Saturday, December 7, 2013

10th Annual LA 3-D Movie Festival

It’s December, and that means that it’s once again time for the Annual LA 3-D Movie Festival. We’ve been working very hard to put this year’s film fest together, and I think it promises to be the best one yet. The festival will showcase a selection of new international 3-D shorts in competition, 3-D feature films, special presentations including an afternoon with NASA/JPL, and the 55th Hollywood International Exhibition of Stereo Photography. Top award winning entries will receive prizes including VEGAS PRO 12 editing software courtesy festival sponsor Sony Creative Software, software from Dashwood Cinema Solutions, and the much coveted LA 3-D Club RO-MAN Trophies.

First, a little history about the festival. This year’s festival marks the 10th time that the LA 3-D Club has brought the best new independent 3-D motion pictures to audiences in Los Angeles. The LA 3-D Club was established in 1955 to further the art and science of stereoscopic photography. The club’s Movie Division was founded in 1982 by Dr. John E. Hart to focus on 3-D motion picture production. The club held it’s “First Ever Competition” of 3-D short films in March 1997, and subsequent competitions were held at various times over the next decade. The LA 3-D Movie Festival became an annual event in May 2009, when the 7th version of the competiton found it’s home at the Downtown Independent theater. We outfitted the theater with a polarized 3-D projection system and silver screen specifically for the screening of unique and independent 3-D content, and we have been presenting our festival here every year since.

The 10th Annual LA 3-D Movie Festival promises to have a very exciting program including three separate blocks of short films in competiton. Entries include films from the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland, Canada, Korea, and Singapore. One of the blocks will be hosted by Stereo Sisters and will specifically showcase 3-D films with stereography by women.
Festivities begin Friday night with a special screening of the award winning documentary film FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES at 9pm

We will be joined on Saturday afternoon by a team from NASA/JPL’s Earth Science Center for a special presentation of their new 3-D documentary OUR RESTLESS PLANET, which shows how scientists are using satellite data to study the Earth’s climate, and deal with natural disasters.
The LA 3-D Club’s annual Holiday Party will be held during the film festival on Saturday night, starting with a catered reception at 7pm in the lobby of the theater. Food will be provided by local restaurants, including Indian cuisine from MAYURA. The festivities will continue at 8pm in the theater with the screening of an evening of family friendly 3-D puppet films, including the US premiere of the German marionette film, KALIF STORCH. The Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry will co-host the event.

Sunday afternoon will feature a FREE presentation of the 55th Hollywood International Exhibition of Stereo Photography, featuring all of the image selections and award winning photos presented on the big screen in the theater.

Sunday night we close the festival with a very special double feature starting with COSMIC ENCOUNTERS, a documentary about the International Space Station that follows an astronaut as he trains for a mission into Earth orbit, followed by THE ART OF DIVING, exploring the underwater world of the Red Sea.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It’s In The Way That You Use It

Throughout the summer, I kept seeing news reports citing statistics of declining attendance for 3-D screenings of theatrical motion pictures. Where 3-D releases used to account for a high percentage of a movie’s box-office revenues, the current crop of 3-D pictures were barely making 30% of their money from their stereoscopic versions. In September, many media outlets once again proclaimed the end of the latest “3-D fad,” citing the box-office percentages as proof that when given a choice between regular 2-D and paying an upcharge for the 3-D version, a majority of filmgoers choose to see their movies flat.

But in October, the tune changed. Alfonso Cuarón’s GRAVITY was released in 2-D, 3-D, and 3-D IMAX, and ticket sales favored the stereoscopic versions with about 80% of audiences choosing to pay extra for 3-D. GRAVITY held the top spot at the box-office for three weeks, and now has the distinction of being the highest grossing film ever to be released in the month of October - mostly due to repeat viewings in large-screen 3-D. The story of a lone astronaut (played brilliantly by Sandra Bullock) stranded in orbit after a catastrophe, GRAVITY has received numerous accolades from reviewers who applaud the 3-D as enhancing the storytelling and helping to give audiences the sensation of weightlessness in space. Even some film critics who usually go out of their way to deride stereo as a gimmick have conceded that GRAVITY should be seen in 3-D. Finally, people are starting to discuss how stereoscopic filmmaking can bring a heightened connec- tion to a compelling story told through great acting performances.

