Industry Report: Digital
Beaune 2005 - Meetings
Digital: the great challenge
by Fabien Lemercier
- On 22 October, at the 15th Rencontres de Beaune organised by the ARP, a debate on the transition "of the photochemical and analogue universe to the digital era" provided the occasion to address a topic that is raising a number of questions in the film industry. All branches of the 7th art will be hit by this change, from shooting to post-production, encompassing distribution in cinema theatres, on television, in DVD, on telephone and over the Internet. Two years after a stormy debate on the technical future of exhibition (read dossier: Taming the digital dragon), the Beaune film meetings have decided to deal with this issue that affects a sector which has experienced rapid change since 2003 in more detail. As Michel Gomez Delegate General of ARP stressed in his preamble, "the problems span from the norms of projection to piracy and are global in nature, but also at play is an enlargement in the field of activity with a complete change that affects the branch as a whole. This technological revolution isn't straightforward, as this expansion also causes a shake-up in the relations between agents, that is those new to the industry, and new laws whose consequences on production and distribution it is necessary to analyse".
Digital is already here
These futuristic scenarios as predicted by the ARP is food for thought, with the arrival in 2006 of the widespread use of HD and 2K digital cameras for shooting, the growth in the standardisation of Digital Intermediate in post-production, the increase in digital projectors in theatres, the success of VOD (Video on demand) and the rapid growth of TV on mobile phones. Even more spectacular developments are planned for 2010. These include the direct saving of images on servers of post-producers or in laboratories thanks to the increase in high-speed Internet access, a new generation of digital cameras allowing a reframing of the image in post-production without a loss in quality, widespread use of 3D relief in digital cinema theatres, piracy of servers blocking the release of films, growth in the production of alternative films destined for release in DVD HD and on high power mobile phones only. With regard to the outlook for 2015 and 2020, as seen by ARP's Stephan Faudeux (director of the HD club and development director at Avance Rapide), they exceed the current limit of a simultaneous release on 150,000 screens, real time post-production with one single laboratory holding an international monopoly, disposable multimedia devices, the demise of the DVD HD format and the supremacy of VOD, holographic production and so on.
Defining a strategy of adaptation
These forecasts which make professionals both dream and tremble at the same time have provoked reactions, in particular from Véronique Cayla, the managing director of the National Film Centre (CNC). According to her, “the prospects of the dematerialisation of films and the simultaneity of distribution are a worrying development, with the disappearance of the media and competition of all means of distribution. On an economic and cultural level, it's a step backwards in comparison to a world of diversity of content (500 different films in cinemas in Paris, for example) and format.” Retaining a chronology of media to ensure the stability of films and access to films, as well as the transparency of markets and receipts, while at the same time maintaining a cap on a cultural policy of cinema are the three ambitious aims of the CNC to cope with the challenge of digital cinema.
Jean-Luc Moullet, vice president of software & technology solutions at the Thomson group, whose American branch of Technicolor Digital Cinema has signed an agreement with seven Hollywood studios to provide 5,000 cinemas with a system of digital production in three or four year's time, paints the current picture of the digital breakthrough. The disadvantages however should not be ignored. In fact, where screening is concerned, there is increasing complexity surrounding the possibilities offered by digital cinema generating a tide of images more difficult to generate in post-production. Lastly, what digital cinema brings in terms of making creation easier does the same for encouraging piracy. Regarding exploitation, the specialist at Thomson stressed the recommendations released last July by DCI which regroups seven American players defining the terms and conditions of the digital project of DSM (Digital Source Master) through to the distribution in cinemas with, among others, the JPEG 2000 norm for the compression of images, the MXF-Interop format for the interoperability and the minimum of the 2K technology for projectors. He also detailed the different steps in secure digital distribution of films in theatres, the compression of all original files from post production, regrouping of files and encryption, the sending of different mediums such as satellite on hard disks in cinema theatres, decryption by theatres who will have the keys transmitted specifically, without forgetting the "tattoos" (confidential information such as the date of projection, for example). According to Jean-Luc Mollet, there are three fears at the moment: fear of the black screen, the issue of the security of decryption keys and especially the economic difficulties concerning exhibitors and distributors with the spectrum of a digital fracture.
The keys to financing
Confronted by the expected high cost of digital projection equipment, which is doubled as these materials may need to be replaced often with the predicted speed of technical change, not forgetting maintenance costs, Jean Labbé president of the FNCF (National Federation of French Cinemas) and Patrick Brouiller who heads the AFCAE (French Association of Arthouse and Experimental Cinemas) launched a cry of alarm – what will become of the diversity of the offer in an already competitive context? And the future of a certain number of distributors who could find themselves marginalised as simple "senders of tapes"? These concerns are shared by the filmmaker Claude Miller. "How certain films are distributed when only industrial concentration can install digital projection?" And on the Old Continent the experiment, started two years ago by the Europa Cinemas network which will provide funding to cinema theatres to equip them with 2K seems to clash with certain ten cinema theatres limits, as explained by Claude-Eric Poiroux who states that for the time being only about have 2K and funding from the European Investment Bank would be welcome.
Moreover, the case of Utopolis Luxembourg which has three digital screens show the actual limits of distributors since only one European film was proposed for digital projection at this cinema as opposed to several American feature films.
So many messages well-received by Véronique Cayla who insisted on the fact that "local theatres, arthouse cinemas and multiplexes do not necessarily correspond to the same economic model". Digital projection will have an impact on the theatres, allowing them to keep their offer diverse". Words followed by actions when on 15 November, the CNC launched an expert study on the growth in digital projection. Its objective? To define the models of finance to equip theatres and the digitalisation of films, while advocating measures allowing theatres to retain their specificity and to improve the diversity of film offers in France. The next event will be in April 2006 with the preliminary conclusions of this study. The response in France to this digital revolution is that the European film industry must master and follow suit to avoid being submerged.