I recently had the pleasure of watching Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS at a local AMC Theatre. A few weeks prior to that I watched THE AVENGERS at another theatre and with both films something struck me that I just had not been paying attention to. Both theaters were projecting digitally.
Having a family, in addition to a business, makes it challenging to get to the movies sometimes but I try to go when I get the chance to keep up with what’s happening in our industry-technology, what are audiences responding to, etc.. In my eagerness and joy to simply watch a movie I hadn’t realized how prevalent the digital projection changeover had been.
Not surprisingly, shortly thereafter, I received my latest edition of HDVideoPro (my personal favorite media creation magazine) and they had an article in there about… digital projection and how theatre owners are quickly adopting the technology. They went onto say that studios are not only ceasing to make release prints, they are also not making any print or negative output of any kind for archiving purposes, instead they are opting for a digital archive.
All of this is huge! I have been in this industry long enough to have the joy of seeing several technology shifts but there is much here that is revolutionary and game changing as to how the business of cinematic storytelling gets done. This really does mean that the industry as whole is not only moving toward an entire digital workflow-it’s pretty much already there. Now, having said that, I know that there are those directors who will only shoot on film. However, the odds are that audiences will never see those movies projected on film.
Having worked with film and understanding the post workflow to get a negative to a release print, I definitely feel digital is incredibly more efficient. The idea of not having to actually worry about reels and reel changeovers, from an editorial point of view, is fantastic. I remember working on an incredible independent film called FINDING HOME where there was much discussion during our post process about when the reel changeovers were going to happen, mainly because they were going to effect music cues.
For those of you who don’t know, each film reel is about 20 minutes long. Mind you, most features are still cut in reels, however now you are not locked into those lengths because, at some point they’ll all be strung together and they will stay together-so if you need to make a length adjustment because of a music cue or because of a color grade consistency, it’s easy to do. Back in the day (the day being not too long ago BTW) you would print your 5, 6, 7 reel movie and send it to movie theaters for projection where they would often get cut together by a projectionist and placed on a platter or the projectionist would run dual system projection and, yes, use the reel change marks to change over the reels. Either way, you were stuck with a 20 minute reel and had to make your changeover choices accordingly. From a filmmaking point of view, this limitation is definitely not something that I think will be missed.
With digital projection there is much we won’t see again. We won’t ever see changeover marks (these were the marks near the end of the reel that were made with a whole punch-yes, you’d see a little circle at the upper right hand corner of the film). You won’t ever again hear that weird yet wonderful changeover sound. We won’t ever experience film getting stuck and burned in a projector. And we will never see the light shine through each organic single frame of film and be projected as we once had… Film-with all of it’s beautiful color latitude, incredible contrast, and, everyone’s favorite reference, the grain. So what will we see with digital projection?
Digital projection will continue to get better and will give us the clearest, cleanest images we have ever seen. Sure, you will continue to see some aspect of film in movies, as people are still shooting film, but we are coming to the day where we will never see film projected on film again. Here’s the exciting thing, from my perspective. Part of what inspired my writing of this article was that when I saw PROMETHEUS I remember sitting in the theatre, watching this incredible movie and these beautifully composed, edited, and color graded images projected on this fabulous screen, and I thought to myself ‘yep, I’m officially a fan of digital projection’.