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Author Topic: "Benjaman Button" Premiere Falls Victim To Faulty Digital Projection
Jim Cassedy
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1661
From: San Francisco, CA
Registered: Dec 2006


 - posted 11-25-2008 01:01 AM      Profile for Jim Cassedy   Email Jim Cassedy   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Link To Story

'Button' Premiere Undone By Digital Dilemma

Screening of Oscar Hopeful Goes Awry
By DAVID S. COHEN, ANNE THOMPSON

"Welcome to digital," wrote producer Frank Marshall in a morning-after email following Thursday night's aborted unveiling of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

Paramount had sweated every detail Thursday as the studio prepared to screen its long-anticipated Oscar hopeful to a hand-picked audience of press and prominent bizzers at the DGA Theater. Marshall and partner Kathy Kennedy were on hand to introduce the $150 million-plus pic, which they had been nurturing for 18 years.

Par execs were so eager to get the movie in front of guild and Academy members and key press that they weren't willing to wait another week for release prints. In any case, finicky director David Fincher preferred to showcase his technologically ambitious digital movie -- which deploys complex visual effects to make Brad Pitt age backward -- with a digital projector. The two trial runs during the day had gone smoothly.

But "Benjamin Button" became the latest Oscar-season victim of digital gremlins.
The picture had a peculiar green tint, and in the audience, d.p. Claudio Miranda got a sinking feeling. "Initially I thought there was something wrong with my eyes for a second. I was rubbing them," he told Daily Variety, "I said 'no way.' "

He dashed to the projection booth, and a few minutes later brought the lights up and stopped the screening. "We like green but not that much," he apologized to the packed house. "The movie's not supposed to look like that."

After several abortive attempts at addressing the absence of magenta, the screening was canceled. "On the right setting it was wrong and on the wrong setting it was right," explained Marshall, who apologized to various invitees gathered in the lobby for an impromptu party, helping themselves liberally to the planned post-show food and drink.

"When you shoot a movie digitally," Kennedy told Daily Variety later, "you're dependent on those projectors being calibrated perfectly and everything working perfectly. Even the condition of the screen is important."

Marshall added, "This is a modern-day version of the film breaking, but you can't paste it back together and keep going."
Across town at the ArcLight, another digital screening for Screen Actors Guild members went off without a hitch.

The chagrined publicists and filmmakers hastily scheduled a slew of screenings beginning Saturday at noon to accommodate those who missed the film Thursday.

Everyone pointed to the digital projection system, which Par rented for the occasion, as Thursday night's culprit.

Of course screening glitches are nothing new; broken film, busted projector bulbs and switched or missing reels have long plagued screenings. One publicist recalls with horror an unspooling of "Six Weeks" in which the second reel turned into a rabid killer dog movie. The 2006 Toronto Film Fest world premiere of "Borat" broke down and was canceled.

But pristine and perfect digital was supposed to solve all that.

An October digital screening at the Landmark of Steven Soderbergh's Spanish-language "Che" took cinema verite to a new level as it played without subtitles for 15 minutes before the lights went up and everyone was sent home. A few weeks later at the Wilshire Screening Room, subtitles from "Che" spilled over the opening minutes of "Doubt"; the problem was quickly fixed. A Miramax spokesman said the digital projector had not been "properly vetted" after the previous screening of "Che."
"Doubt" writer-helmer John Patrick Shanley laughed when told about the glitch, and recalled sitting through the entire premiere of "Joe vs. the Volcano" with the movie out of focus. "You just feel terrible," he said. "You work so hard and here are people getting their first exposure to the movie. Maybe their only exposure."

These recent problems raise questions about screening room hardware and projection-room expertise in operating new d-cinema projectors.

When Kennedy welcomed the Saturday noontime aud at the far grander Paramount Studio Theater, she quipped that it was like being "upgraded to first class." The pic proceeded with notably better color.

Afterward Kennedy and Miranda agreed that the Par venue was better for "Benjamin Button" anyway.
"Most cinemas are like this one," said Miranda. The digital projector "lives there. This one is flawless."

Aside from the DGA snafu, Par found one upside to digital screenings this season. At a Nov. 16 screening of "Revolutionary Road" at the Raleigh Pickford screening room, a woman became ill during the pic's final scene. When the audience yelled to turn on the lights, the projectionist halted the film, and an ambulance took the woman away.

After rewinding a few minutes, the movie resumed, so the audience could get the full impact of the climax.

That would have been impractical with a film print.

<END>

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Tim Reed
Better Projection Pays

Posts: 5246
From: Northampton, PA
Registered: Sep 1999


 - posted 11-25-2008 01:19 AM      Profile for Tim Reed   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
The DGA had to rent a DC projector?!

