What Happened Last Night

We all have nights we’d rather forget. But, sometimes it’s better to talk about it the morning after. And given that we’re in a relationship here (we the cinema, you the audience), it’s probably for the best that we tell you what happened and, most importantly, why it happened the way it did.

Last night we had an unexpected, unwanted and unpleasant delay to our screening of Take Shelter – the first feature in our Wicked Wednesday double bill. I use the words unexpected, unwanted and unpleasant because we’d like you to know that it was for us very much as it was for you – and it was also something that arose out of our control. As the cinema in this relationship there are many aspects of your experience that are within our control; the atmosphere you take in when you visit the Astor is something we work hard at crafting to provide to the best of our ability, given that it too falls within the confines of often extraneous factors. But sometimes those extraneous factors, that we do our very best to work within and to work with, present themselves in such a way that we can’t control the outcome and consequently all we can do is deal with the problem at hand as quickly – and hopefully – as best possible at the times when they occur.

The landscape of the industry is changing, rapidly. Most of you will already know this because we share with you the changes as they occur. Last year, we installed a new, state of the art, Barco 32B 4K digital projector. The reasons for doing so were varied and many. With so many wonderful classic film prints having been “junked” (destroyed) over the years and with the unavailability (certainly commercially) of so many film prints there has always been a huge void in what we were able to show in a theatrical environment (this is not even including the various issues surrounding the availability of valid film rights). The advent of digital projection and the increase in availability of digital formats for classic and cult films has indeed opened up some truly wonderful opportunities for us to present to you films otherwise confined to the small screen (among them films such as Taxi Driver, Dr Strangelove, South Pacific, Oklahoma! and Labyrinth, to name a few). Further to this, the major studios within the industry are moving towards what is being hailed as the “digital revolution”. The term itself is terrifying. Whilst there are many advantages to digital presentation there are, as with anything, pitfalls too. What we are seeing now is the removal of 35mm film prints in favour of digital presentation, most often DCPs (Digital Cinema Package).

Unlike 35mm film prints that are tangible, come on spools, and run through a mechanical projector, DCPs are files that are ingested into the digital projector which is in many ways simply a very high-tech computer system. Because the physical file is ingested into a projector it can – if the cinema has enough space on its server – be kept there indefinitely and so, having created this situation themselves, the studios and distributors lock the files so that they can only be screened at the times scheduled, booked and paid for by the cinema. This means each DCP comes with what is called a KDM (Key Delivery Message). The KDM unlocks the content of the file and allows the cinema to play the film. It is time sensitive and often is only valid from around 10 minutes prior to the screening time and expiring as close to 5 minutes after the scheduled time. Aside from the obvious fact that this means screenings really do need to run according to scheduled time, it is also means the projectionist can’t test to see if the KDM works or that the quality of the film is right before show time. This isn’t always a problem. But when it is…

When it is a problem we have what happened last night. The KDM we received for Take Shelter didn’t work. We discovered this about ten minutes prior to show time. Being a cinema, and holding evening screenings we couldn’t just call the distributor to get another one because they work office hours. So, our steps began with calling a 24 hour help line in the US. Once we went through the process of authenticating our cinema and scheduled screening we were told we had to call London to authorise another KDM for this particular screening. After calling London and re-authenticating our cinema and session, we were told we could be issued another KDM, but not before the distributor also authorised it. This meant another 5-10 minute delay as we waited for the distributor to confirm that we were indeed allow to show the film at this time. Once confirmation was received we waited for the new KDM to be issued. The KDM arrives as an email zip attachment that then needs to be unzipped, saved onto a memory stick and uploaded onto the server. This takes another 5-10 minutes. Once uploaded the projector needs to recognise the KDM and unlock the programmed presentation. Thankfully, this worked. However, until the very moment when it did we were as unsure as our audience as to whether or not the new KDM would work and therefore whether or not our screening would actually go ahead.

