Films In Africa: On The Way Up!

As the most expensive movie ever made with African American actors depicting a celebrated black American hero who felt close to his African heritage, the movie producers of Ali turned up in Machava in Mozambique for authentic audience scenes.

“There was a fight scene where a large number of extras was needed. It was clearly said to people to come down and see a Hollywood movie being made,” Blaise Nato, spokesman for Columbia Pictures, states.

“There was a raffle of motor scooters, refrigerators, athletic shoes and clothing. Arrangements were also made for food and drink.”

“Not so”‘ insists Madelena Muntimuca, an undernourished, 46-year-old single woman who survives by selling charcoal briquettes on Maputo’s potholed streets. “We worked, clapping, cheering and dancing on instruction only to find out there was no food and no prizes or pay. We only got a bottle of water and the children some juice the whole day.”

In the United States, members of the Screen Actors Guild receive $100 a day and nonunion members $50 per day to work as extras, a not inconsiderable sum in a movie’s budget when huge crowd scenes are involved. If their own clothing or cats are used, or if required to work more than 8 hours, the extras are compensated additionally, some regulars earning $30,000 to $50,000 per year.

The Columbia Pictures movie Ali is directed by Michael Mann, one of Hollywood’s top 10 directors. Starring famous actor Will Smith, it is the first big budget movie ever filmed in Mozambique and snags were expected, but were the local African extras also hoodwinked?

“They exploited people,” said Angela Jane, 23 and pregnant, who agreed to be an extra for a scene shot in the rain. “At the end of 12 hours, they paid me $20 rather than the $60 promised, and so I left” While she understood that Mozambique was not America, she points our “people should at least be respected as human beings”.

“No one was promised $60. The payment for scenes was negotiated up front and there was no reneging on that,” Blaise Nato, spokesman for Columbia Pictures insisted. Adding that he believed extras made $10 or $20 a day, he stated that all company obligations were carried out.

Pat Kingsley, a publicist for director Mann, also responded that it was ridiculous for extras in Africa to think that they’d be paid as much $60 when, “they don’t make that in a year”.

A spokeswoman for actor Will Smith said that she thought it was a disturbing situation but that the actor had nothing to do with the hiring of extras. “He knew nothing about the confusion,” she insisted.

Asked why a raffle was involved, in which only a few individuals got prizes rather then the standard cash compensation, the Columbia Picture’s spokesperson insisted that this is normal practice when long distance crowd scenes are shot, even in the United States. People come for the fun of being in a movie, they stare, justifying the rationale for non payment.

“Do African people understand what a raffle is? That someone gets something, someone else doesn’t?” spokesman Nato insisted on asking.

A dirty trick?

So why the choice of Mozambique, a nation still emerging from a debilitating civil war? One with little government oversight and no experience in modern movie-making?

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a production spokesman confirmed that the producers knew that African extras would be paid little or nothing. Local organisers insisted that spreading money around in a poverty-stricken Maputo would lead to rioting. They claim this fact is justification for the selected raffle system of compensation.

“At one time it was even considered giving Will Smith T-shirts as payment,” the spokesman confirmed. But even this was rejected as being too provocative and director Mann took the local organiser’s word for it.” Actor Will Smith, he added “was kept in the dark in this regard”.

The thousands of extras detained in the stadium at Machava were finally released at 4-am, after organisers told them that they would be paid after all the filming had been completed.

“We were hungry, tired and it was a dirty trick to play on people who struggle just to survive,” film extra Madelena Muntimucu said. Insisting that she had been promised money and not a raffle or prizes as compensation for her time, she complained that even the transport home that had been promised had not been forthcoming.

Ali is just one of a number of TV documentaries and full length movie projects being filmed in Africa. In Tanzania, the Canadian produced Walk with Lions starring Richard Harris as famous lion rehabilitator George Adamson has completed shooting. Murdered in Kenya’s Kora National Park by machine gun-toting bandits, George Adamson’s celluloid recorded life-story should prove successful with western audiences. Following such box office hits as Out of Afrifa and the Diane Fossey life story Gorillas in the Mist, such movies with their panoramic vistas and heartwarming animal-human relationships bring considerable publicity but little financial reward to the countries in which they are filmed. As in the endless wildlife documentaries being filmed for TV audiences in the US and Europe, most of the financial rewards remain in London or Los Angeles.