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Jim Cassedy
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1661
From: San Francisco, CA
Registered: Dec 2006


 - posted 11-25-2008 01:31 AM      Profile for Jim Cassedy   Email Jim Cassedy   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote:
The DGA had to rent a DC projector?!
Yes, Tim- - I found that statement curious too.

Also, at the end of the story it says:
"After rewinding a few minutes, the movie resumed, so the audience could get the full impact of the climax. That would have been impractical with a film print."

Yes, it would have been impractical with a film print ON PLATTERS. But pulling a reel off of a (change-over) projector rewinding some or all of it, and re-threading is something any competent projectionist can do in 5 minutes or less.

In the case stated in the story where the lights were turned up so an ambulance could be called for a sick patron, there would have been more than enough time to accomplish this.

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Steve Guttag
We forgot the crackers Gromit!!!

Posts: 12814
From: Annapolis, MD
Registered: Dec 1999


 - posted 11-25-2008 06:05 AM      Profile for Steve Guttag   Email Steve Guttag   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
They didn't specify which theatre the DGA was using. We happen to service a theatre the DGA uses in Washington, DC for screenings. It does not, presently, have a DCinema projector though it has had video for years, in addition to 16 and 35mm film.

As such, it would depend on the venue as to whether the theatre had a DCinema projector, on-site.

What I find interesting is of all of the film based snafus...they were all correctable that day (unless the out of focus reel was printed that way...to which, every important screening I've done had two prints and we had a run through). The lack of rewindability is just plain hogwash too.

Steve

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John Wilson
Film God

Posts: 5438
From: Sydney, Australia.
Registered: Dec 1999


 - posted 11-25-2008 06:19 AM      Profile for John Wilson   Email John Wilson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: Frank Marshall

"This is a modern-day version of the film breaking, but you can't paste it back together and keep going."

Welcome to the future.

quote: Jim Cassedy

Yes, it would have been impractical with a film print ON PLATTERS. But pulling a reel off of a (change-over) projector rewinding some or all of it, and re-threading is something any competent projectionist can do in 5 minutes or less.

It's possible to do it in that time on a platter too. Yes, it's easier on reels, but it's not like it can't be done on a platter.

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Jim Bedford
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 597
From: Telluride, CO, USA (733 mi. WNW of Rockwall, TX but it seems much, much longer)
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 11-25-2008 09:27 AM      Profile for Jim Bedford   Author's Homepage   Email Jim Bedford   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Damn Jim, you beat me to this. I was going to post it with the teaser title "Benjamin UnButtoned!"

At the Telluride Film Festival Tech Director Chapin Cutler has long insisted we have an entire redundant system for everything we do. People who don't skydive don't understand the absolute importance of having a second 'chute and skydivers who didn't have a second 'chute when they needed it aren't here to talk about it. Projection may not be life and death, but you would never know it by looking at a director or producer when there is a breakdown like this.

And those digital screenings at Showest? If you go into the booths you'll see a second server and second projector, or sometimes even a 35mm print running simultaneously. When you cannot afford a no-show, spend the money for a redundant system or suffer the consequences.

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Todd McCracken
Master Film Handler

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From: Northridge, CA, USA
Registered: Mar 2008


 - posted 11-25-2008 03:59 PM      Profile for Todd McCracken     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Jim,
I couldnt agree with you more. Heck, if they had called around Im sure they could have gotten a player with a back up on loan from any of the major integrators.

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Mark Lensenmayer
Phenomenal Film Handler

Posts: 1605
From: Upper Arlington, OH
Registered: Sep 1999


 - posted 11-25-2008 05:25 PM      Profile for Mark Lensenmayer   Email Mark Lensenmayer   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I can't believe they wouldn't have a backup system. That is really inexcusable for such an important screening.

Now THIS is the way to do it
Radio City Music Hall -- Lion King Premiere
70mm print synched to 35mm Dolby Digital (70mm print was sounded)
70mm print run reel-to-reel as backup.

Backup picture...backup sound. As Mr. Pytlak would say, "Film Done Right"

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Adam Martin
I'm not even gonna point out the irony.

Posts: 3686
From: Dallas, TX
Registered: Nov 2000


 - posted 11-25-2008 08:37 PM      Profile for Adam Martin   Author's Homepage   Email Adam Martin       Edit/Delete Post 
Damn. I was hoping this story would be about the movie playing backward.

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Mark J. Marshall
Film God

Posts: 3188
From: New Castle, DE, USA
Registered: Aug 2002


 - posted 11-30-2008 07:31 AM      Profile for Mark J. Marshall     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
You're right, Mark. Disney seems to get it.

Chicken Little Premier at El Capitan:
Two DLP Projectors running in sync, one showing left eye, one showing right eye.
Third DLP projector running in sync showing both eyes via RealD field sequentializer z-screen thing-a-ma-jig - in stand by mode in case the two DLP projector show goes haywire.
35mm Projector also running in sync - just in case all of the digital stuff craps out at the same time.