This got me thinking about something that Lenny Lipton said during his presentation at last month’s LA 3-D Club meeting. He noted that 3-D is primarily only being utilized by the Hollywood studios for CGI animated cartoons and live- action superhero movies, and that with the exception of the occasional picture by an auteur director, such as Martin Scorcese or Ang Lee, 3-D is not finding its way into a broader range of film genres (as it had in the 1950s). Lenny pointed out that it’s impossible for the studios to justify the use of 3-D for anything but spec- tacle, primarily due to the substantial upcharge at theaters for the 3-D experience. GRAVITY works in 3-D, both as grand spectacle, and as a personal, intimate story, but it seems the exception rather than the rule.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see that the American Film Institute’s AFI Fest this month is actually showing two 3-D pictures that are neither animated nor superhero based. The first is CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO, a stereoscopic film adaptation of a stage play about aviation disasters as re-enacted from the actual “black box” recordings of the doomed flights. The second is a new 3-D conver- sion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Bernardo Bertolucci’s stunning THE LAST EMPEROR. The first feature film ever to be shot in Beijing’s forbidden city, it tells the true life story of China’s final soveriegn leader in the 20th Century, and won nine Academy Awards including the Oscar for Best Picture. These are both very personal, intimate films, and hopefully audiences will respond positively to them.

Speaking of film festivals, we are now just one month away from the club’s 10th Annual LA 3-D Movie Festival, being held December 13-15. We’re making our film selections, and will be announcing the program very soon. It’s going to be a great film fest, and I hope to see all of you there! 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

House of 3-D

It was great to see so many people in attendance at last month’s World 3-D Expo III at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Kudos to show producers Jeff Joseph and Dennis Bartok for taking on the herculean task of presenting 10 days of classic 3-D movies, most shown in their original dual-35mm format. The Expo provided a rare opportunity to see some remarkably good stereo motion pictures. I’ve stated many times that I think modern 3-D filmmakers could learn a thing or two about 3-D storytelling if given the chance to see such films as Kiss Me Kate, The Glass Web, Inferno, Hondo and the rest of the 50’s oeuvre of stereoscopic cinema.

I’m so pleased that I was able to assist the Expo in the presentation of the 3-D Rarities show. Some of the extremely rare clips that were shown only exist now as digital files, and the club provided the projection and playback equipment which allowed these files to be seen. We also had a lot of people stop by the LA 3-D Club table at the theater with questions and conversations about 3-D, and hopefully we’ll see some new members joining our club. I was also quite thrilled to personally participate in the Expo, displaying my restored 1953 Natural Vision camera rig (rescued from the estate sale of the late Dan Symmes) in the theater lobby. Big thanks to Perry Hoberman, Tom Koester, Jeff Amaral, Phil “Captain 3-D” McNally, Shyam Kannapurakkaran, Jeremy McGee, Scott Ressler,  Andy Parke, Jodi Kurland, and Lawrence Kaufman for all of the assistance they provided to me and to the club during the Expo.

As exciting as it was to see so many 3-D pictures in a movie theater, each screening was also somewhat bittersweet, with the realization that for many of these 35mm film prints, this Expo was most likely the last time they will ever be run through projectors. Many of the films are so fragile that they can’t be shown again (and several of the films shown at previous 3-D Expos were unable to be screened this time due to their deteriorated condition). When asked if there will ever be a 3-D Expo IV, Jeff Joseph replied “Only if these films get digitized.” Unfortunately, the copyright holders to the majority of these movies, both the studios and the independents, are reluctant to spend the money required to scan the elements and do the restoration work needed to create new digital prints for theaters, and Blu-Rays for the home market.