Survivor series to shoot in Kenya

The latest project to chose an African location is the highly popular and financially successful CBS Survivor TV series. Culminating in the winner receiving a $lm cash prize for being the final survivor, the show was the first of a wave of ‘reality’ TV shows using real life contestants rather than actors. A press release last June confirmed that Kenya’s Shaba National Park Reserve had been selected as the hotly contested location for its third Survivor series. 140 miles north of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, the whole reserve has been dosed-off to all but production personnel

“Previously used in the highly acclaimed film Born Free, this location is ideal for the river and scrubland background, adding just the exotic touch the producers were looking for,” a spokesman stated.

When pressed, CBS spokesman Chris Ender also confirmed that some local Kenyans had been asked to sign confidentiality agreements before being used to test challenges being devised.

Kenyan environmentalists have expressed concern at the effect that weeks of film shooting will have on the flora and fauna in the area. Local members of the Waso Trust Land Project and several Kenyan journalists who entered the off-limits area to check on environmental damage reports were detained by security staff. Finally released, they met with the production team to discuss their concerns.

So why are such heavy handed procedures necessary to prevent local journalists inspecting what is normally a public game reserve?

Responding, CBS spokesman Chris Ender insists that privacy had to be maintained and that series executive producer, Murk Burnett, had always respected the environment in which the Survivor shows ate filmed. “He has learned through trial and error how to return the land to the same condition, and in some cases better condition, then it was when he started,” Mr. Ender stated.

Many Kenyans will find it hard to understand what all the fuss is about. The Survivor series will never he shown on local Kenyan TV far to expensive for the local stations to afford. Other then possibly bringing increased trade to a nearby hotel, little financial reward will result unless local Kenyans negotiate wages commensurate with Screen Actor Guild pay scales.

The question of how Africa can reap the financial rewards associated with Western movie making is relatively easy to solve, Screen Actors Guild officials in Los Angeles claim. Form a unionised association of actors, model agencies and safari equipment suppliers with whom the movie producers have to negotiate and local people will have some bargaining power they insist.

The abiding sense of resentment in Mozambique against the producers of A/i is ironic considering how Muhammad Ali endeared himself to Africa with his exuberant affection for the continent’s peoples during his 1974 fight against George Foreman. It is also tragic.

“The poor and Africans are responsible for my victory over the bigger, younger and stronger Foreman,” he stated in his stirring victory speech in Kinshasa after the fight.

How tragic it is that film extra Feliciano Manjate, 51, now feels that the producers of Ali “exploited us because we are Africans” and that “if the task was performed by white men they would have been given money”.

Internet Marketing And SEO – The Choice Of Successful Businessmen

imsdmsbMost successful online businessmen in the San Diego area have made their names by hiring the services of internet marketing companies. These companies offer search engine optimization services, email campaigns, and other marketing strategies to attract the attention of customers.

Internet marketing companies have been on the forefront in making some big names in online business capture large portions of market share in their own niches. To monitor how the companies perform after advertising strategies were applied, a pay-per-click software is provided. Using this tool, the company can check every day the number of people who clicked their web site link to see what goods and services it is selling. Although not all visitors to the web site can be converted into active customers, making progress everyday in terms of traffic is a sign that the marketing strategy applied works. For most businesses, the result is always positive, which means that every day, there is an increase in traffic. Daily sales are good indicators of a marketing strategy’s success. Once your sales increase, it shows that the advertising endeavors are making headway.Hire the services of solid company in the San Diego area, like All Systems Go Marketing, and become one of the successful business people who have benefited from this companies’ marketing strategies.

How Should Search Engine Optimization Be Combined With Social Networks

Do you have a Twitter account? If you don’t, you will be surprised that it’s currently even more popular than Facebook. We will not talk about reasons for that, but focus on how can San Diego search engine optimization team help you in taking advantage of that fact. If you are entrepreneur and run an online business, it is a must to use not only Twitter, but also other social networks for your online promotion. By doing so, you will be able not only to connect and communicate with your clients, but also to purchase adds that will bring you more traffic or, better to say, more money.

Even if you don’t have time for social networking privately, you should have an account for the sake of your business. An essential part of every content marketing today is social networking, so we can’t simply ignore that fact. Beside Twitter and Facebook we mentioned, you can choose among LinkedIn and Instagram. Ask the San Diego search engine optimization company about the type of social network you should use and arrange maintaining them if you don’t have time or knowledge for working with these networks. Creative businesses often use Pinterest as part of their online marketing strategies.

