Large Format Cinema Association (LFCA)
May 2001, Annual Conference in Los Angeles
Review by Ross Anthony

At this year's conference, the debate 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.)

Chris Palmer makes a seductive point. Disney has been very successful with this marketing tactic ... families feel very safe with this 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.)

Ben Stassen, by now, robust in his opposition to such stringent guardedness replies, "How can you say that crap?" 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, "Let the audience decide!" He also predicts, "2-D is dying ... 3-D is where it's at!"

But another producer had a remarkably insightful point (referring to Palmer's wildlife genre). He points out that these are exactly the films that he can't bring his children to because they contain so much violence his kids have nightmares. Hey yeah, we forget about how cruel nature can be ... don't we? Actually, a later clip of test footage played at the conference captured an African lion catching a hopping gazelle right out of the air ... beautiful yes, but soon to be grizzly.

"Okay back to the debate, what's your opinion Ross?" the reader of this article (you) focuses the writer (me).

Thanks for asking. Though an interesting topic for debate, the certainty of the outcome makes the argument irrelevant. IMAX is not Large Format. And Large Format is not one corporation like Disney. 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 them.

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 both content and audience? 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. But there is one other angle I've not heard addressed - ticket price. Is this a taboo subject? Or simply taken for granted?

When looking for the BIGGEST bang for their theater-going buck ... viewers consider duration over size (hey, relax, I'm talking about film here). Why should the viewer pay the seven to nine bucks for a 45-minute piece, when a feature will give 90 minutes worth of entertainment?

Make no mistake, I'm not encouraging producers of LF to lengthen their reels - goodness no! If done right, a LF film should knock your socks off in that time. Besides, any more than an hour and the eyes begin to glaze over, tipping one on the edge of a headache. No, leave the duration, drop the price tag. Especially while trying to attract families. How about limiting the price to 5 bucks. At least, offer family discounts.

Enough about that. The other major component (besides the screenings - and you can read those reviews on this site) examined at the conference was the use of alternative "tools" - namely Digital! I think most people in the industry would agree that 70/15 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 35, or 70/5, or 16 and even 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 70/15 were religiously adhered to. Too technical? Basically, 70/15 is currently the 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. 70/15 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 digi 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 up on that big movie zone!

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

Copyright © 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:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:26:23 PDT