It is still my hope that these films will someday be saved so that future generations will be able to enjoy them in all of their stereoscopic glory. Last year, Warner Bros. released a restored Blu-Ray of Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder, and Universal put out a restored (and sadly, flawed) version of The Creature From The Black Lagoon, and both were also digitally screened in theaters. Sony has created a new DCP of Man In The Dark for theaters, made The Mad Magician available in 3-D on the Playstation3, and has hinted at some upcoming home video releases of other titles. And this month, I’m very excited that Warner Bros. has finally released a 3-D Blu-Ray of House Of Wax, considered by many to be the best 3-D picture from 3-D’s silver age. The new digital transfer is stunning, and the deep 3-D looks great, both on a 3DTV and in the theater. (The disc includes a new documentary about the making of the movie, and if you look closely, you may see a familiar face!) Warner Bros. has said that the sales of this Blu-Ray will determine whether they proceed to restore any additional archive titles, so I would encourage everyone to buy a copy and help keep these pictures from being lost forever.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Looking Back and Looking Forward

At the Awards Banquet on August 15th, 2013, I was sworn in for my 4th term as President of the LA 3-D Club. It has been pointed out that I am now the ‘FDR’ of club presidents. The following is the text of my acceptance speech:

I’ll keep this brief. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The year since our last banquet here has been something of an emotional roller coaster. 

This past year has seen it’s share of sadness, as we suffered the loss of two members of our family, with the passings of Ray Zone and Dave Washburn. Both Ray and Dave were devoted long-time members of the club, and invaluable members of the board, and they are both greatly missed by everyone who knew them. 

But this year has also had many moments of joy. We have had exceptional meetings at the Armory, fantastic screenings at the Downtown Independent, and some really great presentations, demonstrations and club outings. Our monthly newsletter has evolved, with the addition of color and a new format. We have participated and exhibited 3-D in numerous art gallery shows, film festivals, Maker Faire’s and even the Burning Man Decom here in LA. We have been working hard to increase our visibility, grow our membership, and maintain our relevance in the constantly changing world of 3-D. 

I want to personally thank everyone who served on the board during the past year for all of your efforts. The club is successful because of you, and I am honored to be able to continue working with you. As I begin my fourth year as your club President, I want to thank all of you for continuing to trust me with the stewardship of this organization. I look forward to continuing to ride the ups and downs with all of you. Thank you.

The coming year will be an exciting one filled with even more 3-D events and opportunities. Starting with this month’s participation in the World 3-D Expo III, where we will be helping to screen the program of rarities on the 14th, and the Big Bear Lake International Film Festival, where we are presenting 3-D films for the 7th consecutive year on the 21st. We are planning joint events with the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry and the Captured Aural Phantasy Theater company. And this December we will be presenting our 10th Annual LA 3-D Movie Festival. We are already making plans for this year’s Pasadena Art Night, the LA Burning Man Decom, and next year’s Maker Faire. And, of course, we are looking forward to watching a lot of great 3-D, from the stunning photos in our coming year of competitions, and the excellent programs and workshops at our meetings, to the great independent films we will be exhibiting at the Downtown Independent Theater. I’m excited about everything that the LA 3-D Club is planning to do this year, and I’m thrilled to have all of you along for the ride.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

I Asked A Question

Last month at the San Diego Comic-Con, Entertainment Weekly hosted a panel entitled “The Visionaries” -  a discussion with movie directors Alfonso Cuarón, Marc Webb, and Edgar Wright. I was fortunate enough to have made it into the audience of the San Diego Convention Center’s massive ‘Hall H’, and when the moderator asked for questions to be tweeted from the audience, I took the opportunity to ask the directors to address their use of 3-D in the motion pictures Gravity and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. This led to a rousing discussion of the pros and cons of 3-D, with all three filmmakers voicing some very strong opinions.

Alfonso Cuarón, explained that there are many aspects of 3-D which he hates, including the reduced image quality of theatrical 3-D projection. He explained that he feels that 3-D is not necessary in most of the movies out today, because it is nothing but an afterthought, and not a creative one, but a financial one by the studios. That said, he still prefers the 3-D version of his film Gravity and planned it to be in 3-D from the earliest script four years ago. “At that time 3-D was still cool,” he said with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Marc Webb, who directed both the natively shot 3-D feature The Amazing Spider-Man and it’s upcoming sequel which is being converted, was also critical of the quality of 3-D theatrical presentation, and reiterated that 3-D should not be imposed on a production by the marketing department, but he also said that “It’s an incredible format, it has enormous possibilities” and said that 3-D can “be exquisite at it’s best, but it can also be terrible.”

Edgar Wright, best known for the horror/comedy Sean Of The Dead also criticized the overuse of 3-D, calling it a “blockbuster tax”. He said that he sometimes preferred to go to the flat versions of movies at the theater, but could see why some directors would want to make their films in 3-D. He went on to list Life Of Pi, Avatar, and Hugo as examples of 3-D done really well.

