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Is 3D Here to Stay This Time Around?

October 30th, 2009
3D glasses.

3D glasses.

If there is one major thing to have come out the technology sector this year, then it must be 3D. Reports from NAB, Las Vegas, and IBC, Amsterdam, suggest that the 3D experience is with us like never before (3ality and Pace largely leading the way), and available on new and exciting platforms.

The dual-end cameras are setting the pace and SONY and Panasonic both have their single-lens 3D prototypes awaiting release (capable of capturing HD images). The Usain Bolt 150m run in Manchester in May – captured in 3D by Sky and FilmNova, a division of Nova International – showed how recording 3D television has advanced, and in late-November, Channel 4 will host an entire week celebrating 3D viewing, with The Queen in 3D, Derren Brown’s 3D Magic Spectacular and The Greatest Ever 3D Moments all given the 3D development.

These are predictions and statements however we have heard before. 3D is no new generation thing (in 1922, Power of Love was released, featuring the “anaglyph process” which involved simultaneously shooting two views of a scene and then printing the film in two different colours and combining them with layered film on one reel). It has been tried, tested and of course, developed over more than fifty-years. Advancements in both the cinematic world and that of gaming have magnified the watching and playing experience. It is immersive and playful, but so far, audiences have only been moderately interested in releases, despite the highest quality 3D ever available at the IMAX 3D and REAL D cinemas.

Panasonic's 3D HD Camcorder Prototype.

Panasonic's 3D HD Camcorder Prototype.

Robert Zemeckis’s Beowulf (2007), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (2008), The Rolling Stones’ epic performance, Shine a Light (2008), and the strangely eerie bubblegum charm of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds (2008), have all proved only relative success with cinemagoers. Furthermore to the debate, won’t such films lose something when watched at home? Predictions suggest a drop in DVD sales, and not just because of piracy and illegal downloading but because something is lost from the big screen to the small, and if we are talking about 3D, then surely the loss is greater as the experience cannot be replicated at home.

3D, on any medium, has the ability to add depth and layers to the screen (called depth perception or Stereopsis <>), despite cinema being its premium tool. One of its greatest assists, and something perhaps best left for adventure land rides – exciting the children and horror lovers – is its capacity to throw things at you: fists, sticks, blood, and limbs. Others see it as a “distracting technique”, removing you from reality and thus, losing the believability of the story and destroying the illusion.

A 1950s 3D viewing cinema audience.

A 1950s 3D viewing cinema audience.

A contrasting view is that this is an encouraging movement for 3D technology. There is the ability to offer something home television and computers cannot, but this is still a double-ended-sword; you fight piracy and illegal download theft, yet run the risk of affecting sales revenue, because whether or not a DVD release comes with a pair of those trendy Buddy Holly glasses or not, it can never compare to the immersive experience of watching it on the big screen.

Then there are the industry trendsetters, those “techno-chasers”, the Spielberg’s, Katzenberg’s and Lucas’ fuelling the fire, jumping in their studios like agitated children, just waiting to give old classics the 3D makeover. Currently we await Pixar/Disney’s Toy Story 3D, a film so perfectly executed the first time around that there is fear adding a 3D layer may be a step too far. Time (and ticket sales) will tell.

So far, at least, the last three generations have all had the 3D movement, and so far, it has proved nothing more than a retro gimmick from an industry under threat. Validating the medium could be James Cameron’s much anticipated Avatar (Fox Studios). Until then, it remains stuck with the novelty value and a steep admission rate.

I leave you with a quote from director Sam Mendes when asked if he would ever consider working in 3D, to which he replied, “I already have. It’s called theatre”.

Avatar (HD) Trailer:

moonlighter-3d-0091 jaws up_poster_allchar

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Ah, Those X Factor Judges…

October 16th, 2009
The X Factor

The X Factor

I have succumbed for another year. The audition gruntings and howlings of the UK’s most erratic hopefuls finally gives way to the angelic harmonies of the final twelve contestants. The X Factor dominates weekend television now, and everyone is a star. In fact, we are guaranteed – through Mr. Simon Cowell – that twice a year (X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent) we will find ourselves a new golden entertainer. Someone propelled to instant fame, i.e. being interviewed on GMTV, This Morning, and likewise, early-morning US news/gossip chat shows. There will be untold fortunes for them, kiss-and-tells in The Mirror and The Sun, makeovers, celebrity partners and that now (almost) dead cert, a Christmas Number One.