German Films Get Serious

Statistically, the film board counts openings resulting from both new construction and reopenings after upgrade and remodel. Nevertheless, only 108 new screens were added from January to June (236 in 2000, 448 for the full year). In the old Bundeslander of the West, a mere 68 opened (188 in 2000), while the Eastern federal states counted 40 over 48 screens. Of the 4,738 screens, 3,813 are located in old states and 925 in the Neue Bundeslander of the East. Closings remained stable at 153, with a slight shift from West (133 vs. 135 in 2000) to East (20 vs. 18). Broken down by size, only five new multiplexes opened with 44 screens and 10,735 seats as opposed to 13 that started popping corn by June of last year. After the UCI Kinowelt in Chemnitz (October 2000), the second purpose-built multiplex closed its 1,620 seats and seven screens in Freiburg (Ufa Palast). The market share of all remaining 132 multiplexes attracted 34.3 million, or 42.7 percent of all moviegoers (2 000: 29.2 million) with only 25.1 percent of the screen count. At 45.9 percent, revenues were also on the rise, despite a 0.8 percent lower average admission price.

At the same time, home-video businesses took in DM 421 million (plus 31.6%), which translated to DM 955.9 mil. on retail level for both rental and sales activity. As everywhere else in the world, the DVD share rose a staggering 176 percent in comparison to the first six months of 2000.

Among those closings were the Broadway and Odeon art houses in Cologne, both part of the Kinopolis Management GmbH that operates theatres for the Kinowelt Group. Once a darling of the Frankfurt Neuer Market stock exchange, Kinowelt Medien AG, like many of its colleagues, has been forced to institute several changes in its portfolio. On the distribution side, its branded labels for specialized (Arthaus) and repertory programs (Jugendfilm) will no longer have a separate team, but will be marketed through the same system as first-run and commercial product. At the same time, it was announced that the number of releases would be trimmed to about 35 annually, down from 60 last year.

Less than a week later, the next bomb hit the Munich-based company, at a time when warnings went out to staff that paychecks will be late and shares hit a new market low. In 2002, most likely starting with Rush Hour 2, U.s. corporate ties will rake hold and films produced by New Line Cinema will be handled through Warner Bros. At press time, only negotiations were confirmed, but it sure looks like Kinowelt will lose its biggest and best single supplier.

Sadly, New Line and Kinowelt is not the only break-up that we have to klatsch about. Two giant marriages in the exhibition sector have called it quits as well–one deliberately, the other by way of financial collapse. In 1998, Ufa Theater AG and Rehs Filmtheaterbetriebe founded N.e.U.e. Theaterverwaltungs GmbH to jointly manage and operate the IMAX theatres in Bochum, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf. With attendance figures hovering under 100,000 in Dusseldorf and below 300,000 in the other two cities, the three separate ownership structures filed for bankruptcy. (Insolvenzverfahren is the German term for very un-Chapter 11-type proceedings.) Volker Riech of Ufa is setting up a potential successor company, should the appointed bankruptcy administrator decide in favor of the assets.

Based in Dusseldorf, Volker Riech’s Ufa Theater AG once was the strongest force in Germany. In the other royal wedding gone sour, his cinema-operating unit, Ufa Theater GmbH, had merged with Hans-Joachim Flebbe’s CinemaxX AG to jointly explore a shrinking cinema market. Despite the hoped-for savings and awaited synergies, the operating agreement was cancelled at the beginning of August. In April 2000, CinemaxX had purchased ten percent of the Ufa Theater GmbH and took over the day-to-day business, with a full-fledged merger anticipated by 2005. Now Ufa GmbH’s majority partners–investment firm Apax Partners and U.S. insurance company Pricoa Capital–claim that the results were below expectations and decided to build on their own management team instead. Headed by managing director Stephan Lehmann and Andreas Vogel, an Ufa project manager in Berlin, offices have since been relocated from the CinemaxX headquarters to the Alstercity in Hamburg. To complicate matters further, Ufa Theater GmbH’s operations divisio n is located in Dusseldorf, home of corporate parent Ufa Theater AG. In addition, CinemaxX will retain its share in the Ufa GmbH.

Sounds like just the usual family business.

