Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Two (incorrect) reasons why the switch to digital projection is evil

EDIT: As you can see from David's comment below, these suppositions are almost totally wrong.

Well, except that I the repetition of the Taken 2 trailer utterly sapped my excitement for the movie.

I saw Looper tonight (or last night, since this will probably post after midnight). Loved it, especially after a nice, juicy "The King" burger at the newly-expanded Boston Burger Company across the street from the Somerville Theatre. I was hoping it would be 35mm, the stated preference of both the manager and projectionist there, and what it was filmed on, but, nope, digital. Sigh.

One of the reasons I didn't go to this movie I'd been anticipating opening night was that there was a concert in the theater's main auditorium that night, but I figured they'd reshuffle things during the weekend so that the biggest movie got the big screen. Nope. Screen #3 is pretty good (rule of thumb for Somerville, worth remembering around IFFBoston time: odd-numbered screens are good-sized and have aisles down the sides; even-numbered screens should be avoided when possible), so it wasn't a bad experience. But why the heck was the biggest movie booked there this weekend in there while boring second-run movie friggin' Celeste and bloody Jesse Forever in the big house?

My best guess: Copy protection. While, logically, you would think that having everything digital would make moving things between screens easier - it's just data, so theaters can read everything off a central server or the hard drives the movies are shipped on can just be popped out and moved to the projector on the other end of the building without the same sort of effort film takes - the studios, as always, are paranoid about piracy, so theaters are given encryption codes keyed to specific copies of files and projectors during specific time frames. And since the hardware/software platforms for digital projection are frequently shaky, once they've got things working, projectionists are loath to mess with it. This is the same reason why 3D lenses are often left on the projectors during 2D showings - connecting and disconnecting them is apparently a digital rights management nightmare, and with just half an hour or so between shows, there is very little chance to correct things that go wrong.

Maybe I'm mis-remembering, but when 35mm was the rule of the day here, prints moved around during the week to accommodate concerts and special events. Now they don't, and so when the theater has a concert scheduled during the week, it means they are putting the movie that they expect will draw the smallest audience in the room with the most seats for six out of seven days, because the system people have used which was supposed to make things easier has actually made moving a movie that is nothing but ones and zeroes in a package the approximate size of a paperback book more of a pain in the ass than moving bulky, heavy, easily-damaged film stock.

Oh, the second reason? Apparently this copy protection does not apply to trailers, which means that it has been very easy for every theater in the Boston area to play the preview for Taken 2 in front of every damn movie have seen for the past month and a half. When these were physical pieces of film that had to be taped to the ends of prints, and a 12-screen venue might only get four copies, there was a bit more variety, but now... Argo and Taken 2, every night.

Guys, I was looking forward to Taken 2, but now I just want it to come so you can stop blasting me with the trailer.


David the Projectionist said...


100% wrong. Lets review:

1. The Somerville has no "central server." Each & every theatre has its own projector & its own server. Moving movies from one house to the next means uploading the hard drive (the nomenclature is "ingesting," which is -- admittedly -- a stupid term) into the newer theatre.

2. The encryption keys we receive are good for ALL servers & projectors, so we can change houses without running into a protection problem.

3. House 1 cannot currently run digital for technical reasons I'm not going to try to explain. So, we can only run FILM in House 1. Batman was on film. The Campaign was on film. Celeste & Jesse was on film when it was moved. At the moment, End of Watch is on film.

4. Studios are limiting print availability. They wont give us a print of Looper. Dont think we didnt ask.

5. You can bank on the fact that the poorest performing movie will be playing in House 1 when concerts are coming up. We dont want to cancel popular shows, for obvious reasons.

6. 3D adapters are left on SOME projectors (usually Sony) because to remove them requires the services of a highly-paid technician, which quality-challenged companies like AMC have no desire to pay for. Our new 3D system does not have that flaw.

7. I ran trailers for Argo & Taken 2 because I though we were going to get those movies. And, of the trailers I had to choose from, they were the least offensive. Wanna sit through Atlas Shrugged, Part 2? They keep sending me that turkey. Or how about that right-wing crap Wont Back Down: I received that every month. Or that Man of Steel disaster? Maybe Life of Pi, the opening of which looks like a direct steal from The Black Stallion? Or about ten other utterly blood-curdling titles? Trust me: Taken & Argo were comparatively safe bets.

David the Projectionist

Jason said...

Good to know. Obviously, this was born of mild frustration combined with half-knowing a lot of things. The ability to work from a central server has been one of the touted capabilities of digital.

As to the trailers... I actually like the LIFE OF PI one and would like to see the MAN OF STEEL one (I know, it's online, but I hate seeing footage on my laptop first). Of course, I also recognize that I'm an outlier, and very few others will see enough movies in a month that this sort of fatigue will set in.