This is one example of one incident in one cinema. There are thousands upon thousands of screenings at cinemas just like us all over the world constantly experiencing these same issues. Had we been presenting the film in 35mm it would have started on time. The projectionist would have had the film print made up, threaded up and aligned before you even took your seats, heck, before we even opened our front doors for the night. But this is the situation the industry has created and one that they continue to tout as superior to the presentation of 35mm film. I’m not saying there aren’t advantages to digital cinema but what I am saying is that there are problems. And worse still, problems that are often out of our control but that make us look incompetent. We employ fully trained projectionists  at the Astor Theatre, you know, the kind who have more than twenty years experience each, who used to hold a projectionists’ license (when there existed such a thing), and if a reel of film were to break, or the projector were to need maintenance, or if a lamp needed changing, they would be qualified and able to solve the problem on the spot. With digital however there is no skill in the problem solving; it requires above all else, phone calls, emails and delays. The fact that I – who holds only the most elementary and theoretical training in cinema projection – can even be a part of the process of “solving” the issue at hand demonstrates clearly just how removed the industry is becoming from its own medium, its own unique essence.

We’re not saying that digital is the devil but we want you know what’s at stake. The industry is determined to remove film prints from circulation – they openly say that there won’t be film prints in theatrical circulation within just a couple of years’ time. There are instances in the US already where some studios are refusing to freight 35mm film prints to cinemas. The pressure this puts on independent cinemas to “convert to digital” however is a topic for another blog post, another time. What I’d really like to leave you with here is the essence of how last night made us feel: the industry is shifting – not only its medium, not only its focus, but with it – and most significantly for theatres like us – it’s shifting the element of control. We’re in relationship with you, our audience, but it seems to me as though someone is trying to break us up. We want to continue to give you the experience you expect and deserve when you visit our theatre, and we want more than anything for you know that even though we can’t promise it won’t happen again, we’ll do everything we can to continue to fight for this relationship and the first step to repairing the damage done last night is to be honest with you about how and why it happened.

Written by Tara Judah for the Astor Theatre.

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About The Astor Theatre Blog

The home of restored classics, Double Features, cult favourites, Melbourne's most beloved film icon is one of the last independent film houses left in Victoria, and the last of the city's grand old art deco film palaces still in operation since 1936. We are one of two venues in Australia able to show 70mm print film and are committed to the preservation of the cinema going experience, providing a unique experience, value for money and the best darn choc-ices ever! Keep an eye out for our resident cat Marzipan! Visit us at www.astor-theatre.com

40 thoughts on “What Happened Last Night

  1. Touchingly written. DCP is still a very new. All new systems will have teething problems. Computing, at its base, is a mechanical process. I remember seeing Aliens at the Astor with reels 2 and 3 swapped in place. The human factor is sometimes desirable, sometimes not. I think that digital projection is a good thing because it removes one of the barriers to the democratisation of film. It will continue to get better and will eventually be able to emulate film. That’s coming from Rodger Deakins. New audiences will fall in love with the new aspects of projection and will not have the nostalgia for gate weave like we do.
    The article doesn’t discuss why the key was incorrect for the DCP. That sounds like a ‘human’ error, rather than a ‘machine’ one. The trouble with information is that it is free by its nature. If you try to contain it with encryption it finds a way around it, like the lesbian dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it. The sooner the entertainment industries learn to accept that the better, because these DRM hiccups aren’t going away.

    • Agreed totally. I could tell you countless stories from my projectionist days about film prints not arriving in time, the wrong film arriving, the film arriving on crossover at the last minute, with the previous cinema having trashed it (too late to rehearse, repair and/or return for a replacement), the film arriving with two reel 3s and no reel 5, and so on and so forth. And on the subject of Jurassic Park, I once had a print arrive for a pre-release premiere, less than an hour before showtime, with the DTS timecode printed incorrectly and the backup SR track being of the German dub (that went down really well in rural south-west England!).

      The point I am trying to make is exactly the same as yours: in this incident we are not dealing with a fundamental flaw in the technology itself, but rather with an incompetent distributor who has failed to implement it properly. It’s simply the modern equivalent of the distributor who ships you two reel 3s and no reel 5, with the print not arriving in time to do anything about it. That doesn’t make 35mm useless, any more than a distributor who fails to issue a valid KDM makes the DCP useless.