Aussies Go Wild At Film Convention

agwafWhile the night is all about congratulating distributors on their success, the convention is perhaps more about distributors thanking exhibitors for helping them attain that success and encouraging the partnership to continue. There are always a lot of good-humored digs at colleagues and competitors alike. Said UIP Australian managing director Mike Selwyn during his presentation to exhibitors: “UIP is committed to the whole exhibition industry, even those we think should be committed.” Said BVI managing director Alan Finney–and current MPDAA chair–during his: “No, Monsters Inc. is not a documentary about the MPDAA companies.” Or take this expression of thanks to the awards sponsor and the company Australian managing director of Columbia TriStar Films, Stephen Basil-Jones, regularly has to negotiate terms with: “It is important that you kiss the feet that are attached to the legs that are attached to the arse that you have to kiss next week. So thanks to Hoyts.”

This year, the convention attracted over 700 people to the Royal Pines Resort on Queensland’s Gold Coast between August 14 and 18. Each of the major distributors spent several hours presenting trailers, talking about upcoming product, and then screening a feature. Those shown were UIP’s Rat Race, BVI’s The Others, 20th Century Fox’s Legally Blonde (the debut feature from Australian-born Robert Luketic, who was in attendance), Columbia TriStar’s America’s Sweethearts and Roadshow’s Rush Hour 2.

While there was much excitement about getting a 26-minute sneak preview of The Fellowship of the Rings, there was amusement about the security check and grumbling that everyone had to first sit through the Rush Hour 2 evening screening. The emerging U.S. results had already indicated that the Jackie Chan film will make a lot of money, but that didn’t mean that exhibitors admired what they saw. While cinema is unashamedly a business in these circles, many commented that the film would not be winning any awards for the quality of the filmmaking, the cleverness of the comedy or the values underlying the story. The relationship between box-office returns and the nature of a film is a fascinating thing. One afternoon is reserved for the non-MPDAA distributors to show up to three trailers each and present awards to exhibitors. Best independent country cinema was Mt. Vic Flicks; best independent urban cinema was Dendy Opera Quays and Nova Carlton; best major was Hoyts Fox; and best local cinema campaign went to Gala Twin, Warrawong, for Mullet. Dendy’s Amelie and Footprint Film’s local film The Bank were then screened simultaneously in adjoining cinemas.

For people who think about these things, it is impossible not to come away from the Australian Movie Convention without pondering the effect of mainstream movies on audiences. There were probably 75 trailers shown at this year’s event. Seen en masse, these selling tools pack in a lot of violence and perfectly formed (by Hollywood definitions) longhaired women serving little purpose other than to be ogled. By the fourth day, the experience can somewhat mess with one’s perception of the real world. Once outside the cinema, it would not seem entirely unexpected to see a dozen big-breasted young women in colored lingerie cause a dramatic car accident from which a gang of uninjured men emerge with machine guns.

A Australian films and Australian-born directors had a high profile at this year’s convention, with local films Moulin Rouge and The Dish applauded for earning over A$10 million. At the “Australia On Show” opening night, Eric Bana (Chopper) won Australian star of the year–he said thank you from the set of The Nugget via video–and Phillip Noyce was honored for filmmaking excellence. The Reading Cinema in the Perth suburb of Belmont won the Kodak Marketing Award for Australian films, for its campaign for Moulin Rouge. The night also saw exhibitors Jim Sourris, from AMC Cinemas, and Ken Kirkley receive life membership in the Motion Picture Exhibitors Association of Queensland, which stages the annual event. Noyce spoke extensively about Rabbit-Proof Fence, the first film he has made on Australian soil for over a decade. It is based on the true story of three part-Aboriginal girls, aged eight to 14 years, who were forcibly removed from their families in the 1930s to be trained as domestic servants, then pursued 2,000 kilometers after their escape. These women are part of the so-called “stolen generation,” one of many facets of the black/white relations issues that will not go away in Australia. There is a perception that films with indigenous themes don’t work for audiences and Noyce cleverly invited exhibitors to help him prove otherwise. REP and Ocean Pictures jointly release the film in February 2002.

On the final night, Geoffrey Rush was crowned this year’s international star of the year and Bryan Brown was presented with a lifetime achievement award, giving him a chance to heavily promote Dirty Deeds, which he is currently producing and starring in. Producer Ben Gannon spoke to delegates about a third unfinished Australian film, The Man Who Sued God, during BVI’s presentation. The comedy stars Judy Davis and Billy Connolly, who plays a character immensely frustrated when his insurance company refuses to replace his boat after a bolt of lightning hits it. The title says the rest. Producer David Hannay also said a few words about the children’s film Hildegarde.

