A Few Words About A few words about...™ Digital Projection in the wild

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Robert Harris, Apr 28, 2012.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Digital projection is the greatest thing to hit cinema since 1894.

    Digital projection is the worst thing to hit cinema since 1894.

    I remember in 1992, unsatisfied with a presentation of Ron Howard's Far and Away in 70mm, my friend Roy Frumkes set upon the task of visiting every theatre within a couple of hundred miles to try and find those that still possessed the technical ability and desire to properly present, not only 70mm, but film.

    70mm had something really going for it in terms of high quality. When it came to projection, the size of that hole through which the image is projected comes to the fore. An immense amount of light is available. Far more than enough to reach that 14 - 16 fl standard.

    But what he was seeing, along with everyone else was closer to 8.

    A dim image affects sharpness, contrast and everything else that makes up a motion picture, including acting.

    When there used to be problems with projection in the analogue world, they generally involved poor illumination, focus, framing, bob & weave... all followed by the condition of the print.

    With digital projection, society seems to have returned to the wild west.

    The best of analogue projectors, the Norelco AAII and their brethren have given way to Christie, Sony et al, and just like a Norelco, that brand spanking new Sony 4k machine, the consummate piece of electronic and digital art, is just another piece of junk unless it's properly set up, attended to, run and maintained by an entity and people who care.

    Care not only about projection, but about...

    THE SHOW!

    I've been reading about problematic digital shows for the past year. Ben-Hur didn't do too well. I've heard of problems with The Godfather from people I trust. West Side Story.

    And now Casablanca.

    What is so difficult about running a classic black & white film from a DCP?

    Apparently, quite a bit.

    First you've got to hope you're not projecting on a silver screen. If you are, you'll have hot spots.

    Have 3D adapters been removed for 2D shows?

    You've got to deal with understanding what precisely is on that hard drive, what you do with it, and how you get it on screen.

    And it doesn't matter what new-fangled junk has made its way to you from Sony's factory in Japan, if that piece of junk just gets put on a platform and pointed in the general direction of the screen.

    I'm not picking on Sony here. All digital equipment is junk if it's just taken out of the box and just turned on. All of it.

    With Lawrence of Arabia about to be screened in Cannes, I have no idea what the result will be. It is entirely possible that people will leave thinking that Freddie Young was some hack that didn't know which side of a camera held a lens. And if that happens you've got to blame everyone involved.

    From the projector designers and manufacturers, down to the techs and management.

    I'm presuming that a screening at The Cannes Film Festival will be a cut above, but there are no assurances, especially with digital.

    Let's return to the problem of projecting a 4k DCP through a new Sony 4k projector.

    Once properly set up, it shouldn't be a horrifically difficult situation, but it turns out it is.

    I received a call last evening from a friend who knows projection, color, densities -- everything about the what and how of putting on a show.

    He had gone to see Casablanca with some friends at the Island 16: Cinema De Lux in Holtsville, NY. That's out on the Island. The theater is part of the National Amusements chain.

    I don't know if all readers are familiar with Casablanca, but it's a film from 1942, shot in black & white. It recently went through a 4k restoration. The data files, and the resultant Blu-ray disc are beautiful.

    At the De Lux, the image was not black & white. From what I'm told it was magenta on one side of the screen and green on the other. And apparently nothing could be done about it.

    The question is, who is to be blamed?

    Sony, for producing a projector that can't cope with black & white?

    Doubtful.

    Management, for not caring?

    Projectionists, for possibly not knowing what they were doing?

    I guess the question needs to be asked. Are there projectionists?

    Or is the junk turned on by a high school-age girl who makes change for Goobers, and then runs to the booth to start the show?

    I don't have answers.

    But this is just one more unfortunate episode in the replacement of analogue projection equipment with digital.

    What should be simple and reasonably fool-proof, is not.

    Now here's the rub.

    I've seen brilliant digital projection. Sony, Christie... both yielding magnificent images, that can, based upon the data transferred to the DCP, look exceedingly film-like.

    Magnificent. Perfect.

    The question is how, in the wild, do we get to a point where it's a safe bet to go to a movie theater and see something that was made on film, should look like film, and have a quality performance?

    Or for that matter, something shot as data.

    Movie-going is an expensive experience. Fuel to get you to the theater, potentially a sitter, tickets, concessions...

    Problems occur. But the roll-out of digital projection to the wilds, seems to have been rife with them. All of the bugs should be worked out before a paying audience comes through the doors.

