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Friday, June 23, 2006

From L.A.: Digital Distribution at the L.A. Film Festival...and CineGear Expo

I hopped back and forth between two events today in L.A.: the L.A. Film Festival’s tech day at UCLA, dubbed “The Revolution Will Be Digitized,” and CineGear Expo, just on the other side of the 405.

- “Revolution Will Be Digitized”

Distribution consultant Peter Broderick opened “Revolution” by sharing some success stories about indie filmmakers who’ve taken control of their own marketing and distribution. Most of the examples he cited, including the wrestling movie “Reversal,” involved not digital delivery, but selling tens of thousands of DVDs online, by targeting special interest groups (like high school and college wrestling clubs). Peter said the director had earned more than $1 million (not sure if that’s net or gross).

Peter suggested that young filmmakers should take advantage of Web-based ways to develop e-mails lists of their fans, and keep in contact with them. (, for instance.) “Hitchcock didn’t know the names or addresses of any of the members of his audience,” Peter said. “That was a mass audience. You can. That’s a tremendous opportunity.”

Peter’s view of the future for indie filmmakers is what he calls “hybrid distribution” – a mix of traditional methods, like theatrical release and sale of DVD rights, and doing some experiments with new channels.

“The old rules don’t apply anymore,” Peter said. “But the old rulers don’t realize it yet.”

My panel followed Peter’s. I didn’t take notes, but did record it – so I’ll try to post audio later this weekend. It was fun meeting all the panelists; I’d only met Jim Ramo from Movielink before. (Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized there was a green room backstage, so I sat in the audience for Peter’s opening address.)

- CineGear Expo

I arrived at CineGear in time to see a panel on cinematography, led by journalist Bob Fisher and cinematographer George Spiro Dibie. It includes cinematographers Owen Roizman, Isidore Mankofsky, Russell Carpenter, M. David Mullen, Jerzy Zielinski, Laszlo Kovacs, and Rodrigo Prieto.

They covered a lot of ground -- almost none of it related to digital cinematography (Fisher and Dibie are running a panel on that topic on Saturday morning.)

Mullen said that he wound up being a cinematographer because it seemed “purer than directing. We feel we spend more time actually making the movie [and less on politics.] Sometimes I just feel sorry for the director, when I see him dealing with some ridiculous political nonsense.”

Carpenter talked a bit about his working relationships with different directors. (Without naming names.) “The bbest director relationship is when it feels like you’re conspiring to have fun. When they say, `Why would you do that?’ you know it’s not going to be a fun show.”

Carpenter also talked about the importance of directors who can lay out their vision during pre-production – and directors who have real passion about this particular project. (He shot "Titanic" and "True Lies" with James Cameron, as well as "Charlie's Angels" and "Shallow Hal."

I think it was Mankofsky who said, “The schedule is the worst enemy of the cinematographer. There never seems to be enough time, whether you’re working on a TV show, a movie-of-the-week, or a feature. `Superman [Returns]’ worked on it for over a year, and it still wasn’t enough time.”

They listed some favorite cinematographers, whose work had inspired them, including: Greg Toland, Charlie Lang, Jimmy Wong Howe, Harry Stradling, Sr., Arthur Miller, Conrad Hall, Vittorio Storaro, and Haskell Wexler.

Afterward, I checked out these booths: Kodak, Fuji, Dalsa, ARRI, Panavision, and Red. Dalsa was showing its gigantic Origin 4K camera, which reps said wasn’t as heavy as it looks. (You can hand-hold it, or use a shoulder mount.) Dalsa was projecting some Origin imagery inside a tent, and it looked extra crispy. Red is still showing models of what its camera may look like. A rep there said that by the IBC show in Europe this September, they expect to be showing images from the camera, and later in the year, the camera itself. Their goal is to start shipping by Q1 of 2007. ARRI said that its D-20 digital camera is now available for rental in L.A. -- a new development. Interestingly, they’ve introduced both a new digital camera this year (the D-20) and a new 16-millimeter camera (the 416). Companies like ARRI feel the world isn’t about to ditch film cameras overnight.

At a panel put on by Panavision about digital cinematography, sales VP Bob Harvey was asked by an audience member whether the company had stopped making film cameras. Harvey denied it, but suggested that the assembly lined had slowed: “We’re not building 100 this year." And the company maintains a pretty big inventory of film cameras for rental. "We have 1000 film cameras [in our warehouse today],” Harvey said.

- Back to "Revolution"

After grabbing an In-and-Out Burger for lunch, I went back to UCLA to see Peter run a panel of three filmmakers, "Reversal's" Jimi Petulla, Jeff Santo, and Brian Terwilliger, who’ve been pioneers of D.I.Y. marketing and distribution. Jeff said that when he first opened his Web site to sell “This Old Cub,” he got 1500 orders in the first 12 hours; they paid back the investors in four months. I’m eager to see “One Six Right,” Brian’s documentary about the Van Nuys Airport. Brian said it’ll be the first indie film available on HD-DVD, later this year.) He's also done a deal with Sony to have the movie shown in a dozen Landmark Theatres that are equipped with Sony's 4K digital projector, he told me after the panel.