Arts Minister Peter McGauran drew applause at the convention for what he called a “clear and unequivocal” confirmation that Australia would not be lifting the parallel importation restrictions on films, as it has over the last three years on books, CDs, business software and computer games. This means it will remain illegal to import videos and DVDs before a film has screened theatrically. These laws were not retained in New Zealand (see “Around the Globe” in this issue), to the detriment of the industry. Shadow Arts Minister Bob McMullan, speaking during the same seminar, said that while he did not doubt McGauran’s sincerity, the issue was at “serious risk” of being revisited because the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was “obsessed” about it. Indeed, Commissioner Ross Jones told delegates 24 hours earlier that the ACCC wanted restrictions lifted.

Seminars were also held on digital cinema, classification guidelines for films and the current review of the voluntary code of conduct, which is now three years old and has 220 signatories.

I con Distribution held an official launch of its arrival in Australia. Local chief executive Mark Gooder treated about 50 exhibitors and media members to 10 minutes of footage from the first four weeks of the shoot of the Icon/Wheelhouse production We Were Soldiers. A video message was sent from its star, Icon co-owner Mel Gibson, while his business partner Bruce Davey was there in person. Gooder emphasized that Icon would be delivering quality over quantity, from blockbusters to a few specialized releases, and no more than 15 films per year. “As exhibitors, I expect you are asking yourself, ‘Will Icon make any money for me?’” he said. “I bloody hope so.” Acquired to date for Australia are Company Man and The Assumption. The other distribution newcomer is Hoyts, which recently confirmed it will be re-entering the business next year with both international and local film product. The head of the new division is Robert Slaviero, previously of 20th Century Fox Film Distributors. What part Hoyts would play in th e release of the film product of the Nine Network has been much discussed since Australia’s highest-rating broadcaster announced it was moving into film production last November. The companies have ownership links. Hoyts handled several huge hits during the 1980s, including the first two “Crocodile” Dundee films, Dances With Wolves and The Man From Snowy River, but has not been involved in this side of the business for some time. Hoyts Cinemas has 352 Australian screens at 43 sites and is headed by Paul Johnson. It has extensive cinema interests in North and South America.

Zoetrope Was A Classic Literary Journal

zwacljLast May 2, a little-known literary quarterly knocked the New Yorker–not to mention a clutch of other magazines–off its perch when it took home the National Magazine Award for best fiction. Published in newsprint, the journal, Zoetrope: All Story, was launched less than five years ago by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola. In the insular world of New York media, the victory was a shocker.

As it turns Out, Adrienne Brodeur, editor in chief of Zoetrope, has a story with a fairy-tale quality all its own. After prep school and Columbia, the blond, willowy Brodeur moved to San Diego and married young. She worked in local government, rising to chief of staff for the county supervisor. “It was deeply satisfying in a way,” she says. “But I was not glued to political journals. I was glued to literary journals.” Approaching 30 and afraid she’d wind up a bureaucrat, Brodeur abruptly moved to New York in the summer of 1994, leaving behind her career and her husband (the two have since divorced amicably).

Brodeur, the daughter of longtime New Yorker writer Paul Brodeur and food and travel writer Malabar Homblower Brewster, took an internship at the Paris Review “like everyone does,” she says, “except instead of being 20, I was closer to 30.” After Robert Gottlieb, her father’s editor, mentioned that Coppola was interested in short fiction, Brodeur, in what she calls a “harebrained scheme,” took the bold step of writing the director a letter. Then she headed off to the well-regarded Radcliffe Publishing Program and tried to steel herself for the dreaded inevitability starting her career all over again as a lowly editorial assistant.

They began an e-mail correspondence, sharing their serendipitously similar ideas about fiction, and after a few months the director hired Brodeur, who still had virtually no publishing experience, to launch his magazine. “Adrienne seemed to catch what was then a contrarian vision of a literary magazine in everything from its physical format to its editorial policy (all short stories),” Coppola writes in an e-mail. “She created it–conceived of it with me and followed through on every detail.”

“Neither of us is drawn to very experimental works,” says Brodeur, now 35. “Both of us like classic, character-driven stories you can get lost in.”

The result is a journal of stories that is literate yet unpretentious. Pulitzer prize-winning writer Robert Olen Butler describes Zoetrope as “attentive to the classic fundamentals of storytelling, which tend to get lost in other literary fiction. The stories [in other publications] tend to be cool and distant and static.”

