WBEZ | projection http://www.wbez.org/tags/projection Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The work of projectionists in the age of digital movies http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-02/work-projectionists-age-digital-movies-105551 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center; "><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/70mm.jpeg" style="height: 480px; width: 640px; " title="70mm Film (flickr/Cornelius Bartke)" /></div><p>Tonight the Music Box in Chicago kicks off its <a href="http://www.musicboxtheatre.com/collections/music-box-theatre-70mm-festival">first ever, two-week long festival of 70mm films.</a></p><p>70mm is a wide-gage, high resolution format. It is bright and sharp and absolutely steady, free of the distortion that can occur with 35mm films. The format&#39;s no novelty: It&#39;s been around about as long as we&#39;ve had movies. But it is costly, requiring special projectors and screens. So 70mm has always been more of a special treat than standard fare at the cineplex.</p><p>Still, the Music Box program is eclectic enough to satisfy a variety of cinematic tastes.</p><p>High art formalists will appreciate <em>2001: A Space Odyssey</em> or <em>Vertigo</em>, both of which screen tonight. Early Gen Xers can wax nostalgic over (and bring their kids to) <em>Chitty Chitty Bang Bang</em>. And for cult film enthusiasts, there&#39;s <em>Lifeforce</em>. The sci-fi thriller about space vampires was a failed attempt at a blockbuster, directed by Tobe Hooper and shot by the late Alan Hume, who did great work on films ranging from <em>Return of the Jedi</em> to one of my personal favorites, <em>The Legend of Hell House</em>.</p><p>Doug McLaren, head projectionist at the Music Box, says the festival was inspired by an advanced screening late last summer of Paul Thomas Anderson&#39;s film <em>The Master,</em> a rare contemporary film shot in 70mm.</p><p>It turns out the Music Box is the only theatre in Chicago capable of projecting 70mm. After a lot of local interest (and calls from &quot;Anderson&#39;s people&quot;, according to McLaren), he arranged the screening, which almost immediately sold out and prompted rave reviews, for both the film and its presentation.</p><p>The Music Box only got their 70mm projector about 10 years ago &ndash;&nbsp;McLaren says to expand both their programming scope and projecting capabilities (the theatre can screen 16, 35, and 70mm film, as well as the digital equivalents to film: DCP or &quot;Digital Cinema Package&quot; and HDCAM).</p><p>But McLaren says in preparation for the festival they&#39;ve completely rebuilt their 70mm projector, installing brand new gears and bulbs, and re-timing &quot;everything.&quot;</p><p>Paradoxically, at the same time that the Music Box has been investing time and money in an aging and almost obsolete format, what they&#39;re now screening is almost entirely digital content.</p><p>McLaren says that wasn&#39;t the case even as recently as six months ago. But starting with their latest winter calender, the tides shifted.</p><p>&quot;Even things that used to be a new restoration of a given film is now video,&quot; he said. &quot;Which was quite a shock, because it came faster that we thought. It seems like everyone decided to go all in at the same time.&quot;</p><p><strong>The arrival of digital</strong></p><p>Much has been written about the rapid shift from analog to digital at the movies, in particular how the new &quot;paradigm&quot; threatens small, independent film exhibitors and movie houses, who can&#39;t always afford to pay for new digital equipment.</p><p>But I hadn&#39;t yet fully processed the impact this was having on the people who actually climb into the booth and screen the movies for us, until a recent chat with another local projectionist (and full disclosure, good friend), who had just returned from her annual 3-week gig at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.</p><p>Michelle Puetz has been a freelance projectionist for 15 years. She regularly travels to festivals in the U-S and abroad to inspect and project films. It&#39;s always been a high pressure and even grueling gig. But thanks to digital, Puetz says the projectionists at Sundance saw their workload double.</p><p>Puetz and her colleagues had to inspect almost 300 movies, most of which were either DCP or HDCAM. Only 16 were 35mm films, and of those a mere 5 were actually screened. The other 11 were back-up copies, which were run through projectors with their lamps not on, in case something went wrong with the digital copy.</p><p>The protocol for inspecting actual films is pretty clear cut. But for what Puetz dubs &quot;the wild west&quot; of digital content, the Sundance projectionists had to figure out a whole new standard of inspection and quality control.