    If theaters are to flourish, paying audience need to be treated with far more respect than they seem to be currently receiving, especially from organizations that seem to play upon the words, "restoration," "classic," and the concept of the Event performance.

    All of this makes the wonderful little Blu-ray disc and home theater seem to be the winner.

    BTW, Casablanca was a TCM Event. If TCM is unable to get a handle on quality, possibly there should be no more.

    RAH
     
    Techman707 likes this.
  2. haineshisway

    haineshisway Producer

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    My experiences with digital projection haven't been great and therefore I don't want to go the the movie theaters anymore. If the Chinese, when projecting a Harry Potter movie first-run come up with an image that is muddy, dark and nothing like film, well, why do I need to be there? It's the CHINESE for heaven's sake. The DGA thankfully still runs a lot of film. Film is film. Obviously stuff shot on the red camera or HD is fine for digital projection. But for things shot in 70mm or older classics - sorry, no one is getting my dough unless it's a print - a PRINT - FILM.
     
  3. Jim*Tod

    Jim*Tod Second Unit

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    This is another issue, but TCM HD has recently been showing a variety of films in the wrong aspect ratio. There seems to be a trend toward showing movies there no matter the original shape in 1.75. This was true of showings of the original 30's STATE FAIR, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, and CHARLEY... and there are other examples. I am not sure TCM is as interested in quality as they once were.
    I did notice the announcement of LAWRENCE showing at Cannes. Based on your comments Mr. Harris, it sounds like you were not involved in this new restoration, if indeed this is a true restoration. I am sure this is heralding some new showings in the U.S. and of course the long awaited blu ray of this title. Obviously we fans of LOA will be very anxious to hear what you think of this new version, as well as the blu ray. And I also wonder if new 70mm prints will be created for this version.
    I have seen some impressive and some very poor digital presentations... at least once where the film was shot for 1.85 and shown at 2.35, cutting off important subtitles. When I complained, I was told the projectors were set up each Thursday and nothing could be changed. No matter how one feels about digital projection (and it clearly is taking over quickly), I think it might have been less easy for this transition to take place had we not had at least three decades where film was poorly presented.... so essentially a whole generation has not seen film done right. It is sad to say, but more and more I am finding that my modest home theatre with a 50" plasma is actually a better experience than most local theatres.
    As for event films... let it also be said many of the classic films shown around the country recently like SOUND OF MUSIC and BEN-HUR were shown without intermission or any sense of how the overture, entre'acte, and exit music should be handled.
    I am excited though that the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, MD , is planning a 70mm festival this summer. I would strongly encourage those people, especially on the east coast where 70mm screenings are rare, who care about film presentation to make a point to come and and attend as many of these screenings as possible. It may be a last gasp for this format, but AFI needs to see there is an audience for this type of film and we should show our support for their efforts.
     
  4. bgart13

    bgart13 Screenwriter

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    One somewhat simple answer is the distributors need to include specific instructions for projector settings and send inspectors around to each and every theater. Either that, or maybe distributors need to show up when the "prints" are delivered and set the projectors correctly if the theater managers aren't able to do so. If they can't project films correctly, these theaters need to have some kind of fine placed on them for not following the directions.
    Will this happen? Nah, movie companies and distributors don't care enough, unfortunately. The unions, if they're still involved with projectionists, should step up -- but they won't, there's no money in it for them so why should they bother? Maybe the film companies should be able to remotely check the projectors' settings from their offices via computers and adjust thusly. There are ways to fix this, but so far no one but a handful of capable and caring people are willing to try.
     
  5. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    Jim,
    Regarding TCM, I have feeling it's a technical issue with the local cable operator. The broadcast on TCM I viewed of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein a few months back was cropped to 16x9 but friends who saw it in another town (and a different cable operator) said that it was not cropped for them on that same viewing. My guess is that there's a electronic flag of some sort that identifies the ratio that goes over the satellite to the local operator and it is, perhaps, being mis-used. I don't know much of anything about how cable systems work, so maybe someone else here does know and can look into it.
     
  6. Jim*Tod

    Jim*Tod Second Unit

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    I have commented on the TCM issue in another thread... there have been more than one... so I tend to think it is not the local cable operator, so much as someone asleep at the switch at TCM. It would be a sad thing if this were the case. Even on the TCM site there are more than a few threads about this and the only response so far is to indicate the people don't have their tvs set up correctly. My thought is that studios providing the films are going with a one size fits all approach to HD movies. Let's hope they can fix this.
     