Now brand-name writers like Butler are happy to appear in Zoetrope, but initially Brodeur contacted obscure writers she’d admired in other journals. They’d make submissions and recommend others from their writing groups. Word spread fast, and now Zoetrope gets 50 to 100 submissions a day.

From the beginning, two innovations set Zoetrope apart: First, all writers had to sign over two-year movie options to Coppola, a stipulation that some writers viewed with suspicion and others with glee. (Brodeur, far from a film buff, stresses that the purpose of Zoetrope is not to serve as an arm of Coppola’s film company, funneling high-concept stories directly to development, but to promote a sometimes underappreciated art form.) Second, Zoetrope would commission some of its pieces, contracting writers to pen stories based on specified characters or themes. Coppola, who typically e-mails Brodeur a dozen times a day, conceives most of the commissions, and Brodeur chooses the writers. “He’s truly a Renaissance guy” she says. “I haven’t pursued every single story; I mean, the guy has a lot of ideas.”

The director came up with one concept after attending a charity auction at which Sharon Stone was the celebrity auctioneer: a story about a woman who could sell everything but herself. Brodeur, who’d been after Butler to write for Zoetrope, used the commission to finally woo him. He came up with “Fair Warning,” one of three stories that earned Zoetrope the National Magazine Award. Coppola’s film unit has “Fair Warning” in development; Butler, meanwhile, has turned the story into a novel, due out in February Another commission led to “The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing” by Melissa Bank, then an unknown–subsequently a best-selling–writer.

Recognition is flooding in, and, while Brodeur won’t reveal how much money Coppola has invested in Zoetrope–which was never intended to be a moneymaking venture–she does claim “we’ve been losing less and less money. I actually think breaking even is in the realm of possibility.” In addition to a circulation of 40,000 and modest advertising, Zoetrope’s revenue sources include an annual writers’ workshop held at Coppola’s lodge in Belize and this summer’s production-in a Times Square strip joint–of five one-act plays published in a special issue last year. Of course, one hit movie based on a Zoet rope story could pay for the whole shebang.

Success To What? The Grass Valley Group Story

gvgsHow GVG got involved with the movies is a story close to any exhibitor’s heart. “With some of our products, we have long been connected to the post-production side of filmmaking,” explains Beth Bonness, GVG’s director of digital cinema. “Working on the high-definition version of our Profile digital-video server, one of our engineers, who had been reading up on the latest developments in digital-cinema projection, suggested that we develop this technology further and leverage it for this emerging sector.” As it turned out, the person responsible for this insight used to be a projectionist of good old-fashioned 35mm film. As an engineering student, Dr. Jim Clark worked in college theatre booths, running tandem projectors with synchronized-transition, 5,000-foot reels and even carbon-arc light sources on some of them. How could he not miss celluloid? “It was a second job for me,” he says, “so it was a fin challenge to show up for a new movie with 30 minutes to spare and get everything spliced together correctly What I miss is running individual reels and synchronizing the transition from one reel to the next.”

Many experiments and technical upgrades later, the Emmy Awardwinning GVG Profile XP Media Platform now accommodates full-length feature films on a single server, with enough storage capacity to run movies of Titanic-size proportions. No more juggling of reels–or even computers, for that matter. While previous digital presentations for multiple screens have featured several servers routing the same signals to different theatres, Jurrasic Park III plays from a single Grass Valley digital-cinema server. The technical key is that up to four channels can be routed to as many theatres in an appropriately networked multiplex. With an average compressed density of 80 to 100 Gigabytes per film, the GVG Media Platform employs ten hard disks with capacities of 72 Gigabytes each, eight of which can be used for content storage. Coming from the broadcast industry, where a glitch in airing an advertising spot during the Super Bowl or Academy Awards becomes a matter of someone’s life or death, the GVG server offers proven reliability and safety features. “The information is stored across multiple disks in such a way that any one disk can fill without losing data, because the lost data can automatically be recovered from the remaining drives,” assures principal engineer Mike Bruns. “Modem RAID units [Redundant Array of Independent Disks] are so sophisticated that the failed drive can be simply slid out and replaced with a new unit-while the disk system continues to send out data continuously. The new disk is then automatically programmed as the system continues operation. In other words, the system heals itself after the disk replacement. GVG RAIDs run with five disks in a group and redundant power supplies.”

