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Interview: IMAX's Greg Foster on Apollo, DMR and the New Strategy


Written by: BMZ Staff
Date: September 2002

Apollo 13, the first live-action Hollywood film repurposed for IMAX Theaters using the company's new DMR process, releases nationwide September 20th. IMAX Film President Greg Foster talks about the film, the technology, and the company's new direction.


Category: Interviews

BMZ:: When will Apollo 13 (main film page -- trailer, synopsis, reviews, credits) be released, and to how many theatres? Will it show everywhere at once?

Greg Foster: Apollo 13 will be released on September 20, 2002 in just over 20 IMAX Theatres in North America and will have a second wave of release in 2003 around the world. We expect Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience to play in the IMAX theatre network for years to come.

BMZ:: This is the first use of IMAX(R) DMR(TM). A lot of people think Hollywood movies have already been shown on the giant screen, but in fact they're talking about fuzzy 35mm blow-ups shown on IMAX screens. Are you worried that the public might not know the difference with Apollo 13?

GF:: When audiences see how crystal-clear and sharp the images produced through IMAX DMR are as well as how striking this film looks on the giant IMAX screens, which can be up to eight stories tall, combined with a soundtrack that is re-mastered for IMAX's 12,000 watt, six channel loudspeaker surround sound system, there will be no comparison to any of the previous 35mm films shown on IMAX screens. Audiences will experience the film rather than watch it. In fact the audience reactions to the pre-screening to date, have been spectacular.

BMZ:: Is Universal getting behind the marketing, or are they leaving it mostly to IMAX? How about Ron Howard, Tom Hanks and others involved with the film?

GF:: Universal and Imagine Entertainment have been fantastic partners to work with on the Apollo 13 project. They have been managing the process and working with our marketing group since day one. Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Tom Hanks have also been very generous with their time, attending premieres in Los Angeles and New York as well as doing national and regional press interviews.

BMZ:: How does the IMAX® DMR? process work, in layman's terms, and how is it different from the blow-ups Disney has already done of its animated films like Fantasia and Beauty and the Beast?

GF:: The IMAX® DMR? process starts by scanning, at the highest resolution possible, each individual frame of the 35mm film and converting them into digital images. Then a proprietary computer program is used to make the images sharper than they were originally, while colors are adjusted for the unique technically superior characteristics of the IMAX screen. The completed re-mastered film is then transferred onto the world's largest film format, 15-perforations 70mm, for projection onto screens up to eight stories high and up to 120 feet wide. The resulting images are every bit as big, sharp and beautiful as those of the classic, visually stunning films originally produced in the 15/70 format. IMAX® DMR? also re-masters the film's original soundtrack, adding another dimension to upgrade it to IMAX standards.

IMAX DMR was specifically designed to re-master live action films and is a more complicated process than the process which is used for re-formatting animated films like Fantasia 2000, Beauty and the Beast or the upcoming Jan 2003 release of The Lion King.

BMZ:: Will Apollo 13 be shown mainly in multiplex IMAX locations, or museums too? What's been the response by museums so far?

Currently, Apollo 13 will be opening in over 20 high profile IMAX theatres nationwide. These theatres include both commercial and institutional venues including the Loews IMAX Theatres in New York and San Francisco, Universal Studios IMAX Theatre in Los Angeles, The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.

Apollo 13 is the perfect Hollywood film to add to IMAX's current film library, which now contains over 180 films, as it appeals to both the commercial and institutional venues. We have been approached by many of our institutional theatres to show Apollo 13: The IMAX Experience. This proves to us that if we continue to provide our theatre network with the quality products that they have come to expect from us, the demand for all types of films will only increase.

BMZ:: Disney's FANTASIA 2000: The IMAX Experience, in grossing over 65 million, has to be considered a success but when BEAUTY AND THE BEAST came out in Large Format only 10 years after its original release, and with $30 million in gross revenue, it seemed to be a disappointment. APOLLO 13’s original release was only 7 years ago. Why will it succeed (as a newer title re-release) where BEAUTY failed?

GF:: We determine the success of Apollo 13 The IMAX Experience based on performance over a period of years and consumer and critical acceptance of the film. We are not looking for enormous box office numbers since the film is only going to be shown on 20 screens. So far, given the press reaction, it looks like our strategy has worked.

BMZ:: IMAX Corporation press releases have stated that the company is in discussions with several other studios regarding future DMR releases, but as of yet we've not heard any announcements of future projects. Do you think other companies are waiting to see the results of APOLLO 13 before they commit to their own releases?

GF:: We have just announced a deal with Twentieth Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd. to release Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones - The IMAX Experience this November. This is a clear indication that the IMAX theatre network is an attractive new release window for Hollywood event films. While we are in discussions with several other studios at this time we do not comment on any deals that have yet to be finalized.

BMZ:: You've said that IMAX’s strategy is to release 1/3 DMR films, 1/3 original but non-traditional" genre films, and 1/3 traditional nature/science films. Apollo would fall in the first category, and Steve Oedekerk’s SANTA and the SNOWMAN (Coming Nov 2002) in the second? What "traditional" films do you have upcoming to follow EQUUS (released in June 2002)? Beyond SANTA, what "non-traditional" (but originally-shot in IMAX) films are in the pipeline?

GF:: Horses: The Story of Equus is a wonderful film made for both the institutional and commercial theatre network. As for new films, we are currently in production on a number of new films which fall into all of the three categories, including space themes as well as a NASCAR project which we will be discussing at GSTA.

BMZ:: Co-CEO Brad Wechsler asserted in a recent company release that before the end of 2002, IMAX would announce a simultaneous day-and-date release of a NEW Hollywood film in both 70mm IMAX and 35mm formats. With TREASURE PLANET, Disney already has plans to test this strategy (Nov. 2002). More like the release window of 35mm films, it only plans to run the Large Format version for 1 month. Would these new IMAX day and date DMR releases follow the same kind of time frame?

GF:: Each film and each studio we work with are different as are the scheduled release windows. We expect our day and date releases of event films to run for a longer period of time than one month.

BMZ:: Will IMAX’s DMR efforts focus on new films like this, rather than classics like Apollo? If so, do you think there's more of a risk of confusion, in terms of people not knowing the IMAX version is different and special?

GF:: We want our audiences to not only experience the great classic films that already exist in the Hollywood film library, but also experience new extraordinary day and date releases. The unparalleled image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience, which literally captivates and transports audiences to places they can only dream of going, is unlike any other movie-going experience.

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