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Graham Spurling Discusses Digital Cinema
04 Sep 2008 : By Roisin Cronin
Graham Spurling
The roll out of digital cinema is currently under way across Ireland. IFTN caught up with Graham Spurling of Spurling Group Cinemas to gain some insight into the digital cinema conversion, the role 3D will play, and discuss his appearance at the upcoming Screen International Digital Cinema 2008 event in London taking place on September 25th.

The Screen International Digital Cinema 2008 Conference will highlight the issues raised for the future of cinema in Europe. The forum will host key speakers on all matters digital, providing solutions to the major obstacles in moving digitisation forward, identifying new business opportunities and aims to set a strategy to accelerate the digital cinema roll-out.

Graham Spurling will be a panellist on the discussion of ‘3D: The Catalyst of change for the Digital Future of Cinema’ alongside Drew Kaza of Odeon UCI Cinemas and Ben Stassen of nWave Pictures. This discussion will focus on the business and commercial opportunities 3D offers, an element of digital cinema that is thought to be the key driver of digital process.

Spurling Group Cinema is at the forefront in embracing digital cinema equipment in Ireland. In addition to the installation of digital screens in Movies@ Dundrum & Swords and the SGC Dungarvan (the first all digital multi screen cinemas in Ireland and the UK), IFTN wants to learn more about Spurling’s embracing of the new technology in Ireland.

Graham, can you describe the advantages of Digital Cinema over the 35mm print in terms of audience experience?

The audience is going to see a film in first class condition. They are going to see a film virtually as it was shot on set. A 35mm print film for arguments sake will go three, four or five processes before it ends up as a movie on your screen. By the nature of the process it degrades from the quality of which it was shot and what you end up with on the screen. It is still a first class picture but it is not the actual shot. The digital master is the master that was shot and is simply reproduced in digital format so your picture quality is much higher and quality is consistent. It never scratches, stretches or fades. So from an audience point of view they get a digital quality picture with a higher number of pixels, and this added with the digital sound gives the optimum film experience.

In terms of installing the equipment, are there any major advantages over the normal 35mm?

No it is still a large piece of equipment. A six and a half kilowatt projector is about 5ft x 3ft x 2ft - it’s huge. So from that point of view the equipment is similar in size. All the new sites which we have planned over the next 18 months - two years will be purely digital, we will not be putting any 35m in unless we have to have one on standby, so we are going to be doing all digital projection.

I had a situation where I had two digital projectors in Enniscorthy and two in Dungarvan for example. I decided at the start of the summer of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ to take two digital projectors of out Enniscorthy and put them into Dungarvan making it a fully digital cinema. This meant I could ring Disney and say I’ll take ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ in digital format and at no point during the summer did I have to turn around and say ‘I now need a 35mm print’ because I’ve now moved down to a smaller screen and I don’t have a digital projector there. We played ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ in a four screen cinema in Dungarvan for nine shows a day without affecting any other film we had out there at the time. So we got a lot more on screen. We can handle our crowds better because we don’t have two shows a day which you would have with waiting for the 35mm print to finish.

So there is a definite cost saving aspect to installing digital?

Yes there is a huge cost saving ultimately to the studios. There is a thing called VPF ‘a virtual print fee’ where people who refurbish their cinemas are going to put a retrofit in, take their 35m out and put digital in. They are negotiating in America a virtual print fee so that every time the film plays the studio pays a fee which is around $600/$700 for argument sake as opposed to $2,000 for a print. They will pay that virtual print fee until the cost of the installation has been paid for. So the individual will pay about 20% of the installation and the virtual print fee will pay the balance. The virtual print fee will be in place in Ireland for the company who is trying to digitise this territory and they will take the virtual print fee to pay for their equipment. They then would hope to make money ultimately from the advertising that plays on it; the auto contents; sport events; opera; ballet; the school education programmes or whatever it may be, this is how they would make their money.

How is the roll out of digital going in Ireland?

It’s a slow process, originally Ireland was meant to be digitalised as part of a project to prove that digital cinema could work. A territory was picked of a reasonable size of 500 odd screens and it was planned to digitise it and have it completed two years ago to prove to Hollywood that this could work. But this hasn’t happened yet. It looks like it’s going to come into fruition now and the digitisation process will go on. The plan is to have Ireland finished within the next 18 - 24mths if it goes according to plan. But people like ourselves are working on the premise that we will install digital anyway regardless of the roll out. This is the future of cinema if you like and we have made that decision, everything we do now will be in digital format.

What exactly is the role of 3D in the digital roll out? Would it be as some suggest just a phase of the digital process?

I think film has gone through phases in its history, films were originally silent they had no colour and then talkies, Technicolor were discovered and then we found the old 3D and that was a novelty. The difference with digital 3D and the old is only apparent when you see live action movies. Take for instance U2 3D, now I wouldn’t be the biggest U2 fan, but that movie is stunning. You are there on the stage; you can reach out and can touch the cymbals on the drum kit. It’s so real! You feel you can put your hand in the space of the movie which you could never do with the old 3D.

Can viewers expect any further developments in digital cinema for Ireland?

Well Starting in October, we are screening live the Metropolitan Opera in New York in Movies@ and Dungarvan. They will have their satellite dish up and we will be beaming the matinee programme in New York straight into the theatre in Ireland at 6 o’clock in the evening. That’s not available if you don’t have digital projection. We are looking at showing the ballet at from La Scala Opera House too and there is also the option of doing sports events such as the All Ireland’s or the Olympics.

I think there are thirteen 3D films to be released next year across more genres including live action and animations - there is even a 3D slasher movie ‘My Bloody Valentine’ to be released in February. ‘Fly me to the Moon’ will be released at Halloween as well as ‘Monsters of the Deep’ by National Geographic. James Cameron’ s ‘Avatar’ and ‘Monster vs. Aliens’ will all be released on the 3D format and the digitalisation of the ‘Toy Story’ movies. Jeffrey Katzenberg from DreamWorks has gone on record saying that every single film that DreamWorks makes from here on will have a 3D version of it.

And finally, ahead of the event later this month, what is your role in the Screen International Digital Cinema 2008?

As a panellist, I am answering questions on the mostly financial implications of 3D. Working on the premise that you have a digital projector, there are options that work on your standard white screen and there are options that work on your silver screen. On the assumption you have a digital projector you can put 3D on your screen for €16,000 using silver screen and you get the ‘passive glasses’, the ones which you can chuck away after. The cheapest 3D system is €25,000 to buy but you have to buy expensive active glasses with batteries which require sterilisation after every use.

  • The Screen International Digital Cinema 2008 event takes place in London on September 25th.




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