  7. Charles Smith

    Charles Smith Extremely Talented Member
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    Lots to think about here.

    Those few words should be plastered on the front page of every newspaper in the U.S.

    I will happily drive down to Silver Spring to get me some 70mm.
     
  8. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    This was a viable situation for 70mm, or for distribution when the pattern was 300 prints.

    With 5,000 + "prints" all going on screen the same weekend, this get a bit tougher, and it's up to the theaters to find a way to quality -- if they so choose.

    RAH
     
  9. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    My involvement began several years ago, going over the last set of scans with Columbia's Grover Crisp. He's been handling the digital scan in 8k, finding the right places to do the clean-up job, which has been immense, and then color, based upon the 1988 70mm prints. My role has been advisory, and from what I've seen thus far, the image quality is stellar, and actually the best I've seen down-rezzed to an HD master. Far better than any of the other 65mm derived material.

    From what I've been told, there will be both DCP as well as 70mm availability.

    RAH
     
  10. rsmithjr

    rsmithjr Screenwriter

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    DCP offers the possibility of being quite good. I suspect that we have to work towards more automation in the system so that things like focus, sound level, and color balance are handled by default using sensors. Sony has a network control center concept where individual screens can be monitored from a networked site. This sounds promising.
    It is also to be remembered that exhibition had many problems in the past. I have often charged out to the lobby (and sometimes the booth) to report issues. A few examples:
    -- Lawrence shown a number of years ago as a part of a new theatre's opening celebration. The print was threaded flopped, however, so that the titles read backwards. Oddly, a muffled version of the soundtrack could be heard with the magnetic reproducers reading through the film! I raced to the lobby. They did start over again, but it took 20 minutes to correct.
    -- A recent showing of The Sound of Music at the Seattle Cinerama theatre. The DTS reproducer failed. It took quite a while to fix. I was told that the problem had occurred earlier in the week at a film festival.
    -- Most 70mm showings today are done without any testing or preparation. You simply cannot perform roadshow-quality exhibition without a lot of planning. When a festival is showing 10 prints in a week, this is hard to do properly. Hence, nothing really works right.
    -- Certain films had parts of the print that projectionists would cut out. I remember that there is a famous scene in Blow-up that was continually getting stolen. The film depot had extra copies of the scene and kept reinserting them in the prints!
    -- I knew a projectionist who would drop out the "boring" parts of movies. One day, he ran The Leopard, a beautiful but slow film by Viconti photographed in Technirama. He dropped so much of it that the theatre closed at 10pm! The house was a chain house run out of New York so no one knew anything or cared less.
    -- In the south, it used to be common practice to cut the parts of films with black characters, especially musical acts.
    -- Reels backwards, wrong lens, wrong sound system. I knew one projectionist years ago who never threaded magnetic prints to play in stereo. It was an extra loop of the film to go through the magnetic reproducer and he didn't think it was fair to have to do that for no extra pay.
    -- If I started on driveins,we would be here another week!
    Let us not get too romantic about the analog past, it had a lot of problems. When it was great, it was absolutely great, and that is what we all like to remember.
     
  11. Jim*Tod

    Jim*Tod Second Unit

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    Thanks for your response Mr. Harris. Knowing you have been involved in an advisory capacity makes me more confident this new version of LOA will be everything it should be.
     
  12. Adam Lenhardt

    Adam Lenhardt Executive Producer

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    A lot of these one night only showtimes seem to use the Fathom Events model, where they're streaming the video live from a source elsewhere via satellite. Obviously, a quality presentation is dependent on a dependable signal from the source. If anything interrupts the transmission, it affects what shows up on the screen.
    I can't speak for everywhere, but the local Regal mutiplexes utilizing the Sony 4k projectors provide a superior picture to anything I've seen previously. The film presentations locally at all except the art house theater have been dependably out of focus for years now.
    It's probably just an anecdotal thing, but I've experienced far more analog issues over the years than I have digital issues. I still remember the screening I attended for "Me, Myself and Irene" at a little village in the Adirondacks. The whole frame was projected from the booth, and it became a fun game to count all of the boom mikes and the like drifting into the top of the shot. The last film faux pas I can remember was "Scary Movie 4", when the print snapped with a half hour of the movie remaining. It took them a good fifteen minutes to get things running again. The only problems I've had at digital screenings have been from outside forces; a power outage during "Inception" just as the van's about to hit the water, and a fire alarm fifteen minutes into Harry Potter 7. In both cases, they were able to resume the presentation immediately, exactly where we'd left off, as soon as the situation had been resolved.
     