Overall, all three directors expressed the same concerns:

  • Maintaining standards of quality in theatrical exhibition is a problem. (I completely agree with this. I recently saw a movie that had an unacceptable amount of ghosting due to a subpar silver screen in the auditorium.)
  • 3-D applied as an afterthought does little to enhance a movie, and studio imposed 3-D for the sake of increased ticket prices is fueling the audience distaste for the medium.
  • And that 3-D, when planned from the beginning of a production, and executed by a director who uses it intentionally, can strongly enhance a movie.

The entire panel, and the answers to my question in particular, garnered a lot of attention in the media. Sadly, most of the press chose to frame the story as another “3-D is dead” piece, using sensational headlines such as ‘Are Comic-Con’s Top Directors Souring on 3-D?’ Personally, I appreciated hearing them talk about both the pros and cons as they saw them.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

3-D for intimate Storytelling

For a while now I have been advocating the use of 3-D as a method for creating intimacy and emotion in storytelling, as a way to create a deeper personal connection for each individual audience member. And I’ve been arguing against the tendency in studio pictures to “dial-down” the depth during dialogue-heavy character driven scenes, as it’s so counter to how we experience real conversation and personal interaction. So I was thrilled to hear that director Wim Wenders is moving forward with his narrative feature “Every Thing Will Be Fine”. I thought that Wenders’ doc “Pina” was one of the best stereoscopic films I’ve ever seen, and a strong example of a movie that was made better by the intentional use of 3-D language (as opposed to the current compromise of 2-D language with 3-D applied as visual effect). The late Alain Derobe, originator of the “Natural Depth” method, was the stereographer on “Pina”, and I am thrilled to hear that Wenders will be working with his daughter Joséphine Derobe, also an accomplished stereographer and director, on the new picture. There was a discussion here recently about the necessity for directors and DPs to embrace the medium in order to move it forward as a storytelling tool, rather than as simply a gimmick used to sell tickets. Wenders was interviewed by James Franco in the latest issue of Playboy magazine, and had this to say:

WENDERS: I’m convinced 3-D can immerse audiences in the real world, even in intimate stories like this film. It brings audiences closer to actors, to how we deal with pain and life. We’re creating new realms of intimacy and presence with this technology. But the volume of the actors is more present in 3-D; their figure becomes a landscape in itself, so actors must find a new kind of acting. It’s untapped wealth. Many are looking for the secret formula. I’ll give it a shot, and eventually we’ll crack the code.

This gives me a little bit of hope for the future of 3-D in independent films.

A correction: In my previous post, I wrote about the Gadmei E8-3D autostereoscopic Android tablet, and erroneously stated that photos could be viewed directly from either a USB connected Panasonic Lumix 3D1 or FujiFilm Finepix W3 3-D camera.  While this is possible with the Panasonic (and makes the tablet a great companion to that camera, which does not have a 3-D display of its own, the Fujifilm W3 does not have a “USB Mass Storage” mode, and will not show up as an external drive on the tablet. However, a USB card reader can be plugged into the tablet, and the W3’s memory card can be viewed using that method.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Tabula Rasa

Back in January of 2012, I saw a demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show of an autostereoscopic android tablet, and I was impressed by what I saw. There had already been several glasses-free tablets on the market, but they suffered from color-fringing issues that I found to be unacceptable. This tablet, however, appeared to have a much higher quality display. It was called the WikiPad, and the American company exhibiting it explained that they would hopefully have it in stores in several months - but that they were waiting for their Chinese manufacturer to go into production on the final model. I began to anticipate the day when this prototype would be released as an actual product.

Now, I had already been disappointed the year before, when a Korean company announced a passive polarized tablet, but failed to deliver. So it came as no surprise when WikiPad missed their release date, and then announced that they had dropped their 3-D functionality in the final version. The story, as I heard it, was that the Chinese manufacturer, a company called Gadmei, was experiencing delays and quality issues.
I had heard of Gadmei - they had already made several 3-D tablets and digital photo frames which, unfortunately, had all suffered from the color-fringing issue. But if they could work out the production problems with this new tablet, it could be a winner. In November of 2012, the internet message groups started buzzing with the news that Gadmei was preparing to finally release the tablet - now called the E8-3D - and that it would be available in China by the end of the year. In December, reports started coming in of the first batch of tablets being available through  a wholesale importer. I was intrigued, but the initial reviews reported some quality control issues with the barrier-screen, and some difficulties navigating the Chinese language menus.

