From Reddit Comments Thread to Screenplay to Warner Bros. Movie

  • A short story originally posted as a series of comments on social news site Reddit will become the basis for a Warner Bros. feature film.
  • “Rome, Sweet Rome” is an historical sci-fi tale written by James Erwin, a two-time “Jeopardy!” winner.
  • Erwin (as Prufrock451 on Reddit) was responding to another user who asked the community, “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU?”
  • The posts Erwin subsequently composed as a short story became the top-rated comments on Reddit and “inspired fan-art, fiction spin-offs and even a mock-up movie trailer.”
  • Madhouse Entertainment caught wind of the RsR subreddit community and pitched the story to a Warner Bros. exec, who pushed to “move aggressively” to acquire the rights.

Company Culture: Former CTO Outlines 5 Secrets to Pixar Success

  • Oren Jacob, Pixar’s former CTO, talks about the company’s keys to their success: Honesty about the quality of their films, a willingness to address problems quickly, looking at the source of problems, storyboarding out the issues, and hiring people that fit the company culture.
  • The story behind the overhaul of “Toy Story 2” was presented regarding the importance to: “Be honest with yourself. When the work isn’t great, say so. Then get to work making something you can believe in.”
  • Fast Company also points out the company’s hiring philosophy: “When Pixar is evaluating potential hires they look for three traits: humor, the ability to tell a story, and an example of excellence.”
  • And one of the more interesting lessons (applicable to a range of businesses): “Sketching storyboards and acting out scripts are the currency of ideas at Pixar. Try a variety of different media to find what works best for you and your organization.”

Film Fades to Black: How Close is Hollywood to Going All-Digital?

  • Creative COW asks if film is getting ready to fade to black: “While the debate has raged over whether or not film is dead, ARRI, Panavision and Aaton have quietly ceased production of film cameras within the last year to focus exclusively on design and manufacture of digital cameras. That’s right: someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.”
  • “The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared,” says Bill Russell, ARRI VP of cameras. “If you talk to the people in camera rentals, the amount of film camera utilization in the overall schedule is probably between 30 to 40 percent.”
  • While film may not be dead, it is most certainly on the decline. Digital production is on the rise, and for those still interested in shooting on film, used cameras are available.
  • “Almost nobody is buying new film cameras,” says Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala. “Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world?”
  • Stereoscopic 3D production may also be “accelerated the demise of film” says Beauviala, since it is “a nightmare to synchronize two film cameras.”
  • Russell predicts that film will eventually disappear, although the exact date is unknown. Phil Radin, executive VP of worldwide marketing at Panavision suggests the timing will be decided by the availability of resources. “Film will be around as long as Kodak and Fuji believe they can make money at it,” he says.

First Scorsese 3D Feature Draws Rave Reviews at Film Festival

  • Early reviews to Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” — the director’s first foray into 3D production — are so enthusiastic that Steve Pond at TheWrap suggests, “it left one question lingering in the air: Has Scorsese just saved 3D?”
  • Pond was reacting to an early screening of the unfinished film at this week’s New York Film Festival, after which attendees raved about the experience. Katey Rich at CinemaBlend described it as, “probably the most gorgeous live-action 3D film ever made.”
  • Prior to the screening, the noted director explained that his film was not quite completed and would still require additional work with color correction, visual effects, music and sound.
  • That didn’t seem to deter a flood of positive reactions tweeted immediately following the screening. For example: “Hugo is outstanding. 1st film where 3D is a vital organ of the overall narrative. Brilliant and at its heart, profound.” Another: “In Hugo, Scorsese experiments w/ 3D the way Melies pioneered SFX. The simple first 1/3rd is a showcase for the power of visual storytelling.”

Four Theories on the Decline of 3D Cinema: Lessons for Revival?