The X Factor Judges

The X Factor Judges

The X Factor is a prime example of the power of television as a medium. Perhaps not the power of ITV (though their advertising revenue from the show must be their greatest?) but of television’s ability to manipulate the public. Or should we say the power of Cowell and his burgeoning media empire, with the show broadcast on ITV, ITV2, STV, UTV, TV3, and then repeated on ITV and ITV2, streamed on YouTube, tagged on MySpace and Facebook, and so on.

The X Factor has become its own judge with the audience its partner in crime. For we watch, laugh, comment, record, and rewind all those eye-squinting, ear-bleeding auditions, and then, later down the line, pick up the phone and spend our hard earned cash voting for these nitwits. Nitwit reality stars whom A.A. Gill described as, “Bereft of a natural expression, the body language tortured into a physical Tourette’s by a thousand paparazzi, and you have to think: these are very, very bizarre, truncated human beings.” The X Factor and the audience are now the deciding judges. Simon Cowell is the brand.

Simon Cowell

Simon Cowell

He is a loveable rogue though isn’t he? Past the V-necks and high waistbands. Naïve sixteen-year-olds from Essex tumble out of their auditions in floods of tears (which infuriate their burly mothers) because Cowell has cut them off prior to finishing a powerhouse ballad, telling them, “Tesco will always need shelf stackers.” Yet they are pleased that he spoke to them. Louis, Danni and Cheryl can say what they like, dribble negative comments or heap praise, but it is Simon Cowell who commands respect and each individual, whether craving their fifteen minutes of fame or pursuing their childhood dream, long for the nod from Cowell.

For those with a smidgen of interest remaining, the previous series winners were:

Series One: Steve Brookstein (winning judge: Simon Cowell)
Series Two: Shayne Ward (winning judge: Louis Walsh)
Series Three: Leona Lewis (winning judge: Simon Cowell)
Series Four: Leon Jackson (winning judge: Danni Minogue)
Series Five: Alexandra Burke (winning judge: Cheryl Cole)
Series Six: ?

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Sounds Like…

October 9th, 2009

‘The Audience Is Listening’ is a logo you’ll have often seen before a movie, but are they, and what are they listening for?  It’s a strange one, and I wondered who thought thx logoit up?   You may also have seen SDDS and DTS, which sometimes appear on posters or lurk at the very end of movies with the bit that says,  ‘Shot on location in the Bahamas’ – on Bond movies at least.  There’s also the more obvious, Dolby Digital, also at the front, currently in the style of an Indianna Jones movie, not sure why that is either.

It’s all about sound, but not as they knew it back in the day. This is LOUD sound and digital, and ‘The Audience Is Listening’ to THX, or more correctly, in THX .

Since the talkies, sound has always been a problem, it used to be the recording of it, but when they got that fixed, it was the playing back and that was incredibly hard to improve.  Though I guess audiences just enjoyed what was in front of them, not knowing how good it could be until one day, they could actually hear what people were saying!

The problem was always in the basic way in which sound is put onto the film alongside the picture.  It’s printed photographically as a clear wavy stripe, on every print that Ray Dolbygoes to the theatres.  Light is shone through the wavy line to a sensor which converts it to sound, but this process limits the range of sound that can be reproduced, particularly at the very low end and the very high, and creates unwanted hissy noise, which is filtered out but at the same time, filtering out the higher notes and sounds.

Just like talkies, 3D, widescreen, and other novelties, studios knew audiences would flock to the next big thing, so everyone was searching for the best sound experience.  They could put it on posters.  In 1965, Ray Dolby, an American audio engineer working in his UK labs, had already developed a system to reduce the sound of tape hiss for record studios.  The breakthrough was that rather than filter out the high frequency hiss – which could also affect the sounds you wanted to be heard, during the actual recording process, the high frequencies were made louder, then when played back, the Dolby system reduced them back to a normal level and so at the same time, lowering the level of the hiss so it was virtually inaudible.