</p><p>DCP, unlike a reel of film, is just a hard drive full of files which program a number of things, from the actual image, to the soundtrack, to the language or even font of the subtitles. A separate key (an alphanumeric string) &quot;unlocks&quot; the content, specifying which servers and for what period of time, down to the very minute, it can be played.</p><p>Which means that instead of measuring the length of a film or checking it for tears or splices, Puetz says &quot;you&#39;re an IT person learning how to read code.&quot; And because there&#39;s no actual &quot;object&quot; to inspect often the only way Puetz could check a film was to load it on a server and play it, in real time.</p><p>Even that wouldn&#39;t guarantee a trouble-free screening (hence the 35mm back-ups). Digital promises that you can just push play and walk away. But any number of things can go wrong (see David Bordwell&#39;s <a href="http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog/2012/01/05/pandoras-digital-box-at-the-festival/">exhaustive</a> but enlightening take on the potential pitfalls of the nascent format). And if it does, a film technician can&#39;t open up the projector and take a look. They have to call someone who is authorized to access and re-format the content (controls Puetz and others chalk up to the studios&#39; &quot;paranoia&quot; about piracy).</p><p>The process sounds annoying and mystifying to be sure. But according to projectionists, it&#39;s also diminishing.</p><p><strong>The decline of projectionists</strong></p><p>&quot;In the past projectionists, though technicians, were very deeply interested in the art of presentation,&quot; Puetz said. &quot;They knew when an image looked right on screen. They could see a shutter vibration or flicker. They could actually hear it going wrong. Now with digital, the presentation standards are set by studios. So it&#39;s not really an art anymore.&quot;</p><p>McLaren of the Music Box concurs.</p><p>&quot;It invites a laziness I don&#39;t appreciate,&quot; McLaren said. &quot;There&#39;s nothing I can really change.&quot;</p><p>And while he&#39;s a big proponent of &quot;showing things in the medium that they were intended for, digital is creating an atrophying of skills, both in myself and my staff.&quot;</p><p>That&#39;s likely not just because of digital. Whether because of cost-cuts or sheer indifference, 35mm projection at many multiplexes has for years now been foiled by under-trained staff and poorly maintained equipment: How many badly lit, awful sounding films have you sat through?</p><p>These days, if audiences do notice the difference between film and digital, it&#39;s probably because if only by comparison, the latter is often a more satisfying experience. Even Puetz says if she&#39;s going to see a Hollywood feature she wants it be digital.</p><p>And the digital &#39;adapt or die&#39; scenario projectionists face is not unique. Other skilled practitioners, from car mechanics to doctors (who seem to spend as much or more time doing data entry as diagnostics during appointments), have moved on. In fact some projectionists are excited by the potential of digital (Mclaren notes there&#39;s currently room for up to 128 audio tracks on DCP).</p><p><strong>The digital divide</strong></p><p>Still, what exactly is that potential? So far the main argument seems to be that digital conversion saves money, for the studios anyway. Great for them. What about us? I don&#39;t mean this to be a Luddite&#39;s lament. Smart phones, computers, social media streams: All have allowed us to communicate in wonderfully transformative and complicated ways.</p><p>How much wonder and imagination has digital conversion thus far brought to actual movie going, or to the art of film presentation? Digital visual effects have produced fantastic spectacles.&nbsp;</p><p>A film like <em>Avatar</em>&nbsp;definitely threw down the gauntlet, especially in terms of how much money was to be made with new 3D technology&nbsp;(digital conversion conspiracy: it was James Cameron, a whole bunch of green screens, and a huge swath of New Zealand that sent us hurtling pell mell down this path.)&nbsp;</p><p>But for all its technical innovation, film going and film screening has been a relatively stable and standardized experience. And so it more or less remains, at least for those of us out front, in the house seats.</p><p>Not so much for those up in the booth. As the art of projection dies away, and actual films become as rare and precious as old master paintings (how ever did the copy become the master, the original?), it is hard not to wonder to what purpose - or even why - such a complete and seismic shift in the film experience, had to happen.&nbsp;</p><p>Maybe it&#39;s too soon to tell. But as the winding down of cinema speeds up, I&#39;d really love an answer.</p><p><em>The 70mm Festival runs February 15-28 at the Music Box Theatre. </em></p><p><em>You can follow me on Twitter @wbezacuddy or <a href="https://www.facebook.com/cuddyalison?ref=hl">Facebook.