These disks capture high-resolution digital audio and video that can be accessed in a variety of compression formats. Beth Bonness explains how this “enables exhibitors to program alternative content and advertising all on the same server. While film uses higher-quality compression and those standards are still experimented with, other digital entertainment could already be in place, starting to generate revenue. Our multi-format server will not become obsolete, but can be upgraded as the ultimate cinema presentation standard becomes available. As you retain 90 percent of your investment, it simply becomes a question of a new board and software.”

Jurassic Park III uses MPEG+ compression that is based on the same format that we know from the MPEG2 standard of many consumer applications, including DVD. “For the first time in the release of a major motion picture, very high-quality images can be scaled to varying bit rates and file sizes,” Bruns states. Warning that there is still no compression standard that allows interoperability between competing device manufacturers, the project’s principal engineer explains that the JPIII initiative means an enhanced picture quality with a widely deployed format. “MPEG+ uses the standard MPEG2 toolkit, but removes the constant bit-rate restriction and allows the compression to focus on constant quality instead. More complex scenes use more bits than simple scenes. In a constant bit-rate scenario, less complex scenes get more bits than they need, and complex scenes may not get enough, thus resulting in lower overall quality. Thus, the size of a Constant-Quality MPEG compressed file of a film will depend on the visu al complexity of the various film scenes, not just on the length of the film. Also, since a given quality level can be guaranteed, the specific run of an MPEG+ encoder can optimize quality versus file size for a given application.”

Driving for even more interoperability, all equipment during the Jurassic trial used the emerging Digital Theatre Interim Mastering format (DTIM). “The DTIM standard relates to the resolution and color depth of the digital master that the studio releases,” Bruns explains. “In this particular case, the digital master was 1920 x 1080 deep, but the projector was only 1280 pixels wide. The projector electronics performed the down conversion, and the projector optics expanded the image back to the correct aspect ratio.”

“This interchange format enables one digital master to be played on multiple projectors from different, manufacturers,” says Universal’s Pierce, describing the advantages that make DTIM suitable for digital-cinema field trials. “Designed to be supported within current post-production system architectures, the DTIM sets the resolution of how images are captured off film, and ensures that proper color spaces are defined so that the final product is true to the original material.”

How long this material stays with the cinema operator is more “a question of business model in the relationship between exhibition and distribution than it is one of technology.” Bonness addresses the issue of conditional access diplomatically. “It’s a hotly debated topic with clearly drawn lines. Exhibitors want to retain as much control as possible to let the show go on, when and where, no matter what. On the other side, the studios prefer to authorize each showing individually. As an equipment manufacturer, Grass Valley would like to respond to whatever policy the industry can agree upon and provide the best possible infrastructure.” At the end of the digital engagement, physically speaking, data of the old film will be deleted while preserving the changeover-night tradition of readying the new film while the current program is still playing. Several software applications are already at work, beginning with the simplest level of actually starting the projector, reaching across networking and scheduling ca pabilities on the theatre level, to wide-area booking and delivery interfaces such as the one provided by Hollywood Software. Currently, exhibitors are masters of their multiplex domain, once the print is in-house. Future contracts will most likely include authentication models and address access issues that involve digital watermarking, signal scrambling, self-erasing and other such finely tuned programming code.

There is one thing, however, that everyone can agree on. “The industry does not want a closed, proprietary system,” Bonness continues. “They may want a turn-key system, but they want a choice of qualified manufacturers. Free enterprise and universally accepted standards will make the transition to digital projection possible.” Envisioning the future while drawing from events as they developed in the broadcasting industry, in her opinion, “we are looking at another year or two of experimentation, private demonstrations and full commercial try-outs. More vendors will be competing and offering their latest technology both on the projector and the server sides. In addition, we will see movie plexes where more than one screen is equipped for digital projection, so that exhibitors and distributors gain more experience as they follow the commercial life cycle of a film. Business models will finally be agreed upon. At the same time, interoperability questions will be worked through as quality standards are achieved and costs come down. All this will have to be resolved–and it will be–before we see installations surging to thousands and thousands of screens.”

Remembering what the original Jurassic Park did for the launch of digital sound or Star Wars Episode I for Dolby Surround EX or, further back The Robe for CinemaScope, Beth Bonness rightly foresees a wild card in the release of Star Wars Episode IT. “George Lucas has been known to want to see his film on more than just the existing digital installations.” May “the Force” indeed be with us all.