The first film to benefit from Ray’s system was, A Clockwork Orange, and though no doubt the sound was like crystal, especially Walter Carlos’ music, it’s likely the audience and critics alike, were so overwhelmed with Kubrick’s unflinching vision, the sound went without comment.  However, Ray’s family name was soon to become known throughout the world.

So movies had colour, they had gimmicks, so why not,  sound gimmicks.  Stereo was around, in a rudimentary form, but it wasn’t an ‘event’.  Sensurround was an ’event’ invented by Universal Studios and premiered in 1974 on the movie Earthquake. (Hang on to your computer if you watch this clip!)  Oh, and Poster from the movie Earthquakethough the poster indicates it was recommended by ’Adult Entertainment’ it really wasn’t that kind of film!

The idea behind Sensurround was that at various points in the movie, the audience would really feel like they were in an earthquake. They did this by installing special loudspeakers into theatres, at $500 per run, which could blast out the specially created, low frequency rumble at an incredibly high intensity.  Indeed the rumble was a scientifically exact replication of seismic data from the 1971 Sylmar earthquake in the San Fernando Valley, which measured 6.6 on the Richter scale.  Special cue tones were incorporated into the regular soundtrack to set it off, and it worked way better than anyone expected.  Theatres sustained structural damage, parts of the ceiling at the famous Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood fell in, and the audiences watching quiet, tense scenes on Godfather 2 in the next door screen complained in droves.

Some time later, director Steven Spielberg was gaining a bit of name for himself, Jurassic Parkhaving just made the first Indiana Jones movie, and was thinking about Jurassic Park but was jaded by current sound systems and concerned that he couldn’t get the big dinosaur roars he wanted.  So in 1991, he invested in the development of DTS, Digital Theatre Systems.  The Dolby people had already been working on their, Dolby Digital, for four years, but I guess Steven just wanted his own.  Interestingly, one year later, Sony began working on their system, SDDS, Sony Dynamic Digital Sound.

They’re all digital surround sound systems, with generally five channels of surround sound and one channel for deep bass sounds.  Dolby Digital premiered in 1992, on Batman Returns, a year later came Jurassic Park with DTS and just one week later came SDDS on Arnie’s, Last Action Hero.

Today, SDDS is the least popular.  This picture shows about a centimetre of a cinema Various sound systems on a cinema printprint.  From the left is the SDDS track, the grey between the sprockets is the Dolby – you can just see their logo, next is the regular stereo and the dashes are the DTS.  The problem with SDDS isn’t the sound quality but that being on the very edge of the film, it’s easily damaged, and it happens to be more expensive.  Like SDDS, the Dolby is actually tiny dots which are read by a CCD sensor, similar to that used on digital cameras.  The DTS is different.  The dashes aren’t the sound track, the sound is actually from a regular CD, usually three, the dashes make sure they stay in sync.

But yes, it does mean as well as transporting cans of film between theatres, the CD’s have to stay with them.  DTS is supposed to sound marginally better but probably only to dogs or engineers.  Digital cinema of course comes on a hard drive containing everything, so it’s likely Dolby, DTS and possibly SDDS will continue side by side.

THX Car systemAnd what of THX?  Well, sadly I’ve almost run out of space, but suffice to say it’s a specification for theatre design and sound systems, so the sound you hear is like it was in the studio where it was mixed.

Developed by George Lucas and named after, Tomlinson Holman’s eXperiment.  You can now get it in Lincoln cars.  Phew!!

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Iowa Bad Boys

October 7th, 2009

The investigations into possible abuses of the Iowa Tax Incentive program has now become a criminal investigation by the Iowa Attorney General’s office.

IowaIn early September, the Tax Incentives Program was suspended when it was discovered that many potentially fraudulent documents had been created for 20 out of 22 film projects that received tax credits, which would ultimately benefit film makers directly.

The manager of Iowa’s Film Office was fired and two other executives resigned after a review by independent accountants revealed, contracts were changed to increase budgets, signatures were copied and moved to the new contracts, film makers expenses up to $650k were wrongly approved, along with numerous other falsifications.  Approximately $32m in tax credits had already been issued when the problems were discovered and the state will seek to recover those obtained fraudulently.

