D-Cinema When Its Ready
a hot year at the box office. Receipts are up 23 percent, admits
up 18. One of the reasons, of course, is Star Wars: Episode
II Attack of the Clones. George Lucas and Rick McCallum
have produced a wonderful picture, and were grateful.
this, I have to point out that these enormously talented filmmakers
are completely wrong about the readiness of digital cinema and the
importance of projecting their movie with that technology. Rick
recently encouraged Star Wars fans to e-mail us in support
of digital cinema. (Weve received 200 or so such e-mails.)
For the record, heres our response:
Thank you for
your recent communication with the National Association of Theatre
Owners regarding your support for the implementation of digital
cinema in movie theatres. We appreciate hearing from our patrons.
holds great promise for the future of motion picture exhibition.
Indeed, I believe that the transition to digital cinema is inevitable
for many reasons. Eventually, digital cinema will provide consistently
improved quality. Digital cinema movies will not degrade like 35mm
prints do currently. Digital cinema may also enable greater access
to more films in more markets. Finally, digital projection technologies
will enable theatre operators to experiment with other forms of
entertainment, such as concerts, sporting events, and educational
For all these
reasons, NATO and our members have devoted considerable resources
to the study of, testing of and experimentation with digital projection
technologies. And we are making progress. But a mass conversion
to digital technologies is premature at this stage. We dont
want to prevent the onset of digital cinema. We just want to make
sure that we get it right. Several important questions must be answered.
First, we need
global, uniform technical standards to facilitate interoperability
and compatibility of equipment. Without these standards, certain
movies might play in some but not all locations. Indeed, the experimental
systems in the market now are incompatible prototypes. Moreover,
equipment component parts must be compatible and interoperable to
promote upgrades and competition. Without competition, ticket prices
will soar as expensive, monopolistic technologies drive the pricing
We are working
with various standards committees and our partners at the movie
studios to develop these standards. Much progress has been made.
But we arent there yet.
Second, we need
to negotiate a comprehensive business and financing plan with the
studios to facilitate roll-out of the equipment. The numbers currently
dont add up. Our theatre members can buy top-of-the-line 35mm
projection equipment for $30,000 and that projector will last 25
years or more. Digital projectors cost $150,000 or more, and may
become obsolete in 2-3 years as new generations at higher quality
and lower price come on line. Were theatre owners to pay for the
equipment now, ticket prices would soar.
I know youd
like to see movies like Star Wars Episode II in d-cinema
everywhere. But would you really like to pay $50 per ticket to see
it that way? We must drive costs down, and work out a financing
plan with the studios, before wide commercial implementation is
need d-cinema systems that can guarantee improved picture quality
for all types of movies. Digitally shot and enhanced movies like
Star Wars, or animated pictures, may look clean in digital
projection. But many other movies may still look better in 35mm.
This is the reason why the American Society of Cinematographers
believes that the implementation of d-cinema is premature. We need
systems that improve the quality across the board. We cannot undertake
the most costly technological transition in our history simply for
one film even for a film as important as Star Wars.
We are grateful
to the many studios that have experimented with the release of movies
in digital format. Indeed, Episode II is the largest
experiment to date, showing on more than 60 systems. These experiments
will show us all the promise of digital cinema, but we must get
this right. The next generation of equipment will be better. The
standards will be developed soon. The financial models will be negotiated.
And the quality will be improved.
In the meantime,
thank you for your thoughts and your patronage.
See you at the