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John Hawkinson
Film God

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From: Cambridge, MA, USA
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 - posted 11-30-2008 08:56 AM      Profile for John Hawkinson   Email John Hawkinson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I would be quite curious to see stats on how often these backup procedures actually "save the day." Especially how often now versus historically.

I realize no one has numbers, but anecdotes? How often did the 70mm premiere actually need the 35mm backup? Or how often did anyone changeover to the second 35mm print running along side the primary 35mm print?

One in a hundred premieres? One in a thousand?

One assume there are a lot more failures today, given the infancy of digital cinema technology, but how often does it happen, really?

--jhawk

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Mark Gulbrandsen
Resident Trollmaster

Posts: 16657
From: Music City
Registered: Jun 99


 - posted 11-30-2008 09:16 AM      Profile for Mark Gulbrandsen   Email Mark Gulbrandsen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
In all fairness to film premieres there have been as many flubs film related over the years! Lamps exploding during important Hollywood premieres, cranky dubbers, wrong order of reels, its all happened!

Actually Disney now does all their premieres in digital... but they run two seperate systems in sync. They also hire Christie directly to do these premieres. As such they have yet to resort to using the backup system.

Probably the biggest digital fiasco I know of was for HBO Films at Radio City Music Hall where neither the primary nor backup system would function... this necessitated them sending nearly 5000 people home. This was right at the beginning of the 2K days though when things were VERY iffy.

How often does a digital system fail these days? 2K failures are very rare but Sony could provide more data on system failures than anyone else in the Biz!

Mark

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John Hawkinson
Film God

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From: Cambridge, MA, USA
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 - posted 11-30-2008 09:39 AM      Profile for John Hawkinson   Email John Hawkinson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I guess what I mean is not how often has there been a failure, but how often has the backup system proved its value?

Having a backup system doesn't help much for reels out of order. I suppose it helps you with a lamp explosion. And if they both fail, well, you might as well not have had a backup system either.

In this case, though, it doesn't strike me as a backup issue as much as bad testing. The read-between-the-lines I get out of the article is that the DP noticed a color problem that the tech runthroughs didn't notice...

--jhawk

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Mark Gulbrandsen
Resident Trollmaster

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From: Music City
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 - posted 11-30-2008 10:47 AM      Profile for Mark Gulbrandsen   Email Mark Gulbrandsen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
quote: John Hawkinson
The read-between-the-lines I get out of the article is that the DP noticed a color problem that the tech runthroughs didn't notice...

Its very obvious if you're running something in the wrong color space... If the DP wanted his own custom color gamut then he shoulda been present at time of calibration. Seriously... this DP's custom color balance would never be visible in todays film release prints.... thats gotta drive some DP's crazy!

Mark

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Steve Guttag
We forgot the crackers Gromit!!!

Posts: 12814
From: Annapolis, MD
Registered: Dec 1999


 - posted 11-30-2008 11:27 AM      Profile for Steve Guttag   Email Steve Guttag   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I have definitely been on my back up print for the big show...more than once too. However, the problems were caught on the run-through. These were "EK" prints and were supposed to have been QCed.

One that immediately that comes to mind was a premier of "NEW WORLD" at the Kimball theatre in Williamsburg, VA. The primary print had a defective digital soundtrack on reel 2. ON the run-through, upon changeover to reel 2, we got what sounded like pink noise cycling through the channels, in addition to the soundtrack. We were running a CP500/70 with basement readers. The Dolby tech immediately suspected the basement readers...to which I showed him we were tracking 2s...no Fs, no dashes...on the O'Scope...all was clean. We then replaced the digital cards in the CP500 (had spares of those nearby)...same thing. So I then said, "what about our backup print?" "It ran last night at the Goldwyn theatre right?" "Certainly it is going to be fine." Threaded it up...no problems....to which there was an immediate phone call to the alledged QC person for the first print we were running.

As to equipment failure during a 1-off show...yup...had that happen too. In Philly...I had a switcher rectifier shoot its cookies in the middle of the premier. I was having to tend to two screens too. I was in the booth of the other screen at the time tending to the lesser experienced operator. The dreaded call came in on the walkie. I b-lined to the other booth...assessed the problem and then....put the SPARE rectifier on line. Informed the studio we were ready to resume the show and we were back on line at their cue.

So...if you don't have spares of essential equipment on premieres...get out of the business...you don't get second chances.

I think it is going to be a bit expensive though to always have a spare DCinema projector around for the just-in-case situation. Now if everyone would adopt Mark's dual projector 3D...then at least you'd always have two in every screen. But again, that makes the whole digital thing that much more expensive.

Steve

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