“Side by Side”: eyewitness to film history

The impact of digital technology is being felt—for better and worse—across a wide variety of cultural sectors (books, music, photography). One of the most prominent disruptions has been in the rapid evolution of tools used to shoot, distribute, and project motion pictures.

The new documentary, Side by Side provides an insightful record of this moment in the film industry—the migration from traditional film capture, duplication, and delivery to digital cinema technology. It offers a thoughtful exploration of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going in this industry.

Written and directed by Christopher Kenneally, it is co-produced and narrated by actor Keanu Reeves who brings his own front-of-camera experience into the mix.

It’s easy to be giddy about the incredible new possibilities enabled by emerging technology. And it’s easy to be maudlin and nostalgic for old mediums and formats. Side by Side provides an unsentimental platform for prominent and passionate advocates—pro and con—to examine in more detail different facets of the transition.

“You can’t shoot 3D on film…so film has been dead in my heart for ten years” —James Cameron, director

“I hate 3D. I put on those glasses, I get sick to my stomach. The whole 3D phenomenon, it’s a marketing scheme, isn’t it?”
—Wally Pfister, cinematographer 

There is mainstream (George Lucas, James Cameron) and esoteric (Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Lena Dunham) support for digital filmmaking that enables advanced effects and  “democratizes” access.

There are also persuasive diatribes (from director Christopher Nolan, cinematographer Wally Pfister, and others) noting what is sacrificed, tangible and intangible, with the loss of the chemical film process and accompanying workflow.

I try not to do reviews here, but Side by Side is an excellent, entertaining film.  Balanced, beautiful to look at (in handsome 2D), it’s a must for anyone who cares about this business. Martin Scorsese, fresh off his triumphant 3D Hugo gets the last word: “How do you use it to tell a story? It’s up to the filmmaker.”


My New Terms of Service

It’s been a while since I posted to either of my blogs for a combination of reasons. One is being deeply immersed in doing the work that informs what I write about. The other, more difficult to describe, is grappling with something I’ll call “good internet citizenship.”

I work in technology—for the last dozen or so years at publicly traded companies. The deeper I dive into social media and online discourse, the more I realize the repercussions injudicious sharing can have.

While serving as Marketing Communications Director years ago for a publicly traded high tech company I went through formal media/PR training and had it drummed into me that information made public has to be disclosed equally. When this CFO lost his job for indiscreet tweeting I wasn’t surprised.

Investors, stock market bulletin boards, and chat rooms sometimes engage in a kind of Kremlinology for which offhand comments on Twitter and blog posts can easily become fodder.

Of course I know the rules about “quiet period.” It’s like Fight Club—you can’t talk about Quiet Period.  Not to mention signed non-disclosure agreements standard in our industry. So what about tweeting where I’m traveling? Industry gossip? Or my experience at a previous company that just went through a very public, very painful power struggle?

Although I’m gregarious both in real life and online, I know that I don’t have the luxury of making choices for myself alone. I am part of something bigger: a company, with management, colleagues, shareholders, and customers to whom I am responsible.

“The better part of valor is discretion,” said Shakespeare’s Falstaff, but does that mean that I can’t have a voice in the extremely exciting developments going on with the fields in which I have expertise?

I’ve been mulling these questions over and have come up with the following “Terms of Service.” I promise to abide by my end of the ethical bargain, and the following is what, dear reader, I expect from you.

Terms of Service:

  • My opinions are my own and don’t reflect the views of my employer, professional associations, family, or condo association.
  • What catches my eye is just that, what catches my eye. I’m not sending secret messages in code. Period.
  • If I have inside knowledge of good news about any publicly traded company (employer, ex-employer, customer, etc.) I can’t tell you. If I know bad news about same, I can’t tell you.
  • I will use language sometimes—usually quoting someone else—that you might not want your grandmother or grandchild to hear, consider yourself warned.

Acceptable use policy: you may use my blog posts, tweets, writing to make you think. You are welcome to agree, disagree, applaud and/or debate. You are welcome to share and exchange ideas with others.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some writing to catch up on!

3D Design Makes Annual Report Pop

Okay, I know it’s old school anaglyph…and an annual report…for a fast food company—but this is very cool use of 3D in design.

The company Restaurant Brands operates Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Starbucks in New Zealand and is publicly traded on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. They have taken the traditional stodgy annual report—financials and all—and by applying clever design turned it into a creative, whimsical, attractive statement about the company.

Click on this link to see the whole document online. And maybe buy some stock!

Mark your calendars: PuppetZilla 3D May 27 LA

Upcoming event in Los Angeles this weekend looks fantastic! It’s a joint presentation by the LA Guild of Puppetry and the Los Angeles 3D Club. For more information visit their website here. Can’t wait to see the pictures!

Coming Soon: The Great Gatsby in 3D

The first HD trailer for Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming version of The Great Gatsby has been released. Based on the 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. The film will star Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan and is scheduled to be released in December.

It is very different from the extremely beige Francis Ford Coppola (with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow) version of my youth and the visuals in the trailer are tantalizing! The range of 3D films and development of stereoscopy as a storytelling tools continues to expand.

2012 April Foolishness: Toshiba’s 3D “Spectacle”

Toshiba uses a clever spoof—a faux launch for a new 3D monocle called “Spectacle“—to publicize its line of 3D laptops and other products.  It’s witty and fun. The Spectacle is billed as ideal for everyone, especially those “who don’t like bulky 3D glasses but just can’t wait for glasses-free 3D”.

Accessories include designer red and blue lenses, a chain, and carrying case. There’s a silly video ad as well.  Enjoy!

France takes aim at the silver screen

France’s Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée or CNC (in English “National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image”), is instituting an effort to ban silver screens across France and in the process making a strong statement on one of the nagging issues of digital cinema projection, low light levels, while dealing a serious blow for leading 3D exhibition systems.

Carole Lombard on the cover of a 1930 issue of "Silver Screen" magazine. The term is emotionally linked to the golden age of cinema.

Silver screens are synonymous with old school cinema, but in recent years they have become a required part of the kit for one of the most popular 3D exhibition systems, RealD.  They also tend to have a brightness differentiation so light levels drop off around the edges of the screen area creating a “hot spot” effect reminiscent of the old school movie experience. This compromises image quality for non-3D films and can impair viewing from some angles within the cinema.

The CNC on behalf of the French government is charged with  “supporting, regulating, negotiating, promoting and distributing, cooperating with local authorities, protecting film heritage.”  In the interest of improving image quality and visibility they are mandating that silver screens be phased out going forward. While the ban will not impact competitors Dolby and X-pand, RealD has a market share of about 75% of deployed 3D screens in France. The agreement to transition away from silver screens to bright white is being seen as a challenge to usability for 3D.

Variety has an excellent summary here, and the original announcement, billed as an agreement to guarantee quality in digital cinema, is available here (in French).

Planet3D comment: this is a reminder that technology has to keep up with quality demands.  It’s a commercial challenge, but in the final analysis audience experience is the most important thing.

The so-called "halo effect"