format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc to become the successor generation format to DVD. 13. the revitalisation of blockbuster films through the use of improved HD 3-d. 132
  3. 3. Each of these moments of technological change for the industry are essentially concernedwith the viewing experience, but it is also true that there has been a parallel series oftechnological changes in the making of films. For example, when sound is successfullyintegrated into film then the cameras have to become silent in order that their mechanicalnoises are not picked up and obviously sound technology has to develop quickly in order toenable voices to be picked up clearly; in fact a whole new field of production and creativityopens up. Perhaps we have currently reached a similar turning point because the big questionnow is what impact new digital possibilities for filmmaking and exhibition are going to haveon the industry.New technologies and the AudienceNew technologies might be said to offer consumers: 1. an improved overall qualitative experience as a result of better sound and/or image reproduction; 2. enhanced spectacle perhaps through the sheer overpowering size of the screen or the impact on the senses of a surrounding wall of sound; 3. improved ease of access, or ease of use, for instance, through enabling people to own their own film collections in various formats; 4. new, easier and intensified ways of using film for pleasure, for example, IMAX would seem to offer an intense fairground ride for the senses; 5. an enhanced intellectual experience through the provision of increased knowledge or understanding, for instance through the use of commentaries by directors on DVDs the chance to use new, ever cheaper and more compact devices to make films for themselvesNew technologies and the Film IndustryNew technologies offer the industry: 1. the possibility of an improved opportunity to create profits (the costs or required expenditure involved in bringing in the new technology will be carefully balanced against the projected additional income before any new technology is introduced); 2. the chance to repackage and resell old products, especially cult and classic movies, thereby establishing a new audience base, or even fan base, for an old product (note that this is even true of an older technological change like the move to sound); 3. an opportunity to place products for sale in new windows, thereby lengthening the commercial life of each film (a film may now be sold to consumers via the cinema, satellite and cable TV, DVD and terrestrial TV); 4. the chance to encourage multiple purchases of essentially the same product (so any one consumer might pay to see a film in the cinema, then later pay to watch the same film on pay-to-view, before later still buying his or her own copy on DVD); 5. overall, enhanced production, distribution and exhibition possibilities 133
  4. 4. New technologies and the cinema experienceIt could be argued that new technologies have always added to, rather than detracted from,the cinema experience. The size and/or quality of the spectacle have been enhanced by eachnew development adding to the unique nature of the cinematic event (even the advent oftelevision in a sense only highlights the difference and in particular the spectacle of thecinema experience).The experience of the cinema itself cannot be easily replicated or replaced but the alternativeexperiences of pay-TV, or home cinema, have their own attractions particularly in terms offlexibility of viewing. The advent of TV and changed leisure patterns ended the socialdominance of the cinema as a source of entertainment and information (remember this wasonce the only place you could see visual images of news events). The cinema experience hasmade something of a comeback, although attendance is never going to match the heightsattained in 1946 in both the USA and Britain.As with studying the content of the films themselves, what we find is that the industry and itstechnological base always have to be seen within social, economic, political and historicalcontexts. Towards the end of the Second World War and immediately after, cinemaattendance peaked, as without the presence of television sets in the home people sought newsimages and perhaps some sort of collective, community-enhancing escape. The nature ofcinema attendance at this moment was determined by the nature of the historical moment,and this is always the case. Our job is to try to understand how changes and developmentswithin the film industry might be connected to the contexts of the period in which they takeplace.With the increase in global communication and distribution afforded by the World wideWeb, supporters of the Internet suggest that this form of communication marks a new era ofdemocratization and freedom of choice empowering ordinary people to produce and receiveinformation and entertainment from all over the world. 134
  5. 5. Others such as some Marxist critics might suggest that this development, by isolatingconsumers from face-to-face human interaction, enables them to be more tightly controlledand manipulated.Other critics note the increased access to pornography and extreme right-wing propagandaavailable on the Internet, or point to an increasing gap between information-rich andinformation-poor populations (less than one in a thousand black South Africans, for example,own a phone). The future of film is coming into focus. Digital technology not only redefines movies, but also the very idea of the image. We were born in an analogue era, we shall die in a digital one. Film is an analogue, that is, a physical copy of something else, it is "analogous" to what it photographs. A digital image is not a copy, it is an electronic and mathematical translation. (Schrader 1996) I love film, but its a nineteenth century invention. The century of film has passed. (George Lucas 2000) 135
