We millennial filmmakers in general buzz with excitement at the mere utterance of any new form of technology. It could be 3D, 4K, RAW or simple high quality inexpensive cameras. We should, it’s an exciting time. Everything is at our fingertips for the most part. I want to single out 4k in particular. Its a topic of much debate, some feel its the future, some feel its an unnecessary gimmick, some a potential lifesaver in the edit, and others a major costly hassle. The truth is in working with 4K for 5 years now, its all of the above.
I just went to watch Gravity tonight at the AMC theatre on 84th street in New York. The ticket price is now $15.00 for general admission. It used to be $12.50 about 2 months ago. Thats a substantial price increase. If you take a family of 4 out, you are spending nearly $60.00 before popcorn and soda. This theatre had been under renovation and I was awestruck by the new theatre. Plush leather motorized reclining seats, better concession stand options, and a clean new interior design. Immediately before the feature started, a big “Presented in Digital Sony 4K” appeared on the screen. I thought… OOO! This is gonna be awesome! Finally! After all these years, I get to watch something in 4K in a comfy seat, with popcorn that actually tastes good. I got what i wished for, a better movie theatre experience. Like the old adage “Be careful what you wish for”, I think it applies here for a few reasons.
First, the price. I dont mind paying an extra $2.50 per ticket for the better experience. However, lets look for a moment at the state of the common moviegoer. Its no secret that our economy is not what it used to be. The upper west side of manhattan is in no way a microcosm of the rest of the nation, its an upper middle class gentrified neighborhood. That said, it only has 2 movie theatres, the 84th Street AMC Quad theatre and the 67th Street AMC IMAX megaplex. The IMAX tickets run 18-25$ a piece depending on if the showing is in 3D, and the standard ticket price at the Lowes is $14.50. I applaud the theatres for upgrading to all Digital 4K projections, IMAX 3D, and a vast number of other technical improvements. But one thing i noticed sitting watching Gravity, was that it was practically empty. With a smattering of well dressed “upper” end clientele. Is the price of the technology reflected in the ticket, driving away customers? It seemed to be just movie geeks and the well off spending the $15.00 to see a film. This can be bad. The Cinema is about seeing a film with your community and sharing the experience. I don’t mind the sounds of chewing and crinkling popcorn bags because the sound of the whole crowd gasping during a terrifying or emotional moment feeds my own experience of feeling the emotions the filmmaker intends. The crowd enhances the feeling of the film, its “gravity” if you will. This was somewhat lost in this screening. I felt like I was watching the film at home.
The second issue, “Gravity”, an extremely effects heavy movie was shot and posted in 2K. So in essence, the shiny new 4K projector was either uprezing or stretching the picture out, and it showed. It seemed soft. While this didn’t detract from the wonderful story, this brings me back to 4K. There is no doubt that it is the future. Yet, like I mentioned before, its a blessing and a curse rolled into one. The public is actually excited about it. Many people I know outside the industry have asked me about 4K and what it means. (i’m their video “help line”, btw) Once I explain it, the general feeling is: “Oh Awesome, how much better will it look on my TV” and the truth is this; “On your TV, you won’t be able to tell the difference unless you sit close. The movie theatre however…. thats gonna blow your mind…..” The theatres are ready for it, the public is ready for it, but it just seems that the industry is not. I have not yet in 5 years of shooting 4K R1, R1MX, RED Epic, Scarlet, F55, F65 or even 4K DSLR timelapses, been asked to post something in 4K. Not once. Its expensive, VERY expensive. Four times as many pixels means four times as many hours rendering and storing the material. Perhaps one day soon.
So for now the beautiful 4K projector, Leather seat, gourmet popcorn, and $15.00 ticket will have to be a teaser of days to come. The industry is just not ready today.
Thanks for reading and please lets discuss this in the comments. I’d like to know how people feel about the wild west of the theatre experience right now. Are the higher ticket prices worth the boost in technology?
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