</a></em></p></p> Fri, 15 Feb 2013 00:04:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-02/work-projectionists-age-digital-movies-105551 Hey, you! Actor! I can't hear you! http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-06-13/hey-you-actor-i-cant-hear-you-87805 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-June/2011-06-14/Yelling actor 2_Flickr_Vancouver Film School.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-14/Yelling actor 2_Flickr_Vancouver Film School.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 334px; margin: 5px;" title="(Flickr/Vancouver Film School)"></p><p>The pre-show theater announcement is now standard: turn off cell phones and pagers and "if you must eat candy, please unwrap it NOW." This has minimized (if not entirely eliminated) perhaps the two most infuriating distractions of contemporary theater-going.</p><p>But it still leaves a third infuriating distraction, and there isn't a theater anywhere with the guts to confront it. No theater manager or producer will add this to the pre-show spiel: "And if you're an old person who can't hear, please shut up! Do NOT ask your companion to tell you what the actors said!"</p><p>Of course, there's a fix for this one, too, if actors and directors only realized that quite often the reason for Infuriating Distraction #3 is Infuriating Distraction #4: THE ACTORS DON'T SPEAK LOUDLY ENOUGH!!!!</p><p>Perhaps I'm becoming increasingly sensitive to this issue since I recently celebrated my 59th birthday. Again. I have no doubt that advancing middle age and 25 years of tinnitus have taken a toll on my hearing. Then again, I have no trouble at rock concerts (which may be why I have tinnitus in the first place). Less facetiously, I have no difficulties with normal conversation or phone calls or my work in the WBEZ studios, nor did I have trouble hearing on a recent visit to New York, sitting in the last row of the balcony of a Broadway theater. I caught every word of the two unamplified actors in the play because they never failed to project.</p><p>But here in Chicago, among our Off-Loop theaters, actors frequently fail to project, and there's the rub. There seems to be a mindset that because a storefront playhouse seats only 40 or 50 or 75 people, actors don't have to project or point their dialogue; that somehow an intimate conversation between two characters can be performed in the hushed modulations of a real intimate conversation between two people.</p><p>Well, it can't. Even in the smallest Off-Loop house, there still is a separation between actors and audience. The audience is NOT an actor standing just inches away from another actor, and clarity for the audience requires both projection and enunciation on the part of the performers.</p><p>Now, projection doesn't necessarily mean volume, although more volume sometimes may be the answer. More often, it means intensity or expressiveness. This essential acting concept cuts both ways. Many, many times in my reviews I've criticized performers who substitute volume for intensity at moments when they are supposed to be, say, angry or excited, both of which also can be expressed in whispers. But remember, please, that a stage whisper isn't really a whisper. Similarly, intimate and/or soft-spoken dialogue must still retain a suitable decibel level.</p><p>So the idea of speaking normally because a theater is small is a mistake and a trap into which far too many directors and actors fall. While rehearsing a show for three to six weeks, the company hears the lines over and over and over again, which dulls their response as to whether or not the words will be heard and understood by audiences hearing them for the first--and only--time. Familiarity breeds comprehension: It fills in blanks which the audience will not be able to fill in.</p><p>There also are various physical aspects of productions which sometimes exacerbate the problem of clarity. Sets, costumes and the blocking of the actors can all play a part, as can the acoustic characteristics of each venue. When my "Other Half" shouts to me from two rooms away, I can hear the sound but can't always understand all the words, and theater can work that way, too.</p><p>Directors should keep all this in mind: One size does not fit all situations and playhouses when it comes to projection. They should remember, too, that a very high percentage of Chicago's theater audience is over 55, even at small Off-off-Loop theaters. I'll bet our theater community would be shocked by the results if they surveyed audiences about problems with hearing and clarity.</p><p>Meanwhile, actors, speak up! Why spend all that money studying Alexander or Linklater voice techniques if you ain't gonna use them.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 14 Jun 2011 03:43:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-06-13/hey-you-actor-i-cant-hear-you-87805