  6. 6. Six important changes to the Film Industry in the last decadeWith the development of digital and computer mediated communication technologies, theproduction, distribution, exhibition and reception of film have been – and continue to be –radically transformed. If one were to take a selective snap-shot of the film-making processtoday one would find the following new media interventions at work.1. The Introduction of Digital StoryboardsFirst is the increasing use of electronic, moving image storyboards in both thepre-production and production stages of film-making (first pioneered by Francis FordCoppolla during the making of Bram Stokers Dracula (1992)). So, instead of hand-drawn,inanimate storyboards being used to pitch a film, or organise and dynamise a days shootingschedule, the director and cinematographers on a film utilise an electronic simulation of thestory/scene that is to be made – a simulation which more accurately visualises what is to beshot.2. The Increasing use of HD Digital VideoSecond is the increasing use of Digital Video (DV) cameras to shoot bothdocumentary and full length feature films. DV has a number of advantages over celluloidfilm. Cameras are more mobile, and generally lighter to use; they are easier to operate; andreduce the costs of shooting and editing, particularly because they do not use thecomparatively more expensive film stock, neither do they need their video formatsprocessing in the same way.Shooting complex scenesis easier to organise,especially in relation to therelative ease with whichlight source can bemonitored (unlike thearduous lighting systemsneeded for shooting oncelluloid).Mike Figgis utilised theflexibility of the digitalformat for the ground-breaking TimeCode (2000).The film was shot in real-time, with four (eventually)interconnecting stories being played out on a split screen at the same time. The length of thefilm is the length of the tape that Figgis had to shoot with. Events, actions, dramas, therefore,unfold on the screen as they (arguably) did during the shoot.Digital technology has reduced the costs of film making so much that DV can be seen aswidening access to the means of production for new creative talent. And the convergence ofmedia through digital technology creates new opportunities for distributing and exhibiting. The digital rejuvenation of film is not limited to the grand-scale strategies of a large industry. The digital has created new cultural economies. There is clearly a place for short film via the 136
  7. 7. internet. Through different websites, the digital version of film breaks down the limitations of exhibition that have controlled what it is possible for audiences to see. Digital cameras havemade it possible to have filmic qualities in the smallest of productions. Although this expansive development of film is still quite circumscribed, it demonstrates how film has been more accessible and is connected to the wider new media and cultural phenomenon of the will-to- produce. (Marshall 2004)3. The Increasing Use of CGIThird is the increasing use of digital special effects or Computer GeneratedImagery (CGI) in the film-making processes. Increasingly almost all fiction films willhave one or two different types of digital special effect: invisible special effects, whichBuckland (1999) suggests `constitute up to 90 per cent of the work of the special effectsindustry and are not meant to be noticed (as special effects) by film spectators; and visiblespecial effects, or those special effects which produce some wondrous, fantastic, out-of-this-world creation that produces the Wow! That cant be real reaction from spectators andaudiences.The digitally created dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (1993) or the stop-motion action-spectaclesequences in The Matrix (1999) are two examples of this. However, Titanic (1997) is anexcellent example of a film that is most remembered for its visible digital special effects,namely in the form of the good ship itself, but which is actually saturated in moments ofinvisible special effects, whether it be the seamless simulation of Southampton Docks, thewaves the audience see crashing against the vessel, or computerised passengers walking onthe decks as the ship sails away into the distance.Such is the growth in CGI that it constitutes a major division of the film-making industry,headed by George Lucas Industrial Light and Magic company. It is also now of course,thanks to Pixar, a developing animated film form. The ground-breaking Toy Story (1995)was the first ever complete CGI movie and one that established the trend (continued morerecently with Ice Age (2002)) for films to be generated solely from digital hardware andsoftware. However, CGI is also a technology which has `trickled down into domestic use:digital effect software packages are sold in electrical retailers and used to enhance everythingfrom home videos to GCSE and A Level Media practical coursework in schools andcolleges. 137