January 2013 brought another CES, and this time Gadmei was actually there demonstrating the tablet themselves. Their display model looked great, so once again I got excited about it. I was aware that Gadmei’s products were sometimes re-branded and released in the USA by multiple distributors, so I decided wait to buy one until it was available locally.

I didn’t have to wait too long. As expected, this past spring several companies announced that they were releasing glasses-free 3-D tablets. A little research showed that while they were each branded differently, the Neo3DO, 3Dinlife, Aiptek, Nav3D, and 3D Window tablets were all the same Gadmei E8-3D. The only differences, as far as I could tell, were the pre-installed software, and the price (the lowest priced was over $100 cheaper than the most expensive one).

I ended up buying the “3D Window” from the 3DTV Corp. eBay store, and had the tablet in hand two days later (it shipped from Henderson, NV). It came with an AC battery charger, USB cable, USB adapter, and an HDMI video cable. I also picked up a tablet cover at my local Best Buy - the 7” Rocketfish brand cover fit perfectly. The tablet came with pre-installed 3DPlayer software from Viren, which allows viewing of streaming video from the internet, including Youtube 3-D, and playback of both 3-D video and still photos from the internal micro-SD card and from USB connected devices. I also purchased and installed Masuji Suto’s android app, 3DSteroid Pro, which brings the photo alignment tools of his Stereo Photo Maker program to the android platform. 

After two months of using the tablet, I am quite pleased with it. It’s a very capable android tablet, 3-D aside, and 3-D videos and photos look great on it’s 7” HD screen. Also, by using the USB adapter cable, I found that I am able to connect a  FujiFilm W3 or a Panasonic 3D1, and instantly look at photos directly from the camera. This is especially great for the Panasonic, which doesn’t have a 3-D display of it’s own! The one caveat I have for potential owners - dropping the tablet can knock the barrier out of alignment (learned the hard way).

A number of other LA 3-D Club members have also purchased this tablet. A Yahoo discussion group has been started, and a “3-D tablet Forum” has already held it’s first group meeting to discuss tips and tricks, compare notes, and help each other to get the most out of their devices. I would encourage anyone who gets one of these tablets to share their experiences with the club.

Friday, May 10, 2013

3-D’s Future - Dark or Bright?

This year I attended three conventions in Las Vegas - each one very different, yet connected, in a way, to the other two. They were the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in April, and CinemaCon, also in April. Each of these events hosted a trade show to demo the latest and greatest  new products for their respective markets. For CES, that meant the show floor was full of new televisions, cameras, cell phones and other elctronic devices for the home. NAB was a showcase for professional audio, video, cameras and related gear. And CinemaCon highlighted the newest developments in movie theater technology and the major studio motion picture releases for 2013. Each show floor was full of 3-D products, from 3DTVs, to beamsplitter rigs, to projection polarizers, to ‘Smurfs 2’. And the buzz and hype at each conference, particularly about the future of 3-D, was just as the conventions themselves - very different, yet connected.

At CES, 3-D had become rather ubiquitous, as it is now a standard feature in most of the high-end flat screen TVs on the market. And with the electronics manufacturers pushing for everyone to replace their TVs every two years, they were no longer using last year’s 3-D as a major selling point, having moved on to next year’s Ultra High Resolution 4K TVs (LG was the exception, with polarized 3-D everywhere at their large exhibit). This led various news outlets and blogs to announce that “3-D is DEAD!”

Interestingly, the latest future-tech to be shown at NAB’s Technology Summit was laser projection, which allows 3-D to be projected at brightness levels rivalling 2-D (which should eliminate the “3-D is too dim” complaint). But the show floor at NAB had also seemingly moved on from prior years’ hype of  3-D. Stereoscopic camera rigs and equipment were still to be found all over the show floor, but the companies making pro gear were more interested in promoting  higher resolutions and higher frame-rates. While the press covering NAB was far less certain about 3-D’s demise, there was definitely a pensive mood among the attendees, and a cautious optimism among 3-D pros.