  13. TravisR

    TravisR Studio Mogul

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    I have the same basic experience. Living in suburban Pennsylvania, I'm probably never going to see a movie in a well-known or respected theater in Los Angeles or New York and when I look at the quality of presentation at my local theaters (except the art houses) when they were still 35mm and the quality of presentation with digital today, I can easily say that digital presentation has made the theaters near me better. I might have a different view if I was seeing a 35mm print shown by people who know what they've doing but in the real world, I've got to deal with the fact that the 'projectionist' is also the same uninterested teen who sells popcorn so I'll take the presentation that lessens the chance of human error.
     
  14. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    At the heart of what seems to be a problem is the necessity to have a presumption of quality, very much like that same need for Blu-ray discs.

    One should be able to depend upon the fact that they will get a quality performance / disc, rare tech problems aside.

    RAH
     
  15. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    The Answer is not at Exhibition but at Warner Bros. They did not send a DCP of Casablanca ANYWHERE. Casablanca wasn't "good enough" to be treated properly by WB with a DCP distribution. Instead they let the horrific Fathom Events handle Casablanca.

    Fathom Events broadcast 1080i images to multiplexes via a satellite--it's basically DirectTV quality (which you can imagine looks WONDERFUL on a theatre screen (note sarcasm).

    Virtually every multiplex in the country runs Fathom Events on an consumer, "off the shelf" projector they bought at Best Buy. Usually, these projectors are the cheapest model that can be found. These projectors are used to run the ads and slideshows before the REAL projector is turned on for the trailers and film.

    The problem lies entirely with Warner for supporting Fathom events in lieu of distributing a DCP.

    I'm sure Fathom is anxious to distribute Lawrence of Arabia the same way.
     
  16. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    This gets curiouser and curiouser. My friend asked specifically what they were running, and was told a DCP in 4k.

    Sounds like he was "misinformed."

    If that is Fathom's business model, I'll not be a fan.

    Let's take it one step further. If this is the best that TCM cares to do, I'd suggest they shut down their "events."

    Quickly.

    Turner Classics may have once been an organization that had some interest in film and film history, but they seem to have
    turned away, and may now be after the quick buck. This makes everyone involved look bad.

    And let the public see films properly.

    In their home theaters.

    "This way to the egress."

    RAH
     
  17. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    The Fathom events I've seen recently in northern New Jersey at AMC locations have been via their standard digital cinema projectors ( Sony, IIRC). The content for some of them has been via DCP, live events are from satellite. About 3 or 4 years ago I went to my first Fathom and it was showing on the preshow machine, which obviously didn't look very good. The next year I took another chance and was very happy to see the changed their projection to using the cinema projector.
     
  18. Adam_S

    Adam_S Producer

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    Interesting to hear, Peter. Are you sure they're presenting DCP or are they just upconverting the satellite feed and calling it a DCP?

    I ask because when Wizard of Oz went through this same "event" with TCM in October 2009 I contacted the Bridge cinema de lux (since renamed rave cinemas) here in los angeles to ask if they were showing it in 2k or 4k. I got this reply:




    Quote:

    As best I know, only three films have been distributed as DCPs to theatre chains: Blade Runner, Dr. Strangelove, and Taxi Driver. the first two played here at the Landmark in Los Angeles, and I think Blade Runner may have also played at many other theatres around town. Taxi Driver was a one night event at AMC. Otherwise, virtually all the classic releases are handled by Fathom.
     
  19. Peter Apruzzese

    Peter Apruzzese Producer

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    You know what, I'm going to have to ask a friend who works at AMC. I might have confused the Fathom shows with the others you mentioned as I know Taxi Driver was DCP, but I'm guessing not a Fathom show. Regardless, at the local AMC's all of these events have been on the cinema machines no matter the source.
     
  20. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    A couple of shots from a Fathom show in Boston.

    Only shot, from back of house, because of what was perceived as a minor problem.

    See anything wrong with the black & white image?

    [​IMG]

    Kevin Miller, ISF, who keeps my hardware in perfect tune, will be dealing further with an in-depth blog that will appear on Tweaktv and HDJ.

    I cannot imagine why anyone would wish to view TV on a large screen, even without paying for it.

    RAH
     

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