  8. 8. Digital Cinema Is for Reel - Since his first Star Wars film 23 years ago, George Lucas has been a leader in applying technology to the cinema. His most recent movie, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, contains almost 2,000 digital-effects shots. Yet Lucas took the digitization of The Phantom Menace a step further. During its premiere in the summer of 1999, a few showings were digitally projected. Audiences were amazed at the outstanding audio and the clarity and brightness of the pictures. The d-projectors performed well, but the technology must come down in price before its improved audio and visual presentation reaches a mainstream audience. (Scientific American November 2000)4. Digital distributionFourth is the developing use of digital distribution – using the Internet to transmit –and exhibit new film releases. The cost of making prints, coordinating exhibition schedulesand distributing them to individual theatres (across the globe) is extremely expensive.Copyright is also a problem with piracy a common feature of print distribution as it is, so themajor studios are looking at ways to utilise telecommunications to reduce costs, negatepiracy, but also, arguably, to increase the audio-visual experience for audiences – film printscan get heavily scratched in transit and during projection while the digital image remainspicture perfect. As Miller (2001) reasons: Digital distribution would shave over US $10 million dollars in domestic post- production print manufacturing costs for a Hollywood budget for a film like Godzilla (2000). If the 39,000 screens in North America were to switch to digital projection today, film studios would save US$800 million they spend annually on making, insuring and shipping film prints.However, it is the Internet where the most radical transformations are beginning to takeplace. Independent, Internet-based film companies (such as iBeam and CinemaNow) can usethe Internet to by-pass the major studios monopoly of distribution and exhibition, to streamfilm/video straight into the home. With broadband technology, as noted earlier, and withplasma screen/wide-screen PCs and TVs entering the market, increasingly reception athome becomes as good as watching a movie at the cinema.As far as the major studios and distributors are concerned, digital technology offers greatpotential to increase profits and dangers in equal measure. Digital distribution will certainlytransform the film industry more than any previous technological change since sound. Onceit becomes the norm to download film via broadband, the potential for a new form ofblanket distribution is obvious—not only do you no longer need multiple prints, you canalso bypass the cinemas (although the big screen offers a separate experience that is likely toremain attractive).Digital film has the advantage of offering identical versions of the film to each viewer, andthis will without doubt save billions of pounds at the distribution phase. Despite the hypeover piracy and the digital enabling of this illegal activity, industry commentators believethat one advantage of digital distribution will be control and security, as most piracy is theresult of a cinema-goer with a hidden camera distributing a poor quality version of a film toparts of the world where it has not yet been released (because the prints are currentlysomewhere else). Simultaneous global distribution via the internet will put an end to thistime gap and thus its exploitation by pirates. 138
  9. 9. One issue for debate is about the quality of digital movies. Whereas some film makers andcritics argue that the binary reduction of images in the digital compression process reducesthe complexity of image and light, it appears that just as music in MP3 comes without theparts that the human ear cannot hear, so digital films remove the degrees of texture that mostviewers wouldnt notice anyway. The movie we see at our local multiplex may have been shown many times over and the wear and tear on it will be considerable: scratches, dust and fading—as a result of having been exposed regularly to bright light—all reduce the quality of the presentation. Even before wearand tear kicks in, what we are watching may well be a third generation copy—a process similar to making a photocopy of a photocopy, where some of the original definition is inevitably lost. Some experts believe that Digital cinema will overtake the quality of the best conventional cinema within the next year or two, and at the same time address age-old industry problems. Prints are bulky and their manufacture, distribution and exhibition are labour intensive and therefore expensive. Whats more, in a world increasingly concerned with the impact industryhas on the environment, it is hard to justify the use of a technology (film manufacturing), which involves a highly toxic process, when a cleaner alternative is available. (Randle & Culkin 2004) Another interesting prediction that Randle and Culkin make is to speculate that film extras (another costly necessity for the film industry) may soon be replaced by digitally generated synthetic actors— more on that later… The digitalisation of film offers a range of new institutional practices. There are greater possibilities for the manipulation of the image itself, the editing process becoming more creative and composite images can be produced to incorporate digital animation. The current one way’process of film making and consuming is threatened by the interactive zeitgeist’ so that thegeneration of audience, you, who are immersed in online media and videogames are likely torequire new forms of interactivity in the film medium.5. The Impact of Film PiracyAny attempt to ignore the fast approaching world of legal film downloading is seen asswimming against the tide. Piracy is a major concern of all film distributors, withHollywood investigators claiming a 10% increase each year in revenue lost to illegaldistribution. In the UK the Film Councils report Film Theft in the UK (2004) claimed thatonly Austria and Germany have a higher degree of DVD piracy.Based on the information collected in November 2007, it was estimated that the impact ofPiracy on the film industry is: • Cinema: £88m (£102m in 2006) • Retail (Film/TV): £258m (£300m in 2006) • Rental (Film/TV): £58m (£28m in 2006) 139