      If you want to arrive at any valid conclusions as to the comparative reliability of film vs. DCP, you would need to examine data for a proper sample of revenue-earning screenings (I’d say at least several thousand). These would need to be categorised into the type of show (mainstream, arthouse, one-off premiere, answerprint screening etc.), the type of technology in use (film/long play, film/changeover, e-cinema, DCP) and the event outcome (no technical incident, programme screened with delays, programme screened with interruptions, programme screened with other technical incident, screening cancelled due to technical incident). Only that sort of data would be able to tell you if there is an inherent problem with the technology and/or an systemic problem with the way the technology is being managed, and/or a combination of the two. I suspect it’s data that the multiplex chains are already gathering.

    • With all due respect, I don’t see how what you’re predicting will come true–that digital will be able to emulate film and those who love film will come around to like digital. I avoid digital projections at all cost, and go out of my way to see movies where they are shown in 35mm. The reason is that 35mm has a warmth and a texture and a depth about it. Whereas digital I find to be cold and sterile and bright and without movement inherent within the image. It leaves me cold emotionally, whereas watching actual film brings me in to the world that the filmmakers have created. I feel transported with film, and I don’t with digital. Thank heaven for seeing the film grain, texture, even mild imperfections in the image–it makes me feel that I’m watching something that is removed from reality. The fact that the industry is trying to, through digital, to achieve a “perfect,” pristine, intense image that approximates the real world as much as possible (same with 3D), the less I’m taken out of reality and put into another world to be entertained. The last thing I want in watching movies is to get closer and closer to seeing things exactly as they are in real life. There is no escape in that. One of the great things about movies is the Escape. I’m very sad over the fact that film will be no more. The industry is trying to increase its profit margin by reducing costs by going digital, but it’s sacrificing the very basis of what makes movie viewing so wonderful.

      • I will never ‘come around to digital’ it offers inferior (contrary to the studios press kit) pictures quality and to put it bluntly, it sucks. I will never, ever pay to watch a classic projected in a cinema. I’ve already got refunds for three movies that the cinemas assured me would be 35mm, and weren’t. At the end of the film I complained and got a refund. There’s no point in even going to the cinema to watch classics when you’re going to project Blu Ray and DVD discs, they weren’t designed for 50 foot cinema screens, they were designed for HD TV sets.

      • Hi Jamie,
        Digital is so much more than home entertainment. For example a 4K restoration such as Taxi Driver. A screen, sound system, atmosphere and environment that is superior to home entertainment viewing. But of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions and no one would force you to watch digital if you didn’t want to. What we advertise in terms of formats is what we screen unless there is an unforeseen issue with a film print when it arrives – for example, The Night of the Iguana was missing an entire spool.
        We are passionate about film prints too and we hope you can continue to enjoy 35mm prints at the Astor well into the future as well as rare 70mm film prints as we intend to continue screening them alongside digital for many years to come.

      • Replying here to the Astor’s response to Jamie’s comment: Theatrical digital projection may of course be superior to home entertainment, but, as I believe Jamie was pointing out in agreement with my earlier posting, digital is inferior to film projection. I’ve explained my view of this in my earlier posted comments. I feel for theaters that are being forced to convert to digital because the industry is abandoning film prints, and at least it’s to the Astor’s credit that it says it will continue to project 35mm and 70mm, even as it is being forced to also screen digitally.

      • That’s a really interesting perspective. I happen to like digital projection precisely because the picture looks more realistic (to me) and there aren’t any occasional holes in it (don’t know if there’s a technical term…). I guess I naively assumed everyone else felt the same way.

        I hope for your sake that theaters will be able to continue showing traditional film in addition to digital, so we can both enjoy our movies :-)

    • Yes–touchingly written indeed. Clearly, if the industry put as much thought into the filmgoing and film-projecting experience as the Astor Theatre did, there would be far fewer problems. I am a projectionist for a small-town theatre in Canada where we have to get a digital projector and I wish more people were aware that it’s not some magical, quantum leap forward. The major movie studios have long been desperately scared of piracy and having to follow the path of the music industry, and so they keep hanging on to brutally possessive ways of projecting and filming (e.g. 3D), often at the expense of the audience.