  • In 2010 Hollywood studios released what Slate refers to as “a run of record-smashing, premium-priced blockbusters: ‘Avatar,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘How to Train Your Dragon,’ ‘Clash of the Titans,’ ‘Shrek Forever After,’ and ‘Toy Story 3’ — a half-dozen 3D movies that earned more than $2 billion in domestic sales.”
  • However, while the new generation of 3D cinema showed initial box office promise, the next wave of 3D movies have grossed significantly less than their 2D versions.
  • Slate takes a compelling look at some of the reasons 3D has recently become less popular with theatergoers and, in the process, provides information that could help revive the format.
  • Theater chains, for example, raised their prices for 3D screenings by 20 percent or more, while the 3D trend was already showing signs of decline. PricewaterhouseCoopers has suggested that 3D could revive if the chains limited their premium to a couple of dollars.
  • Some film studios applied 3D “purely for the profit motive,” as James Cameron has been quoted. Films were converted to 3D instead of being produced in 3D from the start, a technology “cheat” that some believe led to viewer disappointment.
  • Additionally, shrewd consumers may not always feel that the 3D experience is worth the extra price, especially if the 3D is designed to be unobtrusive. Film critic A. O. Scott pointed out this is “one of the pitfalls of that format, which is that if the 3D is unobtrusive enough that you don’t really notice it, you may as well forego the disposable glasses and the surcharge that comes with them.”
  • And the final theory offered by Slate involves “hack” filmmakers who have applied 3D to a string of bad movies, which may have been the same reason 3D died in the 1950s.
  • It’s interesting to note that on the heels of the Slate article, a 3D re-release topped the box office this past weekend. An enhanced version of Disney’s “The Lion King” earned $29.3 million (with 92 percent of the gross from 3D screens). This is the third time the 1994 film has been widely screened in theaters, but the first time a 3D version has been available. Was earning more in weekend ticket sales than the other three newcomers combined the result of nostalgia or the first-time availability of a 3D version?

Innovative Concept: Sony Developing Subtitle Glasses for Moviegoers

  • Sony is developing special subtitle-enabled glasses that could be in UK movie theaters as early as next year.
  • According to the BBC, one in six people have some level of deafness and are not being served well by the movie industry. In fact, many film fans with hearing issues wait for films to be released on DVD when subtitles are available.
  • “What we do is put the closed captions or the subtitles onto the screen of the glasses so it’s super-imposed on the cinema screen, [making it look] like the actual subtitles are on the cinema screen,” explains Tim Potter of Sony.
  • “The good thing about them is that you’re not refocusing. It doesn’t feel like the words are really near and the screen is far away. It feels like they’re together,” said test subject Charlie Swinbourne, who is hard of hearing.
  • “It was a great experience,” he added. “I think it’s a massive opportunity to improve deaf people’s lives and I think there’s great hope that this would give us a cinema-going future.”
  • If the glasses prove popular in the UK, we should expect to see them in wider availability in the near future.

Reel China: Hollywood Seeks Workarounds for Import Restrictions

  • Hollywood continues its frustration with the Chinese government’s limits on how many imported movies can play in its theaters in addition to how box office receipts are shared. Now, prominent American film producers are seeking change through ambitious deals that provide alternative routes into China’s market.
  • Success with the Chinese may prove crucial. With traditional distribution models such as DVD sales presently slumping, China could become a much-needed revenue source.
  • “It’s not about détente, it’s about making money,” suggests the Los Angeles Times. “The partnerships give the American firms better access to the country’s growing movie market.”
  • According to the LA Times report: “China’s box-office receipts surged 64 percent last year to a record $1.5 billion, and they will likely bring in about $2 billion in ticket sales this year. By the end of the decade, industry experts predict China will grow from the world’s No. 5 movie market to No. 1.”
  • Although lobbyists and the World Trade Organization have been unsuccessful in getting the Chinese to relax import restrictions, smaller American film companies such as Legendary and Relativity are partnering with Chinese-based companies in co-production and exhibition deals. Through the partnerships, companies are not subject to restrictions and find they can dramatically improve upon percentage of box office receipts.
  • Major Hollywood studios have not formed long-term partnerships to co-produce with Chinese firms, but have discovered other alternatives, such as making Mandarin-language productions in China and pushing digital product, including 3D: “To boost the rollout of high-tech projectors in the country’s theaters, China in 2007 began allowing several pictures per year into the country on a revenue-share basis if they played only in digital theaters.”
  • The ultimate goal is to eliminate the restrictions, but for the time being Hollywood is finding ways to work around them.