  10. 10. • Download (Film): £53m (£15m in 2006)Levels of piracy are relatively stable, although over the longer term there is clear evidence ofa continued, gradual decline in physical piracy digitalpiracy levels appear to increase year-on-year and overallpiracy levels are now at 32% of the population (vs. 29%in 2006).A report published in March 2009 found that somestraightforward steps to tackle film piracy would increaseUK economic output by £614 million and protect the jobsof many thousands of people employed in the filmindustry, as well as creating some 7,900 jobs in the wider economy.The audio-visual sector currently loses about £531m in the UK each year (up from £459m in2006) from the direct impact of copyright theft, equating to a total economic loss to theeconomy of £1.222 billion. This is felt right through the industry, from cinema, video,television – including cable and satellite – and legal Internet services. At a time when theGovernment is working towards universal access to broadband services and is looking to theaudio-visual sector to invest in the production of new and original content, Britains creativecommunity are seeking reassurance that their copyright will be properly protected, so thatthey can play their part in promoting demand for broadband through compelling content.6. The Audio-Visual Experience at the CinemaAnother aspect of technological change that the UK Film Council is concerned with isdigital filming and projection. The Digital Screen Network project is the UK Film Councilsattempt to provide cinemas with digital projection facilities, and it is hoped (but by no meansguaranteed) that more small-scale independent films will get seen this way. Digitaltechnology has the potential to make life a lot better for low budget film makers anddistributors. In the case of short films, it is now possible for these to reach a potentially wideaudience via a range of hosts, from the UK Film Council to The UK Media Desk, BBC FilmNetwork and Big Film Shorts, Film Londons Pulse and a host of short film festivals, all ofwhom have online submission.Digital technology is transforming the audio-visual experience at cinemas. On the most basicof levels, with digital Surround Sound, improved projection and screening facilities, or withthe digital image itself being relayed from a mainframe computer terminal elsewhere, filmwatching becomes ever more virtual. However, it is with the development of very largescreen systems, of which IMAX is the market leader, that film viewing becomes an evermore sensory dependent experience. Cinema becomes spectacle and display. 140
  11. 11. What are the implications for Cinema in the 21st CenturyCinema as an institution has survived several threats to its life. Most notably, it waspredicted that television would make it extinct, but cinema survived by securing cinemareleases prior to TV broadcast and because of its social, night out context. Later, the VCRseemed to have put a bigger nail in the coffin, but this time cinemas redefined themselves asmultiplexes, offering a broader leisure experience on an American model, together with theemergence of the blockbuster and its associated expensive marketing.Despite multi-channel television offering viewers the opportunity to download films towatch at their convenience, hard drive recording, specialist film channels that are nowrelatively cheap to subscribe to or free to air and online rentals making the visit to the localBlockbuster unnecessary, cinema still survives (though Blockbuster won’t).So the question is—will cinema always survive technological change, or is the latesttechnology a bigger threat because it is at the exhibition end of the chain? Whereas thechanges in accessibility given above are to do with distribution, the pleasure of the filmicexperience is determined greatly by the size and quality of the screen.Hollywood films in particular are still largely driven by spectacle and noise, as well ascharacter and narrative (perhaps with an eye to the preservation of the cinema box office),and people still want to see these films on the biggest screen with the loudest sound.IMAXIMAX combines a horizontally run70mm film with screen size aslarge as 100ft x 75ft. The screenitself is slightly curved and withseating arranged in closerproximity, the screen imagewashes over the audience. Thissensory experience is extendedthrough the development ofhemispherical screens(OmnIMAX), 3D IMAX, wherethe `3D glasses that are wornrender the image (film) three-dimensional, and Showscan, whichcombines the large-screen formatwith synchronised, moving and tilting seats in the auditorium. Spectators no longer justwatch a film, they live it, more able than ever before to enter its imaginings.In short, film in the digital age and the age of computer mediated communicationtechnologies has metamorphosed into something touched by spectacle, by ease of use andease of access. Digital film revolutionises the production, distribution and exhibitionprocesses. Satellite and the Internet revolutionise not only the `public distribution andexhibition of film but the private sphere, as film/video increasingly starts or ends up on theWeb and downloaded from or into the home. 141
