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Where Are Big Movies Headed?


Written by: Ross Anthony
Date: 5/2001

Ross Anthony re-caps the potent debates about the industry's future that took place at LFCA 2001, and adds an outsider's perspective.


Category: Columns

[Editor's Note: "The Large Format Cinema Association is a non-profit corporation created to benefit the large format cinema community of filmmakers, distributors, equipment manufacturers, consultants, exhibitors and others. Membership and full participation are available to all, without reference to specific film or video format." (provided by LFCA) The organization's annual conference is held each May in Los Angeles to screen new Big Movies and discuss topics of interest to the industry.)

At this year's conference, the debate that has consumed the large-format industry of late raged on: Should the production of Large Format films be limited to G-rated material in order to preserve the treasured family image of the IMAX® brand? Oh, and what about that digital tape? (I'll get to that.)

National Wildlife Federation Productions’ CEO Chris Palmer makes a seductive point. Disney has been very successful marketing family fare... families feel very safe with the Disney name and know what to expect. Disney would never make a film with shocking violence or sexual overtones. The IMAX industry will only be damaged if a family sees just one film out of sync with its current edu-tainment expectations. (I'm paraphrasing. To view the entire transcript of Palmer's speech, click here.)

Ben Stassen, by now, robust in his opposition to such stringent guardedness replies, "How can you say that?" Ben had plenty of comments on the topic at my last "Haunted Castle" interview with him (to read that, click here). Ben champions free marketing. In other words, "Let the audience decide!" He also predicts, "2-D is dying ... 3-D is where it's at!" (which is another argument we won’t go into, here). [For more on Stassen and the Haunted Castle "controversy, click here to view the BMZ On Location video clip.]

Referring to the wildlife genre that Palmer champions, another producer had a remarkably insightful point: he claims these are exactly the films that he can't bring his children to because they contain so much violence his kids have nightmares. We forget how cruel nature can be ... don't we? Actually, a later clip of test footage played at the conference showed an African lion catching a hopping gazelle right out of the air... beautiful yes, but soon to be grizzly.

Anyway, back to the debate – and this writer’s opinion. Though the topic is interesting, the above points are really moot. IMAX® is not Large Format. Large Format is not one single corporation like IMAX or Disney, at all. Large Format is an artistic medium ... like watercolors or ceramics. It's just impossible to limit the types of expression creative people wish to produce with their paintbrushes - short of killing the artists.

So, of course, all types of productions will be made. End of story. Cool! The better question? How can we get more and newer viewers sitting in front of that big screen so that these productions can continue to be made in an industry starving for content? Part of that answer lies in marketing and PR, which was only briefly touched on in this conference ... I definitely suggest next year's panels be set to concentrate on that angle.

The other major component of the conference (besides the screenings - and you will be able to read reviews of new films on this site) was the use of alternative "tools" - namely Digital!

I think most people in the industry would agree that 15/70 currently defines Large Format. That is to say, a 45 minute production shot on regular 35mm (feature film format) then blown up on the big screen wouldn't cut it as a LF film. Audiences would feel mistreated - I certainly would. But, what if "lesser" formats are used for certain shots and then integrated into the "big picture?" Do you (dear readers) have an opinion on that? Well, kids, it's happening. LF makers routinely insert shots captured on 35mm, or 5/70, 8/70, or 16mm and even high definition digital tape. The IMAX cam is so big and noisy, the capture reels so short, that some shots (it could be argued) just wouldn't be filmed if 15/70 were religiously adhered to.

Too technical? Basically, 15/70 is the current king of beautiful big picture. No format matches its clarity or resolution and you and I deserve to bask in the light of its enormous sharpness! That said, I'm still open-minded about limited insertions of other formats, though I like what one member pointed out, "Producers should make it clear what formats they're presenting" and perhaps the percentages thereof.

Again, a tantalizing topic of discussion, but a debate soon to be pointless ... since film itself is a dying breed. Yep, hate to be the one to break it to you, but the advances in digi-tape that I have seen with my very own eyeballs, blown up on the big screen are certainly impressive enough that in a year or two will satisfactorily replace 35mm feature film. LF will take longer ... it's not there yet. 15/70 is still much more impressive. But the benefits of digital capture and distribution are so massive, that the industry will switch over and it will switch over fast! We're not talking about whether the market will choose VHS or Beta, we're not even talking about HD TV, which requires each consumer to go out and buy a new set. We're talking about the handful of Hollywood studios that will finance the entire switch over on the distribution end - because that end is all about money.

So if you're an independent producer who loves film ... go make your film now before a roll of 35mm motion picture film becomes as hard to find and costly to process as slide film has become (relative to still prints).

I love film too ... but if digital can look just as good (or better) then let's do it! And with that, I'll eagerly await all the fantastic images and sounds, education and entertainment, that our host of talented filmmakers can project (in any splendid manner) six stories high in that big movie zone!

President, Christopher Reyna.
Executive Director, Jeannie Moore.
Secretary, Steve Thorburn.
Treasurer, Steve Bishop.
Conference Chair, Paul Giguere.

Related Articles:

  • IMAX Goes Hollywood: Will new IMAX President of Filmed Entertainment Greg Foster take IMAX Corporation in a new direction?
  • Palmer: The Future: Palmer is adamant that Big Movies must remain "family friendly" and educational."

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Copyright (C) 2001.

Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.

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