Anne Thompson recently wrote a column in Variety about the “greening” of Hollywood–the attempts by certain folks in the biz to make the process of making films more environmentally friendly. I wrote her a polite note telling her that she’d actually missed an obvious angle–the fact that the current 35mm theatrical distribution process is quite unfriendly to the environment. It would take a lot of carbon credits for the industry to overcome the many trucks and planes that are necessary to delivery those 35mm film cans, not to mention the process of making the prints, which requires putting petroleum-based substances into baths of toxic chemicals. Then consider what has to happen to all those prints when they are ultimately “destroyed.” In other words, theatrical distributors have a lot to answer for with Mother Nature.
But rather than fret about it, perhaps the studios should wake up to the fact that there is a better solution than paying for carbon credits–digital theaters. Imagine a world in which film prints are merely digital files, and those files can be delivered electronically without the need for airplanes and trucks. Hollywood doesn’t want you to know this, but this world exists right now.
Here’s the deal…
The studios got together a few years ago, and after much angst about how to approach digital distribution, settled on what they call the DCI Specification–a standard for digital distribution. Without speculating on all the real reasons they are resisting this change, let’s just say that the bar was set so high that it virtually guaranteed to slow things down. The problem is twofold. First, the equipment is extraordinarily expensive. Second, the files necessary to adhere to the spec are so huge that they can (at this time) only be distributed by shipping (as in trucks and airplanes) large hard drives around.
However, equipment exists right now that puts an image on the screen that audiences cannot distinguish from 35mm prints (unless of course they are sitting in the first row, and they may notice that the image doesn’t shake like 35mm). This is the type of digital projection equipment that has been in use at the Sundance Film Festival for a number of years, and is the same equipment that was installed for George Lucas’ digital release of the “Star Wars” movies. This equipment is not only affordable, but is getting less expensive by the day. More importantly, the files sizes are small enough that they can be securely delivered via the internet–now. This happens to be the equipment we use in the Emerging Cinemas Network and is also used by other independent exhibitors and distributors around the world. In fact, we’ve been working with these companies to create an alternate spec for independent and international films called i-cinema.
So here’s the irony…
We tried to book “An Inconvenient Truth” in our digital theaters. Paramount told us that they were not going to allow the film to be shown digitally. What they really meant was that they wouldn’t let us show it because our theaters are not DCI compliant. Like the other majors, they are basically boycotting non-DCI digital theaters. So, Paramount lost the opportunity to practice what the film preaches. As I asked Anne Thompson, do you think Al Gore knows this?