    • As an IT person for nearly 20 years, as someone who has known that DRM was a completely moronic idea for nearly 30 years — I cracked a couple game copy protections in the 80s — I can’t help but snicker at the naïveté towards computing exemplified here.

      Let me tell you a little secret: IT people don’t ever talk of “human error” vs “machine error.” I’ve never heard it put it that way in the business. That’s because we all KNOW that computer systems are designed and maintained by fallible humans. Every IT professional, from the lowly desktop support technician to the senior enterprise information systems architect or the elite OS kernel developer know that every computer system has bugs.

      The application software has design errors. It has implementation bugs. It sits on top of an operating systems that has both. That operating systems in turn sits on top of an hardware platforms that has both hardware and software bugs. The graphic card has bugs. The network card has bugs. The boot loader has bugs. Hell, the microcontroller regulating the power supply has software that has bugs.

      Bugs, bugs, bugs everywhere. Still, it works. Why? Because we know there’s bugs, and we don’t ever, ever assume otherwise, so we plan accordingly.

      This DRM scheme does not leave any wiggle room to accomodate for bugs. Since there are bugs, it’s bound to **** up. It can’t not **** up. That’s how IT works, or how it doesn’t. Only the incompetent technologically illiterate executives in the mass entertainment industry fail to understand this.

      • Thanks for your comments Niczar, always good to read other peoples’ perspectives on things.
        We understand that there may be bugs but it’s also frustrating that so much money has been spent on this technology touted as superior and easier to manage than film when the opposite in true in practise for projectionists.
        Thanks for reading.

  2. Hi Tara,
    It is a good idea that the content manager (or such) checks that the serial of the KDM matches the serial to the DCP (Digital Cinema Package). If this protocol is adhered to; you will in fact be able to avoid the mis-match of key and content. Which would be a wise move as the distributor often requests the issue of an incorrect (mis-matched) KDM to the exhibitor.

  3. Clearly they need to come up with a check period. A method where there is access to check the key and file work but will only play for a couple of minutes but could be use repeatedly to check different sections of the file shutting down and starting again. You could then set the check period if you thought necessary to 24hrs before the scheduled period. The way it is just doesn’t work. This of course would still leave the risk of the license period being inaccurately set. What do you do in a power outage where you need to restart and you run over your window to play the movie. Stupid.

    • Yes, I agree with Sebastian. Whether or not the mismatch is a “human error” on the cinema’s end, 10 minutes before the advertised screening time isn’t enough to troubleshoot when Tara has explained that the reissuing process takes 20+ minutes. And the licence window at the end needs to be longer, too.

      • This is a learning experience in that now we know how long a delay can exist before such a problem can be overcome. So if you know there is possibility of a 30 delay in order to straighten out KDM rights, exhibitor should stand firm on making sure they get KDMs turned on with at least that amount of safety buffer. Of course this whole business of the distrib controlling access down to absurd minutes before show time is all about fear of piracy. How insane this paranoia is the stuff of lengthy blogs, but the short of it is that studios seem to want to treat exhibitors and booth personnel as nare-do-well bootleggers when all we want to do is show the damn movie.

        These glitches will happen, no doubt and commercial houses will deal with it as it becomes rote. BUT a real problem that Tara does not mention is that, sure when a studio releases a DCP of a classic, then the digital image can rival film. Big problem here for art and retrospective houses is that much of the classic repertoire that we would be running on 35mm and 70mm film has become unavailable because remastering a classic and producing a digital master for digital prints is a very costly affair — it’s not like, “Hey Harry…run one off for the Bijou Theatre.” So now they’ve bandsawed the prints we would have run and so either we (and our audience) does without, or we are told to RUN THE DVD; it’s good enough! Somehow because the industry is so hell-bent of converting to digital, just the word makes distributors swoon. They don’t seem to realize that there is one HUGE difference between a DCP of 2K or 4K resolution and a DVD of less than 1K. To suggest that we blow up a DVD to the size of a theatre screen and that it will be the same experience for our audience as a carefully remastered DCP is proof that some have be come so infatuation with digital that they think “digital” will cover all ills. Many, MANY classics have not had proper DCPs mastered and are, for all practical purposes, lost to art house exhibition, unless we give in to the mediocrity of showing inferior representations of great film works. To me, that would be like the Met displaying a Xerox copy of a Monet painting instead of the work itself and thinking it is “good enough.”