It was also discovered that an actor in one movie claimed the full price of a brand new Range Rover at $61k and the director of another claimed over $67k for a brand new Mercedes, even family members of some film makers benefited from the massaged incentives claims.

The suspension of the Iowa Tax Incentives program, means film makers will now be taking their projects to other states including Louisiana and Texas, creating a loss to Iowa’s economy in the region of $300m.

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Posted in: US - Film news

Training Future TV Leaders

October 7th, 2009

skillsetThe UK’s across-the-board training organisation for film and television, Skillset, has launched a major new training programme to create the future leaders in UK TV.

The catchy named, CCTV – Cultivating Creatives in TV, programme, will put 25 experienced TV creatives at producer level and above, through a 12 month training and development program to get them ready for the economic and technological aspects of the industry of the future.

Skillset’s  £200,000 programme will be run in association with industry bodies including PACT and will involve industry leaders in one-on-one mentoring, personal coaching, masterclasses, specific management and leadership training and networking opportunities.

The programme is primarily aimed at freelancers as part of the Television Freelance Fund and is now open for applications.

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Posted in: UK - TV news

The Bracelet

October 6th, 2009

Walkman BraceletNot really, directly associated with film and TV production, but so amazing I had to post this. If you thought the iPhone was cool you’ve seen nothing yet.

It’s Sony’s Walkman Bracelet, currently on show at Japan’s broadcast technology and gadget emporium, CEATEC.  Using OLED technology, it’s a bangle that does emails, pictures, music, and loads more.

Take a look.

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Posted in: International - Film & TV news


October 6th, 2009

Judge JudyStrands from major US broadcaster CBS will launch on UK satellite and cable channels on November 16, the first time CBS branded programmes will be broadcast outside the US.

Broadcasting on what is currently the, Zone channels, Zone Romantica, Zone Thriller and Zone Reality, the new channels will become, CBS Drama, CBS Action and CBS Reality.  Programmes will be from the CBS back catalogue, including Star Trek, Judge Judy and Dynasty, aimed to attract the 35 + demographic who it’s hoped will, ‘have affection for the library shows’.

They’ll be available on Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat and if this UK trial period does well, CBS plan to do something similar on other European wide platforms.

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Posted in: UK - TV news

Single Lens 3D

October 6th, 2009

This week in Japan, birthplace of all things techno, sees the opening of CEATEC, the show for all things techno.

Sony single nens 3D cameraOne of the most important demos, will be of Sony’s 3D video camera which uses just one lens.  3D camera systems and rigs have appeared hugely over the past 12 months, all, quite naturally, have used some means of combining images from two lenses into one TV picture.  One lens for each eye, to create the depth of natural 3D.

Sony have gone one better, or maybe that should be gone one less, better.  Their prototype camera uses just one lens, eliminating the need for complicated mounts, rigs, focus and zoom calibrations etc.  The 3D is created by a complex arrangement of mirrors to split light from the lens, to be recorded by left and right sensors, and later viewed with polarised glasses.

Sony 3D CameraThe camera will also shoot up to 240 fps, making it ideal for sports and other application, requiring smooth 3D images of fast moving action.

3DTV truly seems set to become the next big thing as also at CEATEC, Panasonic, Sony and others, preview large 3D TV’s and 3D Blu Ray player, also from Panasonic.

Will we ever keep up??!!

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The Celluloid Ceiling

October 2nd, 2009

I heard Janet Street Porter on the radio the other day, talking about the celluloid ceiling, the idea that women have a hard time getting good jobs in film and television.  Worth exploration I thought, but a dangerous mission even for this experienced adventurer.

Janet Street PorterJanet Street Porter,  for our international readers, is most well known for her hard-as-nails personality and loud, sauf London accent.   The Ronnie Kray (notorious London gangster of the ‘60’s for our international readers) of the media, though I doubt she’s actually killed anyone, but probably destroyed many.  Her popular image however, belies her vast career which encompasses editor of the Independent On Sunday, Head of Youth Television at the BBC, she was nominated for the Mae West Award For The Most Outspoken Woman in The Industry, losing out to actress Sheila Hancock, and she likes to ramble, that is, go on long walks.