CinemaCon, however, was another story. Over and over, the studios gave presentations touting the box-office succes of their 3-D blockbusters, and celebrating their rosters of 3-D pictures in production. And on the show floor, 3-D was everywhere, from the chinese knock-offs of the RealD Z-screen system, to the designer ‘Iron Man III’ and ‘Despicable Me 2’ glasses, to the newly released RealD Ultimate White non-depolarizing screen material (bright, even image, with no hot-spot). Sam Raimi was there, accepting an award for the use of 3-D in ‘Oz’, Guillermo Del Toro was there, promoting his new 3-D feature ‘Pacific Rim’ (giant robots fighting giant monsters!), and each studio showed trailers and clips of new and exciting 3-D movies (I’m most excited now about ‘Gravity’ from director Alfonso Cuaron). And the motion picture exhibitors, from the small indie screens to the large theater chains, were solidly on the 3-D bandwagon, demanding more. And not a single mention of HFR or 4K. At CinemaCon, content was King, and 3-D was not only alive and well, but thriving!

And while we are on the topic of 3-D movies, during CinemaCon,  director Oliver Stone told a panel that the first movie to ever scare him was ‘House Of Wax’ in 3-D, back in 1953. And this September, we will all have an opportunity to see what that experience was like when Jeff Joseph returns to the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood to present the ‘World 3-D Film Expo III’. Ten days of classic 3-D movies, most presented in dual-strip 35mm! Tickets and passes are available now, and as someone who was fortunate enough to have attended 3-D Expos I and II, I can tell you that you don’t want to miss this!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Followup...

Last month I wrote about my adventures in rescuing the 1953 3-D feature INFERNO, and how I helped the Noir City Film Festival screen the digital restoration in San Francisco. Well I have more exciting news about INFERNO. Thanks to my efforts, 20th Century Fox is now making the picture available for additional showings, and the Noir City Fest is bringing it to Los Angeles this month. It will be screening at the American Cinematheque’s Aero Theater on Saturday, April 20th, on a double-bill with the 3-D noir MAN IN THE DARK. I would highly recommend both of the classics from 3-D’s golden age.

And speaking of classic 3-D, the TCM Classic Film Fest is coming to Hollywood this month, and they are also showing two excellent films from the 1950s. On Friday, April 26th, they will be screening HONDO, starring John Wayne, and on Sunday, April 28th, they are scheduled to show Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER. Both shows will be digital presentations on the big screen at the Chinese 6 at Hollywood and Highland. Passes to the TCM Fest are available now, and individual tickets will only be sold at the door prior to each show.

I think it’s wonderful that these movies from the 1950s 3-D wave are finally making their way back into theaters, and hopefully they will all eventually be available on Blu-Ray (only DIAL M is currently available). Of course I would also love for the studios to do digital restoration of the other 50 or so classic 3-D films - including KISS ME KATE, HOUSE OF WAX, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, THE GLASS WEB, THE FRENCH LINE, and so on and so on. Of course the studios will only do more releases if audiences show them there’s a market for classic 3-D. So let’s make sure that these local screenings sell out, and prove to the studios that there is a demand for the library titles.

I looked up some statistics, and found that for the first weekend of April, four of the Top 10 movies in theaters were 3-D; three of the last four Oscars for cinematography went to 3-D movies; and ten of the Top 20 boxoffice hits of all-time are available in 3-D (either originally released, or converted and re-released). So clearly, 3-D is here to stay, and it’s profitable. So how about it Hollywood studios? Can’t we please have our classics released on BluRay?

p.s.- There will be another opportunity to see 1950s 3-D movies later this year. Details to come soon... 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I Took My Eyes To San Francisco

Last month I spent some time in San Francisco attending a couple of 3-D events. First, the Noir City Film Festival, the annual fest dedicated to preserving and presenting classic film noir, screened a double-feature of
vintage 3-D motion pictures. Sony provided a newly restored digital print of the 1953 Columbia Pictures crime drama 'Man In The Dark' - the story of a mobster who develops amnesia and forgets both his identity, and where he hid the loot from a payroll heist, much to the chagrin of his gang. And 20th Century Fox provided a digital version of their 1953 classic 'Inferno' - a wealthy businessman is left to die in the desert by his wife and her lover, but the murder plan goes awry when he somwhow manages to survive. 