      • With all due respect, I disagree with the comment that quality of digital rivals that of film. I find digital vastly inferior to film. With projected film, you get warmth, depth, movement, a sense of escaping to another world. With digital, you get a cold, sterile, overly bright, color-saturated, frozen-like image. They are trying so hard to get closer and closer to the look of “real life,” they are losing the sense of wonder and otherworldliness that film imparts. Speaking of not wanting to have bad copies of films shown, that’s what you’re getting with digital–copies of film. What if they replaced the great paintings and sculptures with digital reproductions or holograms? And it’s terrible that film prints are being bandsawed everywhere. These prints should be preserved. All our cultural elements–movies, books, records/CDs–are being replaced with highly erasable, deletable digital versions. Big mistake.

  4. Yeah but KDM’s can be loaded at anytime, days before and the user can check that a) they key works, and b) when the key will unlock and re-lock. Soo this is a user error. You should have checked. Also, for old films demand that the distributor give more time with the opening of the key rather than 10 minutes. New release blockbusters don’t even cut it so close so this is strange. Either way, digital sucks and Im not interested in watching pixels and will stay at home.

  5. It’s all about checks and balances. If the end user isn’t able to experience the product then there’s a serious deficiency in the distribution system. I still don’t see why exhibitors bow so easily to draconian stipulations on show-times…

  6. Thank you to everyone for your comments. This is really just part of the explanation for an industry issue that shouldn’t even exist.

    Regarding the issue of matching IDs and the element of human error – it would be great if this could always be done in advance, and is done in advance where possible, but given the sometimes very tight time frames in which DCPs and KDMs arrive, we don’t always have the opportunity to check it in advance. It’s also worth mentioning that as an actually independent cinema we don’t have the luxury of having someone with the titled role of “Content Manager” to just sit in the Bio Box or at a computer all day waiting to receive KDMs. Also, it is true that some distributors insist on making KDMs active only a few minutes before a session start time, leaving no time to take corrective action if there are other problems apart from mis-matched KDM IDs.

    Finally, and most importantly, the situation should theoretically never arise where incorrect or mismatched KDMs are sent. This should be a seamless system that the industry, committing billions of dollars to this new technology, should well have worked out thoroughly by now. It is simply extremely poor management on the distributor’s part.

    Astor Theatre Management.

  7. Have this problem once or twice.I recieve KDM’s 24hrs before show is required, I check the serial numbers on the key and on the DCP which I have ingested.Any problems I email where the key came from and in 10 minutes I have a replacement and all is well. If there is a mismatch such as 5.1 or 7.1 audio etc I put the correct file in the playlist.As both are on the HDD so you can also pick which version you need and only ingest that version of the file. Digital is a different animal than 35mm and needs to be managed differently.

  8. I don’t see how digital leads to “the democratisation of film”. Lowered distribution costs making it easier for anyone to make a film and have it seen by a large audience? But even with a lowered distribution cost, films still cost money to make. You still have to pay the performers, construct sets, organise location shoots and pay the caterers. The “money saved” by lowered distribution costs is only a small slice of the pie.

    The Astor Theatre has an excellent track record of doing everything humanly possible to look after its customers. It is also heartening to note the theatre’s continued commitment to exhibiting (as much as possible) 35mm and 70mm film formats.

