Guest post: Being a cinema means sometimes having to say you’re sorry

As guest contributor Tara Judah observes in the post below, the landscape of the cinema industry is rapidly changing. Exhibitors are currently in the foggy intersection between old and new, with cinemas across Australia — and indeed the world — in the process of replacing 35mm film prints with DCP (Digital Cinema Package) technology.

The issues and problems that arise from good ol’ fashioned film projection are well known, from delivery problems to missing sequences and prints too dirty to screen. Digital projection will remove many of these issues but, of course, will cause problems of its own. This illuminating post by Judah, a part time critic and the PA to the Proprietor at Melbourne’s iconic Astor Theatre, elaborates on one in particular after a screening last month — through no fault of the cinema — went badly wrong.


Tara Judah writes: We all have nights we’d rather forget. But, sometimes it’s better to talk about it the morning after. And given that we’re in a relationship here (we the cinema, you the audience), it’s probably for the best that we tell you what happened and, most importantly, why it happened the way it did.

Last month we had an unexpected, unwanted and unpleasant delay to our screening of Take Shelter – the first feature in our Wicked Wednesday double bill. I use the words unexpected, unwanted and unpleasant because we’d like you to know that it was for us very much as it was for you – and it was also something that arose out of our control.

As the cinema in this relationship there are many aspects of your experience that are within our control; the atmosphere you take in when you visit the Astor is something we work hard at crafting to provide to the best of our ability, given that it too falls within the confines of often extraneous factors. But sometimes those extraneous factors, that we do our very best to work within and to work with, present themselves in such a way that we can’t control the outcome and consequently all we can do is deal with the problem at hand as quickly – and hopefully – as best possible at the times when they occur.

The landscape of the industry is changing, rapidly. Most of you will already know this because we share with you the changes as they occur. Last year, we installed a new, state of the art, Barco 32B 4K digital projector. The reasons for doing so were varied and many. With so many wonderful classic film prints having been “junked” (destroyed) over the years and with the unavailability (certainly commercially) of so many film prints there has always been a huge void in what we were able to show in a theatrical environment (this is not even including the various issues surrounding the availability of valid film rights).

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  1. Cinemas should implement SLAs. If the distributors suffer damages then the must have DRM will become a nice to have DRM.

    by ilolatu on Feb 8, 2012 at 1:55 pm

  2. I have no idea what SLAs and DRM mean apart from a waste of space. Control of intellectual property has become a problem, people selling cars and bikes often tell me they are not selling the intellectual, that is not for sale. We can understand after reading this article the new ways of control and marketing. Shifting the burden of cost off to others dismantles what had for over sixty years been accepted as usual good practice. Cost shifting will eventually cause the bums on seats to get up move away and take their money with them. Edward James

    by Edward James on Feb 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

  3. SLA = Service Level Agreement, DRM = Digital Rights Management. Even with that, I cannot quite make sense of the second sentence in the first post. But I would agree that the Cinema needs to look very closely at the SLA it has with the distributor. I am sure there is one, it is just that it is probably completely in favor of the distributor.

    As the article states, the projection equipment is now a computer system, and it is critical to the business. That means rapid response 24 hour support. If the tools in the distribution chain are going to muck about with such ridiculously restrictive licences then they are obliged to provide rapid response support to such a critical piece of infrastructure, in my opinion. Call in the lawyers.

    by Scott Grant on Feb 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm

  4. This is a direct result of the ridiculous extension of DRM to encompass such narrow time-based windows as this. Perhaps if it was unlockable for an entire day it might make sense, but a 10 minute window? I bet a lawyer dreamed that one up. For dog’s sake don’t involve more lawyers in this – there are too many in distribution already.

    The fact that they even think they need DRM like this is an indication of how screwed up the film distribution business is. The title is freely available for download elsewhere, so how did securing it for this cinema actually help the cinema, the distributors or the actual viewer at all?

    Not until we see SLAs (with actual monetary rebates) and the distributors and studios start hurting in cases like this will there be any change. Because the studios don’t give a sh*t about the viewers.

    And they wonder why people pirate movies…

    by rachel612 on Feb 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm

  5. The problem is not at all technical, but the result of a regressive US Movie industry (just google MPAA and RIAA) seeking ridiculous levels of control over their exclusive distribution rights. If they could have implemented a KDM for celluloid they would have. Private consumers have long since nixed DRM (Apple no longer has DRM on iTunes for example) and by-passed it when they have to. The definition of the term “Reasonable Use” is currently in play with a wide disagreement between the few vendors and the many buyers. From the industry that said Radio, TV, Cable, the Cassette Tape the VCR and the PVR would each be the death of media (see here) this KDM B.S. is typical. The same industry that lobbied to get a cut if you sold your old CDs at a car boot sale. The same industry that even imposed hardware controls on your devices (DVD Regions) so they could control distributions globally in order to maximise profit – again quietly bypassed. I’m really getting SO sick of the United Corporations of America and their “All your things belong us!” attitude.

    by Peter Bayley on Feb 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm

  6. I was at that screening and just want to compliment the Astor staff on handling it so well. One of the last great cinemas.

    by Merran Williams on Feb 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm

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