  12. 12. The question then arises: what are the consequences or implications for film and cinema nowand in the future from such radical transformations? Three potential scenarios emerge, eachoutlined below.1. The End of Narrative Cinema?It can be argued that the increasing use of digital special effects, across all generic types offilm, establishes the dominance of spectacle and the spectacular as the new structuring orlinguistic device in the way film tells its stories. In particular, visible special effects can beseen to come to displace narrative or three-dimensional characterisation, dramatic (human)encounter and plot development. In this conception, contemporary cinema is reduced to apurely – albeit spectacular – visual experience. In fact, it can be argued that visual effectscinema revisits early cinemas cinema of attractions, where what is shown (the wowmoment) is the main story, and the technology behind this vision the back story.Ridley Scotts Gladiator (2000) isarguably an example of this: it is thedigital reconstruction of Rome, theColosseum, the roaring crowds, thespectacular fight sequences, andultimately the digital reincarnation ofOliver Reed (who died while making thefilm) that makes the film a visual ratherthan a narrative experience. (Ridley Scottis often criticised for being just a visualfilm-maker, as a director who relies on theimage to tell a story.) If one links this tothe developments in screen projectionUMAX, OmnIMAX, and Showscan) thenvision or the visual-spectacular seems tobe the tour de force of modem cinema. However, it is with the science fiction/fantasy genrewhere the argument seems to have most weight. Not only is it with science fiction/fantasythat state-of-the-art special effects are often first developed and used, but the genre providesthe textual context for their use. Science fiction/fantasy films demand that everything fromalien beings to future societies be visually, believably created. Given that sciencefiction/fantasy films have now dominated box office takings for over 20 years (unlike, forexample, in the 1950s, where science fiction movies were low budget B movies), it is clearthat for audiences special effects cinema reigns supreme. Thomas Schatz makes this criticalconnection: From The Godfather to Jaws to Star Wars, we see films that are increasingly plot-driven, increasingly visceral, kinetic, and fast-paced, increasingly reliant on special effects, increasingly fantastic (and thus apolitical), and increasingly targeted at younger audiences. (1993)There is one further inflection to the argument: digital effects-based cinema connects film tothe theme park environment. It is argued that the digitally created special effect oftensimulates the theme park ride (as it does, for example during the pod race in Star WarsEpisode I The Phantom Menace (1999)). In this conception, narrative is totally effaced as thecinema experience mutates into the theme park ride. The connection, of course, is maintainedbecause many theme parks – Universal and Disney in particular – movie-theme their rides. 142
  13. 13. In summary, digital effects-based cinema supposedly sounds the death knell for narrativecinema, producing an aesthetic that relies on the visual, the spectacular and the theme parkride. Its visual aesthetic, then, ultimately ties it to the philosophical idea that the modernworld is lived and experienced in a culture of sight.2. The End of American Studio Domination?It can be reasoned that digital and computer mediated communication technologies have thecapability to democratise the processes of film-making and to challenge/change the wayfilms are produced, distributed and exhibited, undermining American studio domination ofthe film-making processes. The argument runs as follows:First, digital film-making technology enables a new generation of first-time film-makers toexplore the potentialities of film without the need for (very) expensive equipment, or forhighly specialised skills that take years of training to master. For example, the Britishdirector Shane Meadows first two films (Wheres the Money, Ronnie? and Smalltime, both1996) came out of his exploration of the video/digital version of the medium, independent offilm school training.The spectrum of budgets for digital movies is very wide. The Star Wars prequels are being shot with high-definition cameras and cost more than $100 million. Lars von Triers latest digital feature, Dancer in the Dark, cost about $13 million. Other established directors have made digital features in the $2- to $8-million range, including Mike Figgis (Time Code), Spike Lee(Bamboozled). Many novice filmmakers have directed first features for less than $10,000. Some have even been made for under $1,000. Shot with a consumer digital video camera on a $900 budget, the thriller The Last Broadcast is in home video and television distribution in the U.S. and abroad. Scientific American (November 2000)Second, computer mediated communication technologies such as the Internet have providedthese new independent digital film-makers with a distribution/transmission space thatrequires little investment to use, and which circumvent the normal (public distribution andexhibition sites for film (which are dominated by the American studios). A film made on aDV camera can then be edited at home, on a sophisticated domestic software package, andthen sold, rented or given free to Internet distribution companies to stream on-line.Third, digital technology opens up the way film texts are viewed and interacted with, sincethe digital image can be played around with again once it has left the author. With digitaltechnology, film endings can be re-written, agreed on communally, have multiple storylines,or simply appropriated by viewers who can reconfigure their structure and look. Forexample, the $6m interactive feature The Darkening (1997) was released on CD-ROM,enabling audiences to navigate their own way through a multi-layered and open-endednarrative. As Paul Schrader (1996) observes: ...digital images are manipulatable, not only by the artists but also by the viewer. Digital image and sounds can be altered. sounds and images can be added to a recording, digital images can be broken up, colorised, morphised.In short, digital and telecommunications technology have the potential to pluralise anddecentralise the way films transmitted, and are produced and financed, distributed/transnread by interactive audiences. 143