    Compact discs were touted for many years as superior to vinyl records. Over the years we have found this not to be the case. A compact disc may skip and strobe and sometimes flat out refuse to play. I’ve never had a vinyl record refuse to play. After a downward turn in demand for vinyl, there is now a renewed audience for vinyl records, not just second-hand but also brand new vinyl records. Just as vinyl records have a warmer sound than compact discs, celluloid films have a warmer appearance than their digital counterparts.

    As for the human factor, it can never be removed, not even with digital technology. Human beings are not perfect; therefore nothing we create can be guaranteed perfection. I’d much rather take my chances with celluloid rather than digital cinema.

    • I’d much rather take my chances with celluloid rather than digital cinema.

      In that case you’ll have been suffering disappointment for 62 years or so. The use of celluloid in the manufacture of photographic film was discontinued (other than in the former Soviet Union and China, where it persisted into the 1960s) in February 1950. Most release print stock is now made on a polyethylene terephthalate base, with a small amount on cellulose triacetate.

  9. If you are using a Doremi server, if the KDM was valid at all, it would have shown the timeframe of validity in the properties of the FTP CPL. Highlight the FTR clip and click on the magnifying glass. If you see key information, then you know the key is valid for that media block and shows the timeframe. Glad you were able to get it going.

  10. Responding to some posts above: Of course there is always human error. That can happen with film as it can with digital. My point (as I made in my earlier post above, in which I responded to another poster) is that digital projection is inferior to film projection. The texture and depth and warmth of the film images affects the viewer on an emotional level that digital does not. When you compare the two, the differences are startling. Digital is cold and static, without depth or movement. With film, I feel transported to another world; not so with digital. I don’t want a close approximation to seeing a real-life image in watching movies, which is what HD, 3D and digital do. I want the sense of fantasy, of story, of being removed from reality for two hours to experience an adventure. That what film does, and what digital works against. I’m sure there are scientific/biological explanations for this sensation as well, since the brain processes projected film differently than digital: we use persistence of vision to hold the image in the darkness through half of the movie, given that the shutter blocks the projected image for every new frame. That has to help create the sense of otherworldiness that our brains process in watching projected film. With digital, you have constant brightness glaring into your eyes; combine that with the lack of grain and texture and movement and you end up with the blinding, static, ultra pristine screen image that kills the wonderful sensation of watching real film being shown. It won’t be the first time that the public, consumers, will lose out so that corporations can increase their profit margin. This time it’s a classic art form that is permanently being damage. It’s extraordinarily sad.

    Thanks to the Astor Theater for fighting for keeping the 35mm films running for as long as possible. I wish I could attend your theater–but I’m out here in Los Angeles, CA., USA. Keep up the good work!

  11. Hello Tara,
    May I compliment you on your clear and erudite outline of the problems in “projection” at the Astor Cinema on the night of Jan. 25 ? I literally stumbled onto your blogsite and accompanying report by chance, browsing through my Facebook entries (…and in this activity I’m somewhat of an amateur). As a retired cinema operator/projectionist I related sympathetically, nostalgically and emotionally to your account and so many of the replies of other readers …especially those ‘arguing the case’ for the value and preferability of film as compared (or contrasted) to digital projection/presentation. All in all there is so much ‘fodder’ here for reminiscence. Bravo the Astor ….keep up the ‘good work’ !

  12. Various thoughts on various comments:

    “With digital, you have constant brightness glaring into your eyes; combine that with the lack of grain and texture and movement”

    Any digital print taken from a 35mm source will have all of these elements in abundance. The big bugbear in Blu-Ray restoration circles now is DNR (digital noise reduction) where some studios are using it to remove grain from the final disc image. The reason most often cited is that the sharpness of the HD transfer shows too much grain, not too little. The only time you’ll see a ‘lack of grain and texture and movement’ is if the original source was shot that way, ala TOY STORY. I recently sat in a studio in Sth Melbourne whilst a room full of industry professionals were shown footage from a recent Australian production for a seminar on colour grading. The film looked like a gorgeous 35mm print. Someone piped up and asked, “Is this film or digital?”. “Digital.” came the answer.