The restoration of 'Inferno' was the same one that the LA 3-D Club screened at the Downtown Independent last October, and the story of how it came to be is an interesting one. Apparently, several years ago 20th Century Fox had commissioned the late 3-D movie expert Dan Symmes to create an anaglyph version of 'Inferno' for a home video release. That DVD was ultimately cancelled, but Dan continued working on his own and completed the restoration anyway, creating a 3-D BluRay for his own personal viewing. Last February, at the Symmes estate sale, Ray Zone and I found this BluRay disc and saved it from the trash bin, along with many of Dan's other rare 3-D videos. When we discovered that we could license 'Inferno' to screen at the Downtown Independent through Criterion USA, we jumped at the opportunity. The distributor informed us that we would need to supply our own print, as they did not have one available, so I created a DCP (Digital Cinema Package, the digital equvalent of a film print) from the BluRay. The "Czar of Noir" and President of the Film Noir Foundation, Eddie Muller introduced the film at our screening and grew excited at the prospect of being able to show 'Inferno' at his annual film festival in San Francisco. He contacted the 20th Century Fox archive and let them know that he would like to show our DCP, and then put them in touch with me to work out the details. Fox asked to see the DCP, so that they could make sure it passed their quality control, and ultimately approved it to be screened at Noir City. I attended the show as their special guest, and the evening was dedicated to the memory of Ray Zone. The sold-out show drew an audience of over 800 people, most of whom had never seen 'Inferno' before, and the feedback I received after the show was unanimously positive, with quite a few "Best 3-D I've ever seen!" comments floating around. I'm really thrilled to have been able to help revive this 60-year-old 3-D film classic, and I'm pleased to learn that the Noir City Film Fest will be bringing it to their LA noir festival at the Aero Theater next month. 

Following the SF noir fest, I spent the next week attending the Stereoscopic Displays and Applications conference. SD&A is primarily a technical conference, with presentations covering the latest research in 3-D image creation and display. Highlights of the event included the demonstration session, where exhibitors showed prototypes of their displays and proof-of-concept examples of their research; the 3-D Theater presented two hours of clips from all kinds of 3-D content, ranging from independent experimental animation to Hollywood studio productions (I was asked to judge the film competition, see the results on page 3); Club member Terry Wilson presented a special exhibit of phantogram prints by various artists and photographers (thanks for including my work Terry!); and I was honored to be included in a panel discussion on the state of 3-D in movies and television. I shared the stage with Jenny Read, Vision Scientist, University of Newcastle (UK), Paul Judkins, Director of Technical Film Projects, IMAX Corp. (Canada), Phil McNally, Stereoscopic Supervisor, Dreamworks Animation (USA), and our moderator, Gregg Favalora of Optics for Hire. For more information about the Stereoscopic Displays and Applications conference, you can go to their website

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Intimacy vs. Immersion

I think that calling stereo 3-D content immersive is something of a misnomer. Immersion is the sensation of being inside an image, being surrounded by the "real" world of the content. 3-D can be an immersive experience in the right venue - a CAVE environment, a large format slide viewer, or an 80' Imax screen that fills the peripheral vision, for instance, all immerse the viewer. But a 2-D Imax experience is also immersive, as is A 2-D dome projection or head-mounted display. But this feeling of immersion is not inherent in the 3-D content itself - watching the same Imax 3-D content on a 3DTV or the small screen of a 3-D handheld device does not create the same feeling of immersion.

But 3-D does have the ability to create an experience for the audience, regardless of screen size, that is unique from all other media. Stereography can create an intimacy with the content - for EACH individual audience member - that can only be experienced via 3-D. Consider the moment in 'Muppet Vision 3D' when the character Waldo emerges deeply into negative space, seemingly inches from your face, and tells you directly that "Everyone thinks I'm talking to them, but I'm really talking to you!" At that moment you, and each other individual audience member, are having the singular experience of having the on screen character address you directly - and each audience member feels that they are the ONLY ONE having that
experience. Anything in positive space appears to exist beyond the confines of the viewing venue or device, and objects in negative space become personally intimate regardless of screen size. I suppose it could be looked at as the inverse of immersion in that the on screen image is able to emerge and exist in the real world of the viewer.