  14. 14. 3. The Death of Cinema?The most apocalyptic answer to the question of the effect of digitalisation and computermediated communication technologies on film has been to suggest that reel (celluloid) film isin a state of terminal decline and will in effect very quickly become an antiquated way tomake films. The argument runs that because digital is cheaper, the image that it produces ismore robust and yet more manipulative/flexible, and it is easier to use, film-makers willabandon celluloid altogether in the digital age. The sense of a potential loss here is great. It isargued that celluloid produces a particular type of moving image that represents action,drama, landscapes, etc. in particularly charged ways. With the death of celluloid comes thede-skilling of the industry as a range of professional roles are taken up by those who barelyknow (or need to know) how to hold a camera or measure light or frame a scene properly.The very nature of the democracy implied by digital film-making is that anybody, no matterhow inexperienced, can make a film.Further, with the potential digitalisation of cinemas, and the increasing use of the Internet tostream videos, the theatres where reel film can be shown are likely to diminish in numbersuntil they become mere museum pieces. just as today preservation groups place into heritageold Picture Palaces, tomorrow they will put preservation orders on projection rooms wherecelluloid was once put on flatbed platters. This is potentially then a double death: the deathof film stock and the death of the cameras and the projection equipment used to showcase it.Film-makers such as Paul Schrader celebrate this terminal decline, and wish for its death tocome quickly:Technologically, film - at least as theatrically exhibited - is very antiquated. We still showmoving pictures the way the Lumieres did, pumping electric light through semi-transparentcells, projecting shadows on a white screen. These techniques belong in a museum. A changeis overdue. (1996)Others would rather a future where old and new technologies existed side-by-side,plurahsing the form of the moving image in ways that a mono-technology could not achieve.However, there is one further turn to make in the argument about digital effects. If digitalbecomes the preferred film-making technology, if CGI becomes the dominant mode ofrepresentation (so much so that, for example, computer generated characters replace humanactors, such as in Final Fantasy (2001)), and if exhibition sites become more virtual as 144
  15. 15. physical celluloid is replaced by the digital image, then the total cinematic experiencebecomes one based on simulation and artifice. New Creative Options on the Digital Set - On a film set, the camera is rolling only a small percentage of the time because of the expense of stock and processing and the amount of time required to light and set up each shot. On a digital set, the camera is recording a much greater percentage of the time. Directors often use two cameras, something that is unaffordable on most conventional film sets. And because digital video production often necessitates a streamlined approach to crew and equipment, the resulting aesthetic choices frequently make lighting simpler and less time consuming. This lets filmmakers work with actors in ways that would be impossible on film. Directors can shoot rehearsals, capturing inspired moments that would otherwise have been lost. Scientific American (November 2000)Laggardly cinema at last starts to embrace digital The silver screen is slowly changing from celluloid to digital prints From The Times - June 23, 2006IN THE headlong rush to digital, cinema has lagged behind, at least until now. But a bigpush from film studios, distributors and the Film Council finally heralds the death ofcelluloid on the big screen and its replacement by digital technology. It took the US filmstudios three years to agree on a standard digital cinema model — so as not to findthemselves in a VHS versus Betamax or HD DVD versus Blu-ray scenario. But a decisionwas finally reached in July last year and a 200-page document compiled that set out the plan.Cinemas have lagged behind other media, mainly because of the price of installing digitalequipment. However, these costs have come down sharply, making a digital future morefeasible than ever.Howard Kiedaish, chief executive of Arts Alliance Media, a provider of film distributionservices, says: “Not only is digital cinema visually better, but it is cheaper to produce andcan be used time and time again without getting damaged, unlike the celluloid model.”Mr Kiedaish has calculated thatinstalling digital facilities at everyUK screen, of which there are3,486, would cost the industryabout £60,000 per cinema, or£209.2 million in total. However,he says, it would take just fiveyears for British cinemas to paythis off through the significant costsavings that would be achieved.The average cost of a celluloidprint is about £750, while a digitalcopy costs more like £125. Takinginto account that there are 71,960prints in Britain each year, MrKiedaish estimates the annual costsavings in this country alone to bealmost £45 million. 145