    I’m convinced that Roger Ebert’s infamous essay regarding the effects on the brain of film vs digital was based on interlaced video footage, rather than the current progressive footage standard. Ebert also conceded at a recent film festival that for numerous screenings he could no longer tell the difference.

    “The “money saved” by lowered distribution costs is only a small slice of the pie.”

    Something like $30,000 for a releasable film print, X 30 prints screening nationally, and you can do the math. If low-budgeted filmmakers have less than a million to play with for production and distribution, would the movie even be made? Digital is going to enable more Australian movies to be made, more crew members to be employed, and more cinemas to show the final product if they choose. Compare activity at our current film schools, where students can now make numerous shorts across a 3 year period on a camera as cheap as a Canon DSLR, versus a decade ago (or less) where some serious triage took place as to who would get the opportunity. If The Astor wants to screen a new HD copy of Dario Argento’s FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET, they can clear the rights hurdle with the distributor then use one of the various new HD masters created for the current UK and European Blu-Ray releases. Hammer Productions in the UK are completing new 4K transfers of Terence Fisher’s DRACULA and THE MUMMY, and Universal are doing the same for THE BIRDS and dozens of other titles. You’ll be much more likely to see cult rarities and hard-to-get older titles in great new prints at the Astor and elsewhere now that the costs of bringing 35mm into the equation has dropped.

    • I appreciate what Dooley wrote and the points he is trying to make. But I must disagree with him regarding his claim that grain and texture and movement are retained in digital projections. I state my opinion on this based on my own personal experience of regular viewings of both 35mm and digital projections. The digitally projected features, which were shot on film, that I watch on a weekly basis do NOT have any grain in the image, nor any texture, and the image more closely mimics a static, bright color slide. There is simply no movement of frames through a projector gate, and therefore no sense of filmic motion; there is no retention of image in the viewer’s eye during 24 fps shutter movement. It is a constant bright light with no “flicker” or appearance of film grain and texture that provides the warmth and that important degree of removal from reality that supports the imaginative transport out of our reality and into another world, which I find so crucial to the film viewing experience. I also watch 35mm projections weekly, and it is a completely different and superior experience to the digital one. It’s always readily apparent to me which type of format is being used for projection.

      Digital may save everyone money, and you can’t argue that. But at what price? The price is the elimination of the format that is most valuable to the experience of film viewing. It is actively being destroyed forever, and replaced with an inferior process, for the sake saving money. How many products have we seen being cheapened over the decades in order for the manufacturer to enjoy a greater profit?

      What will come next, if such people as George Lucas have their way, is the all-out replacement of traditional movies with 3D, as part of their goal to move movies closer to reality. Will it be that long before 3D is then replaced with holographic motion pictures? There will be holographic home entertainment, perhaps bringing the viewer into that world.

      The last thing I want in movie viewing is a circus or amusement park-like attraction, one that continues to more and more closely mimic our own reality. Film projection has proven itself for decades as the best means to provide for the viewing of stories that whisk the audience away from reality, not push them into reality.

      It’s nice that Dooley predicts that old movies will now be brought back in theaters thanks to the conversion to digital. But the last thing I want to see is classic movies no longer projected in the film format. It’s like the abomination of colorizing black-and-white films, or turning traditional 2D movies into 3D. Movies should be respected for how they were made and meant to be shown.

  13. Haha, I remember that night. But hell, this isn’t some multiplex cinema we’re going to, the Astor more than just about anywhere else is in an experience in itself, not just some product to be digested. I thought it was all a bit of fun. Of course I felt bad for the staff :)

  14. The problem isn’t digital content, the problem is and always will be DRM. DRM fails in music, it fails in games, it fails in books, it fails in programs, and now it fails in movies. Once the old content providers get over this obsession with trying to control every little thing their customers do and instead focus on providing the best product and experience they can, the better off everyone will be.

  15. What you could do (all cinemas) is create cards to project when there are problems, that state the actual problem:

    “We are waiting for Universal Studios to approve today’s screening, please be patient until we receive our access codes through email”

    “Unfortunately, MGM does not allow you to view this movie at this time, please come back later, when the studio has approved that you can view this movie. For questions, contact MGM at … or send your tweet @mgm”

  16. Great to see the Astor is still going strong! I have fond memories of watching Mad Max I and II back-to-back there in 2001 ;)

    Seriously though — this is a classic DRM failure. I hope the studios eventually realise that this kind of customer-hostility is a bad idea.

