John Fithian of US-based National Association of Theatre Owners, was quoted this month on his position with independent cinema owners: “convert or die.” Not John’s most eloquent quote, nor very imaginative. One has only to look at Kodak to see what unimaginative thinking in the face of change will do. It’s time to think different.
There are two trends that should not be overlooked. First, the availability of quality independent content will only grow. Desktop movie making will only get better. The talent, skills, and technology are there. Even movie stars get the hint, by reducing fees and taking the odd independent production that gives them a chance to push themselves in different ways. Just as desktop publishing changed the book and magazine industry, desktop movie production is changing film making. The tricks of the trade are no longer limited to big budget productions. Anyone can rent a cinema-grade digital camera that captures at 120 frames per second. The digital tools exist to produce multi-channel sounds tracks. Special effects and editing software is a download away. To get an idea of how creative things are today, here’s a clip for how to shoot a fancy flyover effect without renting a helicopter or crane.
A number of factors are coalescing at the same time. Independent content, social network marketing, and stream distribution to notebook and tablet computers, is a formula for capturing the Generation C market. This, while more traditional movie distribution and exhibition is concerned about losing this market. The kicker is that independent content will not tolerate a lengthy second release window, which exhibitors insist upon with major studios. Without accommodation, there is risk that independent content will bypass the cinema entirely, taking a generation of movie-goers with it. Such content could be a meal ticket for independent cinema.
The second trend is that cheaper equipment for independent cinema owners is available, but not in DCI format. Without generating new standards, a special release on Blu-ray, in a second cinema release window, could solve many of the problems faced by independent cinema owners. A quick online quote demonstrates how attractive this is for independent distributors: 1000 Blu-ray discs can be replicated with 10 day turnaround for under $1800.
If there is a concern with Blu-ray, it’s that every security measure built into the format has been hacked. Blu-ray security, therefore, requires special attention. Refinements to Blu-ray security will likely lose backwards compatibility with Blu-ray in the home, which, for a second cinema release window, is a desired feature. Assuming the security issues can be solved, Blu-ray has the potential to become the low cost means for independent content to be distributed to cinema. It can also offer major distributors a second-release window for cinema, without compromising first run, DCI-compliant cinema. Independent content distributors could release in this format, without violating the lengthy windows demanded of first release houses. Not surprisingly, we’re told that more than one startup is now pursuing the use of Blu-ray for this application.
A second digital release format would not only serve small town cinema, but would benefit independent filmmakers with the need for short release windows. Rather than spout useless covenants such as “convert or die,” it’s time to look at ways to make this industry stronger.