  16. 16. However, more exciting to film-makers such as of George Lucas and Peter Jackson are thevisual possibilities. No more will celluloid prints have to be passed from cinema to cinema,and get damaged on the way, ultimately affecting the clear, crisp picture necessary to givefull visual impact.“The quality of digital 3D cinema is far better than analogue. You don’t get sore eyes and itwill be taken more seriously by film producers,” says Mr Kiedaish, adding that there isspeculation that plans are being hatched to create 3D digital versions of Lord of The Ringsand Star Wars in the next few years.Digital could also change the day-to-day use of the cinema. Already the few digital cinemasthat exist in the UK are showing live World Cup football because it is possible to plug a set-top box into a digital projector. But there are quirkier ideas on how the cinema could beused.“A PlayStation 2, for example, could be plugged in to the digital projector, perhaps enablingmass competitions for children on a Saturday morning,” says Mr Kiedaish. “Belgian cinemachain Kinepolis has also used digital cinema to demonstrate an eye operation to traineedoctors.”But it was one of these opportunities that provoked the Film Council to invest £11.5 millionto convert 240 British cinemas to digital. The Film Council has different hopes of what itintends to achieve from its digital initiative.It has signed a contract with a number of mainstream cinemas and will fund their conversionto digital in exchange for access to specialist films. With the lower cost of digital prints,cinemas can more readily afford to take risks and buy more arthouse films.Meanwhile, the large cinema chains, such as Odeon and Vue, are in talks with the Americanstudios to invest themselves. The question is how fast the cinemas can get the necessaryfunding. As televisions get bigger and cheaper and DVD and video-on-demand release datesget closer to cinema release dates, cinemas need to start promoting themselves as strikingmultimedia experiences if they are to remain as popular as they were in the past.Avatar: changing the face of film for everAvatar is the game-changer that insiders have been waiting for. Forget the dialogue. Dont get too worked up about the plot. Caught in 3D at Londons bfi IMAX – the largest cinema screen in the UK – James Camerons Avatar is a gob-smacking sensory wow, setting an immediate new benchmark for the blockbuster. Camerons aim with this long-in- gestation sci-fi epic is to show off what digital 3D can do. And anyone with half an interest in what the future of film might look like is going to want to see it. 146
  17. 17. This certainly explains why the IMAX at Waterloo – perhaps the only known answer to thequestion "When is a cinema also a roundabout? – is swamped with as much human trafficright now as Harrods on Christmas Eve. Advance bookings have broken global records for asingle screen: at the IMAX alone, Avatar already had 47,487 ticket sales (a gross of morethan £600,000) a day before it opened.Demand for the film is such that this cinematic Mecca hardly shuts up shop. Even thescreenings at 3.40am are proving to be a sell-out. "Its mind-blowing," says Dennis Laws, thecinemas affable general manager, who has worked in the field of 3D projection for over 30years. "I dress like a punter and listen to the comments as people come out. Weve got fiveflights of stairs on the way down so I hear lots, and do it with several showings of each film."To date, Ive not heard anyone who hasnt said, I want to see it again. Theres so much tolook at, they want to rewind and enjoy that moment three or four more times. Thats thesecret – thats why Star Wars was so phenomenally successful." Its no surprise that Cameronhas the geek vote sewn up. His dedication to whizz-bang technical showmanship puts evenPeter Jackson and George Lucas in the shade. Hardcore fans know what extra amplificationIMAX can offer Avatar: theres no better place to gawp than on a screen the height of fivedouble-decker buses.The question is: how is it going to play everywhere else? Since it first entered production,the $300 million Avatar has been subject to the most intense industry scrutiny of anyblockbuster in memory, or at least since The Phantom Menace and The Fellowship of theRing. What had Cameron been keeping up his sleeve since Titanic? Was this really the"game-changer" we kept being told it was, and what might that even mean?Advances in digital 3D had been a step-by-step business since Robert Zemeckiss The PolarExpress in 2004, which still does healthy business at IMAXs each festive season. ButCameron was promising a huge leap forward: crystal-clear images without that halfway-to-a-cartoon look, and a new level of depth, detail and perspective. Its not just a movie the entireindustry is eagerly anticipating, but one it has had to adapt to accommodate."The most important thing that Avatar has done," explains Laws, "is to force the exhibitionindustry to get off the fence and make a decision as to whether to install digital projection,and more importantly digital 3D. Over the past four or five months, all the companies thatinstall these projectors have been going absolutely crazy." At the end of 2008, only 69screens in Britain could handle digital 3D. Now there are 375. This is in part thanks to helpfrom the UK Film Council, which is continuing its drive to help both multiplexes and smallercinemas switch to digital.In turn, distributors have more than doubled the number of 3D releases on their calendar – 13this year compared with six the year before. Next year, it will double again. One of thesefilms, the forthcoming StreetDance 3D, will be the first made in the UK by a Britishproduction company. Camerons original hope for Avatar was that it could be a 3D-onlyproposition, but however quickly cinemas scurried to update their capabilities, it wasnt quitequickly enough. The film is being shown in several formats, including conventional 2D.Whether audiences favour the 3D (and IMAX 3D) versions is a significant factor in how farAvatar will spearhead the 3D-ification of effects blockbusters to come.Avatar feels like an experience designed to convert the sceptics, because Cameron isnt justparading his third dimension as window-dressing but exploring it to the full, pushing therecesses of the screen back further than anyone has attempted before. The 3D application 147