  17. Film vs Digital isn’t a difference of medium, but of style. You can produce a digital film which perfectly captures the hue and warmth of a film projector, even the grain and flicker if you want. Click the ’emulate film’ button in Aftereffects or whatever. Ultimately, it’s all just light on a screen.

    • An interesting perspective. We all have differing opinions on Film and Digital. For us, it is not a case of “versus” but one where both can live alongside one another. We are committed to the very best presentation of both.
      Thank you for your comments.

  18. Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a superb
    article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and never seem to get anything done.

  19. Hello everyone, talk about a late entry, but what the heck! I’ve loved reading all your posts and would like to add another couple of aspects that have not been mentioned.
    I love living in the past as well, I too learned the ways of cinema projection and presenting a programme back in the 80’s and still love everything about it.
    My career ended up being in television, and I saw the whole transition from film through to tape and now digital file.
    What is happening with the world is the technology is getting better ie. Everyone has a HD television at home and a HD capable smartphone, but the pictures we watch are exceptionally bad quality. Because of ‘convenience’ people are happy watching a poor quality YouTube video on their HD tv as long as they see it now! People are happy watching a pirated movie filmed in a theatre with a camera because it was ‘released today’ and I need to watch it now, why buy a Blu-ray when I can download a less quality file and watch it now.
    I myself edit television shows together that are shot in HD on ‘broadcast quality’ cameras. The footage then gets transcoded to standard definition and piped down to the network’s Broadcast Centre where the bit-rate is less than a quarter of what was originally shot at. (I hope I’m making sense). The television network is happy with the quality of what goes to air, but I cringe when I see it.
    So what I’m getting at is that if the major film distributors are happy with an ‘acceptable quality’, then the bean counters are happy. There is no company in the world that hasn’t streamlined in this day and age. How do we do things cheaper, more efficiently, less people and done quicker? Are people going to turn off the television because they think the quality wasn’t as good as last week – I don’t think so. But they are happy to go to the website to watch the episode of whatever they missed in a poor quality version…now.
    I personally think the quality is acceptable for today’s public. I would say only a very small majority of cinema-goers wouldn’t care whether they were watching a print or digital file.
    You can’t help progress, and it’s a very messy digital world out there with hard drives getting bigger, file sizes getting bigger, file codecs changing, and (gasp) the thought of long-term storage solutions to keep these masters around forever (My God, who even wants to think about that!)
    One thing we are all forgetting is that there will be no going back, film will cease to be made (look what happened to Kodak) and the existing prints will eventually fade. George Lucas even had to scan Star Wars into the digital world to re-colourgrade the negative which had turned blue for his re-release of his ‘special editions’.
    Unfortunately all those historic prints that are in circulation right now are getting damaged with every play. More dust, more scratches, more handling, more heat, more cold, and more being dropped. By now I’m sorry to say, the digital copy probably looks better.
    Personally I do not see the point of such tight deadlines regarding the key for the digital projected movie, within a few hours, somewhere around the world, someone will have uploaded it to a bit-torrent site, and within a few months, be available at JB HiFi on Blu-ray, so I don’t know why the distributers are so protective over their precious movie (which could be crap).
    For the cinema owners, they don’t need such worries whether their digital copy will work at showtime, talk about control. I remember back in the 80’s talking about the cinema ‘downloading movies from a satellite’ and the manager playing the movie from his office. Why bother with hard drives when it can be played like a ‘YouTube’ video?

    Thank you everyone for caring so much about such a meaningful topic, I miss film dearly, and when I get the chance to see a 35mm projector I always go and give it a hug. I love the smell, I love the mechanics, the technology, and I love talking to projectionists. Just the same as the television industry, technicians are a dying breed, and they are such an important part of our history.

    Kind regards
    Dene Eastman

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