Lights! camera! action! .. at USC Film school


Wendy came home from orientation Friday with a 4-pg handout from an article about e-cinema - from the Oct issue of Millimeter magazine. This hand-out was provided by the person who runs USC's Film/Cinema prgm (Dean Elizabeth Daly). If she thinks the article is significant, it's probably significant.

Article is a transcript of dialogue of an interview with Rick McCallum, who produced The Phantom Menace for Lucasfilm, & talks about changes in store for the industry. Fascinating reading. I've captured a few of the more tasty tidbits here for those interested.

* Quote: "there's never been anything in the history of capitalism that's even come close to what's happening now with technology."

* Young filmmakers no longer need to be part of the Hollywood machine to produce a film, "and that freaks people out".

* "It's a fantastic time to be making movies. Look at what happened with MP3 in just a year."

* There are tools coming out like Apple's FinalCut Pro that produce over 150 effects that you couldn't even do three years ago.

* It used to be that if you weren't part of a 'club', you couldn't get a movie made .. and if you did, you couldn't get it seen .. but all that is changing. That's what's causing the fear & pain - but that's also what's so wonderful.

* I guarantee that by this time next year, there'll be an 80- or 90-minute film released by some kid on the internet that you'll be able to download and burn to a DVD.

* Of the 32,000 theaters in the US, less than 1% can accurately reproduce the films made today. This is depressing for filmmakers who spend millions trying to get the best picture & audio quality for their films. Problems include low-luminance, poor sound, no surrounds, lack of bass.

*Projection technology hasn't changed in eons. It's sad that an industry that grosses $5B (billion) a year in box-office receipts, "hasn't created a single technological achievement - it's all been done by individuals."

* In coming releases, Lucasfilm plans to withhold distribution to those theaters who don't upgrade their sound systems to a minimum 'standard'. Cost of upgrading to this minimum standard would = only ~$700 per theater.

* Further down the road (several years), digital projection will be the ante for the theaters to get the films.

* The cost of digital projectors are the weak-link in the chain. Texas Instruments has a digital projector that was $195K two years ago. Today (October, '99) it's $75K. In two more years, maybe $30K.

* JVC also makes a digital projection unit, but McCallum likes the TI model better, cuz it's "elegant, beautiful, & fits over existing projection technology". (take note, stock speculators)

* Studios are owned by conglomerates, and Film represents only ~10% of profits, and "these guys are monsters for profit & reducing costs." And the only way to cut costs is with distribution .. that's the motivation for digital cinema.

* On the subject of a 100% digital production cycle, McCallum thinks studios will "hold their ground until they understand the limitations of shooting on film, and the opportunities of being able to manipulate the images."

* Quote: "It's no longer a photographic medium; it's a painterly one - & that's the hardest thing for most cameramen to understand."

* The six major studios spend ~$1.2B (billion) a year in distribution (of celluloid film -> drivers, airports, freight, insurance) costs. McCallum would like to see a digital x-fer .. perhaps via satellite, which would reduce these co$ts .. but this involves change, which can be painful for people.

* Distributors panic at the idea of satellite distribution cuz it implies that a filmmaker could bypass the entire distribution system.

* There's much reluctance (low inertia) to the idea of the digital format replacing film .. but wheels are in motion nonetheless.

* On the subject of digital acquisition, "The big problem for us is always the lens issue .. PanaVision, the king of Film equipment, has been working with Sony for over 10 years trying to create a digital format because they know it's going to happen, and they know the power of it."

* Cameramen have always said, "It's about light," but it's not about light anymore. It's about collaboration between a writer, a producer, a director, and a cameraman.

Interviewer: Peter Putman

Next -> First Day of Classes

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