Her point on the radio show, was that even today, women don’t get top jobs or respect in the film and TV biz.  She obviously hasn’t heard of Sherry Lansing, first woman to head a Hollywood studio when at age 35, she became head of production at 20th Century Fox in 1980, opening the boardroom doors to be followed by many others.

I don’t want to just make a list…oh alright then, coming in at No.1 in last year’s Hollywood Reporter Power 100, Women In Entertainment, Oprah. 2. Anne Sweeney, president Disney ABC Television Group, 3. Amy Pascal – on the left, Amy PascalChairman Sony Pictures Entertainment – the woman who cancelled, Moneyball, Steven Soderbergh’s baseball movie, 4. Nancy Tellem, president CBS Paramount Network Television and 5. Stacey Snyder, co-chairman and CEO Dreamworks.  And that’s just the top five,  there’s 95 more right behind them. Looks like in the US at least, women are heading for global entertainment domination.

In the UK, a large slice of the TV output is overseen by women, both controllers of BBC One and Two are women as are the top exec at Five, heads of factual, entertainment and drama at ITV and the heads of current affairs, features, daytime and drama at Channel Four.  Indeed the most powerful woman in the world is German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, Leader of the world’s fourth largest economy. Looks like it’s the guys who are losing out, I guess their day will come. And true there is no female president, as yet. But they’ve had a hard time getting there.

The Hays CodeIn the golden days of Hollywood, during the 1930’s, women film makers were suffocated by the Hays Code which remained in force right up until 1968.  This was more than political correctness, this was political censorship.  It was a code of guidelines for film productions to ensure films were made to strict moral standards and to promote the morals of the Catholic church through the Catholic Legion Of Decency.

It was largely a reaction to the ‘Hollywood gone wild’ of the 1920’s when comedy star Fatty Arbuckle stood trial for the death of an actress at a San Francisco party, the revelations of the bisexuality of murdered director William Taylor and the drug related death of actor Wallace Reid among others.  Sound familiar?!  Interestingly, also the time when June Mathis was the first female exec of Metro/MGM, the highest paid exec in Hollywood and a screenwriter when female screenwriters were much in demand.

But the sort of films women were writing and directing fell foul of the Hays code, it was that strict and the only one to survive was Dorothy Arzner. Dorothy’s early films often had lesbian undertones as typified in the 1929, The Wild PartyThe Wild Party, and featured independent, tough women as in the 1930, Anybody’s Woman.

But the Hays code wouldn’t permit any films even remotely immoral, stating, ‘The sanctity of marriage and the home had to be upheld’ and that, ‘Pictures shall not imply that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing’.   Adultery and illicit sex, were a no-no and even, ‘Excessive and lustful kissing’ were to be avoided.  Women film makers were under even greater scrutiny and to keep making films, Dorothy Arzner turned her talents towards making more conventional films like Joan Crawford’s, The Bride Wore Red, though still subtly introduced scenes to reflect her feminist ideals.  Crawford once said of Arzner, “I think all my directors fell in love with me; I know Dorothy Arzner did!”

Tina Fey in 30 RockEarlier this year, the Center For Study Of Women In Television and Film  published statistics,  showing various levels of employment of women in US TV channels, which overall showed that women held 25% of creative’s roles in jobs like, producer, director, editor, DOP etc. In 2007, the same researcher published statistics on women’s involvement in the top 250 movies of 2006 on which 7% were  directors, 2% were DOP’s and 21% were editors.  Interestingly, more women worked on romantic comedies than on sci fi or horror, and I would suggest more women go to romantic comedies than sci fi or horror, though I know horror is big for the female audience.

So really, I would suggest the celluloid ceiling is melting and what determines women’s involvement in film and TV is generally more a matter of choice rather than any external forces. Today, though statistics may show women have a minority share of the jobs in film and TV, they do have some of the most powerful.

My favourite tough woman in the biz has to be Tina Fey in, 30 Rock, interestingly, her character holds a lower position than Tina Fey does as executive producer on the actual show.

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