“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” was released in 126 Scrabble digital theatres across India, on 145 2K Scrabble and 138 3D screens by Scrabble Entertainment Ltd., which offers “the first and only 2K DCI- compliant cinema for Hollywood content screened in India,” according to CEO Ranjit Thakur. “We've long been in partnership with Warner Bros,” he says. “Scrabble's upcoming projects are ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' and ‘Wrath of the Titans (3D)'.”
Digital cinema (DC) is our post-“Avatar” passion. Multiplexes fell for digital platforms and bingo! exhibitors wanted 1s-and-0s sent on a disk or through computer data-storing machines. Projectors would convert the data into picture and sound. “Film stock is on its way to extinction,” says Ranjit. “Kodak shut shop because there is no more use of films. Twentieth Century Fox says post-2012 no film print will be circulated in Hong Kong and Macau.” He predicts, by 2015, Hindi films will stop releasing print. “Now only 35 per cent (12000-13000 screens in India) are adapted to digital platforms. There'll be a complete change in the way we view movies.”
A change in which Vivek Rangachari, Associate Producer, DAR Motion Pictures, sees major benefits. “One big advantage of digital-enabled cinemas is the ease and flexibility of programming,” he says. “If a new release is not doing well, the cinema owner has multiple options to replace the movie at a low cost.” (If a movie sells out, the theatre could decide to show it on additional screens). Theatres could also show live sporting and other digital programmes. Maintenance is low, ability to back-up content high. Clincher: the quality of a digital print stays with use, a physical print deteriorates.
Low print-cost allows 2-tier and 3-tier cinemas to play films in the first week of release, Vivek says. If the cinema is UFO-enabled, theatres can download movies through satellite-enabled VSAT, reducing the logistical time and cost of getting movies to the theatre. “Digital prints are encoded/encrypted. Such prints have watermarks and computer logs to trace piracy sources. Analog prints get pirated during transfer to theatres. UFO-relay makes piracy negligible.” Digital cinema service providers such as UFO provide the equipment (projectors, servers, etc.) at subsidised or zero cost, allowing cinema owners with small capital to set up digital theatres.
For cinematographers and directors, DC is a windfall. “Using digital cameras and workflow makes shooting, editing and post-production work simpler, smoother, controllable and easier to troubleshoot,” says Vivek. “Arri Alexa, Red MX and Red Epic cameras put the quality of digital output on a par with traditional film cameras.” Digital camera setups are lighter and hence, more flexible for complex shots. It's possible to have multi-camera setups using cheaper digital cameras like Canon 5D. Directors keep shooting, film-stock-cost no bar!
“I was the first person to use digital technology for visual effects,” said Venky, visual-effects director. “I used it in ‘Apoorva Sahodarargal'. The cameraman did the masking.” Up to ‘Gentleman' it was manual animation; the graphics were done with squeezed images, later de-squeezed by projectors. “I digitised the images in the ‘Muquabla' song. ‘Kaadalan' won a national award for post-production.” He insists younger directors go digital. Music and editing are already digital. The mindset should change.”
With digital video, filmmakers no longer convert film footage to digital (J2K) for post-production and then back to film for theatrical release. They shoot digital footage, play it back and start editing. Digital movies on DVD-ROM are sent through broadband cable or transmitted via satellite. “Cinemas with 2K format play our movies in Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi simultaneously,” says Ranjit.
Not everyone is so la-di-da about going digital. “Digital movie-making is a misnomer,” said cinematographer Sunny Joseph (“Piravi”), who uses both film and digital cameras. “The scenes/ acting are the same; only the voltage is interpreted and stored in binary format.” The electrical signals created from the images are not enough to give full info about the reality they capture, he feels. The mystery of what will come out is lost when you check and shoot. The pixels are synthetic.”
There is also the chance of actors/directors/cameramen/continuity person becoming complacent, he argued. You don't give your best shot when you know it can be easily re-shot or edited. Performance suffers. Post-production expenditure is more, time is wasted. Individual pixels may break, degrading the image quality of every single movie shown on that projector.
But as technology improves, digital video will find more converts. “It's the end of the line for analog movies,” says Venky. “‘Slumdog Millionaire', digitally shot, won the Oscar for photography.” He concedes lack of discipline in shooting, but “that's fine, it will settle down,” he says.
* This year, 35-40 3D English movies may release in India.
* Exhibitors will adopt DCI platforms and screen more Hollywood content.
* A single-screen exhibitor in Orissa ran “Ghost Ride” helped by Scrabble's technology.
* Digital screens will maximise revenues with flexible advertisement models.