  18. 18. isnt just a gimmick here – the gimcrack, poke-you-in-the-face provocation beloved of 1950screature-features – but a gateway to immersion in a strange new world. Disney and Pixarhave also pledged that all their animated features from now on will be in 3D. Still, PixarsUp attempted it with a softly-softly approach: there was nothing coming out at us frontally,leading doubters to question whether it needed to be in 3D at all."Its about educating the audience," thinks Laws. "You know you can do it, but the questionneeds to be asked: should you do it? Will the enjoyment be enhanced by 3D, or is it simplythere to add a couple more pounds to the ticket price?"What does seem clear at this stage, and Avatar makes even clearer, is that 3D is no longer apassing whim. "Digital has made the change," says Laws. "Way back in the 1970s, I ranpolarised 3D on 35mm. It was never any good. You had to go in person to every cinema thatshowed it. The projectionists werent trained on how to set the lenses up, and it was crucialthat it was set up correctly, otherwise it just didnt work. With digital, as long as no onefiddles with anything, it works."Whats particularly impressive about the Avatar experience at Londons IMAX is howperfectly Camerons showmanship marries with the venue. While I talk to Laws over thephone, theres a muffled roar, and he breaks off in mid-sentence. Theres been a front-of-house announcement; a screening is about to start, and thunderous applause can be heard ashe pushes his door ajar. Laws and his staff love to cultivate this air of expectation – its whatreally makes the fans feel theyre getting a different experience from what they watch athome, however elaborate their living-room set-up.This takes us right back to the 1950s, when 3D came in, along with CinemaScope and suchinstantly obsolete fads as Smell-O-Vision, to tempt viewers away from their tellies and backto the silver screen. Its souped-up re-emergence, in an age of Blu-ray and 100-inch plasmascreens, is serving a similar purpose. As the roar subsides, Law sounds like a satisfiedringmaster. "Those people now have adrenalin running through them like you cant believe.Half of the people in there will have never been in a cinema where everybody has clappedand cheered."As it starts, they wind up the sound on that 20th Century Fox drumroll – "to really make itsmack them in the stomach". Revolution may be too early to call, but the ticket barriers canconsider themselves stormed. 148
  19. 19. isnt just a gimmick here – the gimcrack, poke-you-in-the-face provocation beloved of 1950screature-features – but a gateway to immersion in a strange new world. Disney and Pixarhave also pledged that all their animated features from now on will be in 3D. Still, PixarsUp attempted it with a softly-softly approach: there was nothing coming out at us frontally,leading doubters to question whether it needed to be in 3D at all."Its about educating the audience," thinks Laws. "You know you can do it, but the questionneeds to be asked: should you do it? Will the enjoyment be enhanced by 3D, or is it simplythere to add a couple more pounds to the ticket price?"What does seem clear at this stage, and Avatar makes even clearer, is that 3D is no longer apassing whim. "Digital has made the change," says Laws. "Way back in the 1970s, I ranpolarised 3D on 35mm. It was never any good. You had to go in person to every cinema thatshowed it. The projectionists werent trained on how to set the lenses up, and it was crucialthat it was set up correctly, otherwise it just didnt work. With digital, as long as no onefiddles with anything, it works."Whats particularly impressive about the Avatar experience at Londons IMAX is howperfectly Camerons showmanship marries with the venue. While I talk to Laws over thephone, theres a muffled roar, and he breaks off in mid-sentence. Theres been a front-of-house announcement; a screening is about to start, and thunderous applause can be heard ashe pushes his door ajar. Laws and his staff love to cultivate this air of expectation – its whatreally makes the fans feel theyre getting a different experience from what they watch athome, however elaborate their living-room set-up.This takes us right back to the 1950s, when 3D came in, along with CinemaScope and suchinstantly obsolete fads as Smell-O-Vision, to tempt viewers away from their tellies and backto the silver screen. Its souped-up re-emergence, in an age of Blu-ray and 100-inch plasmascreens, is serving a similar purpose. As the roar subsides, Law sounds like a satisfiedringmaster. "Those people now have adrenalin running through them like you cant believe.Half of the people in there will have never been in a cinema where everybody has clappedand cheered."As it starts, they wind up the sound on that 20th Century Fox drumroll – "to really make itsmack them in the stomach". Revolution may be too early to call, but the ticket barriers canconsider themselves stormed. 148

×