I see, in this individual connection between viewer and content, the tool for creating a heightened emotional experience. Wim Wenders' 'Pina' is a great example of this in practice. In the film, the testimonial of each dancer is presented as a living portrait, their gaze breaking the fourth wall and connecting with each audience member one-to-one. And the dance pieces themselves utilize the proscenium of the stereo window to create a 'best-seat-in-the-house' experience. Wender's explains that he chose to shoot in stereo after seeing U23D, and coming to the conclusion that 3-D created a closeness to the content and "brought it to life", while his 2-D tests always felt lifeless and distant.

And using the example of U23D, consider the moment in the film when Bono comes to the foot of the stage, reaches out to the audience, and makes eye contact with the camera. He makes an intimate connection with EVERY member of the audience that is unique to the 3-D viewing experience. In 2-D, Bono would simply be addressing the entire theater at once from the flat screen, with no personal connection. And at a live U2 concert, that moment is only meaningful to the one person in the front row of the arena who Bono actually makes eye contact with. But in 3-D, each person in the auditorium is the ONE person that Bono chooses, and every audience member gets a heightened sense of connection and intimacy.

There has been a trend among studio pictures to treat 3-D as spectacle, allowing the action in a scene to drive the amount of depth. I call this choice the "technical approach" to 3-D, and while it can be effective in enhancing FX heavy action sequences, I often find it lacking, or even distractingly flat, when applied across the board to the storytelling. I prefer the 'intimate/emotional approach" to 3-D in narrative story, with the above outlined heightened level of personal intimacy, and I think that it is 3-D content that has successfully utilized this tool, both intentionally and accidentally that has resonated well with audiences.

I am planning to publish a comprehensive piece on the potential for 3-D to create intimate personal connections and would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the subject.

Monday, January 7, 2013

At The Closing of the Year

The end of 2012 was quite an emotional roller coaster ride. In one December weekend at the Downtown Independent Theater we held our 9th Annual LA 3-D Movie Festival, and we shared in a memorial to our friend Ray Zone. 

The festival was a great success - we screened over 20 independent 3-D short films and two features, and had some engaging Q&As with the filmmakers. I want to thank everyone who came out to the festival, everyone whose work was presented, and some very special club members whose efforts made the event a reality: Jodi Kurland, who managed the festival and oversaw the box-office; Shyam Kannapurakkaran, for designing the printed program and shooting video coverage at the fest; Jeff Amaral, for arranging the U23D screening and working the box-office; David Starkman, for helping to arrange the ROBIN HOOD screening; John Hart, for securing our food sponsor; Lawrence Kaufman, for assisting with PR and promotion; and Oliver Dean, our volunteer usher, who made sure that everyone had their 3-D glasses.

At the memorial for Ray Zone, nearly 200 people gathered to share their memories. There were touching stories that brought both tears and laughter and the day truly became a celebration of Ray’s life. Thank you to everyone who attended, to those who spoke, and to those who listened. Again, a number of very special people deserve my deepest gratitude for helping to make the memorial such a fitting tribute: Johnny Ray Zone and Amanda Chapman, for trusting in me to bring Ray’s friends and family together; Susan Pinsky, who collected and curated all of the photos that were shown, both 2-D and 3-D; David Starkman, for his assistance with the slideshows; Lawrence and Cassie Kaufman, for all of their support, especially their help with selecting and displaying Ray’s work; Tom Koester, for providing video of Ray’s films; Jeremy McGee, for making all of the arrangements for the food at the reception; Jim Chabin, Daniel Henningson and the I3DS for hosting the reception; Barry Rothstein, for providing the 3DTV and helping with set-up of the lobby; Perry Hoberman and Julia Heyward for assisting with the set-up and making signage; Monica Angrand for helping in the lobby; Michael Page, who took on the task of putting together a camera crew to shoot the memorial; Edward Oleschak, who handled both camera and audio recording; Shyam Kannapurakkaran, who also operated a camera; Jeff Amaral, for collecting donations to the Ray Zone Memorial Fund; Jodi Kurland, for being there to do whatever needed to be done at the memorial, and for all of her support through what was a very difficult month.

And a GREAT BIG THANK YOU to Jim Kirst and the wonderful staff at the Downtown Independent, without whom none of our events would have happened.