MoviePass Unlimited Admission Beta Hits a Roadblock

  • Last week ETCentric reported that a new service called MoviePass plans to offer unlimited movie viewing in participating theaters for a fee of $50/month. The initial beta was scheduled for the holiday weekend in San Francisco.
  • The planned beta test hit a roadblock when a number of San Francisco theaters decided not to participate since they did not consent to the admission price of the proposed model.
  • Interestingly, the theaters would still have been paid full admission.
  • From the AMC press release: “As MoviePass was created without AMC’s input and testing, we cannot confidently say the guest experience would be positive for our guests and specifically our AMC Stubs members.”

Motion Movie Theater Seats from D-BOX Coming this Summer

Montreal-based D-BOX Technologies — manufacturer of custom-designed seats for film and gaming entertainment — recently announced it will outfit 70 locations (50 in the U.S.) with “MFX” motion-equipped theater seating for screenings this summer. Theater-goers willing to spend an additional $8 can expect an enhanced, immersive experience viewing movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Super 8 and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 from motion-equipped seats. D-BOX hopes to expand its seating to 200 locations one year from now and up to five times that within the next four years.

The company introduced its technology in 2009 with a motion-coded version of Universal’s Fast & Furious playing in only two theaters. D-BOX equipped additional theaters the end of April with MFX seating for the latest installment in the same series, Fast Five. According to the Wall Street Journal: “Motions range from being pitched forward, backward and side to side, to experiencing a momentary freefall when a character, say, leaps off a cliff. Seat-side controls let squeamish viewers dial down the intensity level of the experience — which on the highest setting can reach up to two times the acceleration caused by gravity.”

D-BOX Motion Code technology uses motion effects programmed for each film (as well as TV series or video games for home seating) so that the resulting motion is synchronized with the onscreen action and sounds. According to D-BOX, Motion Code is available on more than 900 titles and studios have started embedding it on many Blu-ray and theatrical releases, enabling MFX using three types of intelligent movement (subtle pitch, roll and heave) in addition to vibrations.

Although headquartered in Canada, D-BOX has a research-and-development office in Burbank, California.

Check out the Movie Theatre page of the D-BOX site for a location near you featuring MFX-equipped seating.

Digital Distribution: Is it Time to Redefine Cinema?

The New York Times offers an interesting perspective regarding how digital technologies have impacted the production, distribution, marketing and exhibition of contemporary movies. The article addresses a compelling focus in terms of how the communal aspect of viewing film is facing a dramatic cultural shift and how filmgoing has become less of a group experience. Have we reached a new milestone that may require us to redefine the term “cinema” — and, if so, what does this mean for the business of filmmaking?

The article cites the fact that theater attendance has declined in the U.S. from 90 million a week in 1948 to approximately 23 million today. Of course, the 1948 audience did not have Blu-ray, on-demand, cable movie channels, streaming services and an array of new technologies that enable today’s “24-hour movie.”

Technological innovation has led to cultural evolution regarding the traditional cinema experience. For many consumers, experiencing a movie is no longer about the anticipation of a release, the social environment created by sitting in a darkened theater with a date or a friend (and a group of strangers), or the “communal laughter, tears, gasps and heckling that become part of our memories.” For many (perhaps most), the experience is now more about clicking a button — and what has become a more personalized, immediate dynamic based on consumption-on-demand that technologies enable.

If the 24-hour movie continues to impact the demands and expectations of the movie-viewing public, will this require us to rethink how we produce, exhibit and market our content?