The Digital Cinema Update

MUMBAI: Currently, there are about 100 digital theatres in India. According to the FICCI 2006 report the Rs 6,800 crore Indian film industry will get a major boost by the year 2007 with over 2500 movie theatres turning digital. With its promises to deliver a better movie experience, widen terrestrial reach and curb piracy, digital cinema seems like the breath of fresh air the industry has been waiting for, but the future of digital cineam is yet to unfold.

Simply put digital cinema is the digitalizing of the production, distribution and projection of movies. Digital cinema makes filmmaking flexible and digital editing systems are much easier to use, reducing production time. Traditionally movie makers had to convert from film to digital post production and then convert back to film before a theatre release. This entire converting procedure fell heavy on the pockets of financers, but by using digital formats in the production process itself, producers stand to save a lot of money. Rick McCallum, one of the producers of Attack of the Clones, was once recorded saying that said they spent $16,000 on 220 hours of digital tape, and they would have spent about $1.8 million on 220 hours of film.

“Digital Cinema makes life much easier, it cuts down on intermediate steps and saves time on conversion from celluloid to digital and back” quoted Shyam Benegal (Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose: The Forgotten Hero, Zubeidaa), who is quite optimistic about the potential and prospects of digital cinema in India. On the drawback of digital cinema, Shyam explained “The texture cannot match up to celluloid quality. The color gets too sharp some times, or too saturated and you don’t get the same depth as in celluloid.”

In India, digital cinema has made inroads into the theatre business with many big names such as Shringar Films, Mukta Arts, Adlabs, Inox, Kanakia Builders and United Film Organizers all adopting this system. The major advantage of running movies in the digital format is that the quality remains constant, show after show, but in the case of a film reel, the quality diminishes in subsequent showings giving it a limited shelf life. Digital format also allows for better sound and a much richer movie experience for the end users. The digitalization of cinema also allows the single-screen theatre owners to use their theatres like a multiplex and schedule three-four different films in a day.

For distributors, adopting a digital system would mean reduced transport and handling costs, a wider audience, and the facility to launch movies simultaneously across India. In the current system distributors generally tend to focus on certain cities and thus delay the launch of movies in B and C centers by four to five weeks allowing bootleggers to release pirated copies in these areas way before the local launch of the movie, which in turn eats into potential revenues.

Digitalizing will cut this down and with the use of satellite transmission and two or more places can view the same movie simultaneously. Director Sujoy Ghosh (Jhankar Beats, Home Delivery) feels that though better technology is good, especially one that saves time and money, filmmakers have to know how to use it effectively and efficiently as well. Sujoy also warns that with digital cinema there will be a need for development of infrastructure as well.

A major hurdle that digital cinema has to overcome is tradition. It would definitely take some time before people embrace this new form of cinema. Film as a medium has served the film industry well and it will take some time before it is pushed aside for good. Director Sujoy Ghosh says, “If there is a better option why not, but the use has to be visible and not done for the sake of doing it.” Adding to this fellow director Shyam Benegal quoted “Translating from ones imagination to film is not just a dream anymore, the options available through computer graphics add to the tremendous scope of digital cinema. Digital cinema is here to stay, and maybe one day it will make celluloid film making a thing of the past.”

While it looks like the success of digital cinema will ultimately depend on the pressure for deployment coming from both exhibitors and studios, it has to be noted that neither parties have rushed into digital, nor have they allowed themselves to be pushed into it by hardware manufacturers. Experts claim that eventaully the market force will move both distributors and exhibitors into digital cinema in a big way for there is simply not enough photochemical print-making capacity in the world for a simultaneous 15,000-plus screen release of the next studio blockbuster.

Did you know
Digital prints are cheaper (estimated to be one-fourth of regular celluloid prints), of better quality and less vulnerable to piracy. The price of a D-Cinema projector is four times that of an e-Cinema projector, which currently costs between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 20 lakh.

How does it work
A digital cinema hall screens the film directly from the server using special exhibition equipments. The films prints are converted into encrypted digital format and transmitted via broadband or satellite, directly to the cinema theatre. The exhibitors then pay a fee of Rs 400 per screening to the content provider thereby saving a big sum of money. As a comparision one film print generally costs Rs 60-65,000, industry sources revealed.