Alamo Drafthouse's Tim League Defends Both Digital & 35mm Cinema
We're only a few weeks away from the release of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, which will be opening four days early in film only (35mm/70mm projection). The announcement caused quite a stir in the cinema community, as the response from some movie theater chains was not unexpected. Many of them got upset, many of them were pissed off that they weren't a part of this deal, the big reason being that they just gave up their 35mm projectors to transform to digital and now they're missing out on some of the best money of the year. So they blame the studios, and the filmmakers, but never themselves. In response to all of this, Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League (who owns a handful of theaters himself) wrote a passionate essay/response and published it on Deadline. It's brilliant, it gets everything right, and at the end of it all, it's inspiring too.
You can read some of the complaints from other theater owners in this report on THR. In response, League decide to speak his mind about the situation and do so sensitively, recognizing that there is a business side of this, too. He then goes on to address a key issue - that this isn't a battle over digital vs film, it's a battle for the people. It's about the moviegoers, and the filmmakers, and recognizing what they want even if it is a mix of formats (we all just want a good experience above all). It's about the choice, it's about being optimistic about the future not pessimistic about the changes. Read the full essay on Deadline here. An excerpt:
As the guys who have invested in the brick and mortar, it is right that we watch our costs and protect our interests, but is it really a smart thing to ignore it when Nolan and other filmmakers who play on his level ask us for something important?
I ask all cinema owners, what is our relationship to filmmakers? I consider myself a venue in service of the creative visionaries who create the stories and experiences for which we charge. If Christopher Nolan prefers for his movie to be projected from 35mm or 70mm prints, then we as an industry should respect his vision and do our best to support it. He is seeing an industry that has all but abandoned the rich history and tradition of film projection and is using this highly anticipated release to stop the rapid erosion of film projection in cinemas. […]
Our mission as cinema owners should be to build a young cinephile audience. Yes, we make most of our box office from Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hunger Games just like most everyone else, but it is important for every exhibitor to view cinemas as cultural centers.
We should be finding ways to inspire a young generation to fall in love with going to the cinema just like Tarantino, Nolan and many of us theater owners did when we were kids. I want a younger generation to love classic films, to appreciate the shared experience, and to have a passion for film history. The only way we can do that is to ensure that 35mm never dies. I enthusiastically "step back in time" at the cinema and encourage everyone else to do the same.
Yes, yes, yes! Spread the word about this. To put it simply, this is exactly why I love Alamo Drafthouse and Tim League and everything he does/they do. They know how to run an excellent movie theater, they actually really truly care about the customers, and they don't complain when they get a bad deal. Instead, they focus on what really matters - the experience itself, the art of cinema, the people, the movie lovers who keep the light burning bright. Tim does a great job of explaining the issue clearly and why he understands the other owners' complaints, before pointing out how obtuse they are for even complaining. I'm with him completely.
He sums up his feelings here: "We have long since converted to Sony 4K Digital at Alamo Drafthouse, but in half or more of our 19 locations, we maintain and frequently use our 35mm projectors. Of the approximately 40,000 screens in the US, less than 400 are showing Interstellar on film. This speaks to a tiny fraction of total number of screens in America still having the ability to project film. During the conversion to digital, most exhibitors made a conscious decision to turn their back on 35mm projection forever… If you want to properly project a classic film that isn’t one of the top hundred or two recognizable titles, you must project on 35mm." Indeed. It will be interesting to see how the Interstellar opening works, how much of an impact it has on the box office, or if it just helps fuel the fire that's sure to blaze when Interstellar opens globally.