ur colleagues in the American Society of Cinematographers recently sponsored an interesting educational meeting for its members and guests. There were discussions and demonstrations of 720-progressive and 1080-progressive digital camcorders by Marker Karahadian of Plus 8 Video. John Gault of Panavision discussed the status of the “Panavised” Sony 1080-progressive camcorder. Previously, both companies demonstrated their wares for members of our Guild in Los Angles. Neither Karahadian nor Gault made exaggerated claims. Both said that it required an artful cinematographer and skillful crew to get the most out of these digital camcorders. One demo compared film and HD shots on a sitcom set with flat, high key light and a limited contrast range. The HD shots looked brighter and sharper from front-to-back. The film had some texture and selective focus. Depending on the budget and preferences of the producer, this show could have been taped or filmed with little effect on the outcome.

      The final demonstration was made by Robert Weisgerber, CEO of Super Vista Corp., a new company that’s trying to introduce a different way of shooting and projecting film. The new system uses a Panaflex camera to expose standard 65mm film at 48 frames-per-second. A prototype 70mm projector played it back at the same elevated rate. The demonstration was literally breathtaking.

      There were action shots with radical camera movement and aerial images of the Grand Canyon with at least 12 stops of contrast in-between the brightest rays of sunshine and the darkest shadowy areas. There was an intimate close-up of a couple falling in love: you didn’t need words or music to feel their emotions –it was like being there. Weisgerber said he wanted to provide a way for filmmakers to involve the audience as participants rather than spectators.

      It was an uplifting glimpse of one potential path to the future. Then, one of the industry’s most respected technology gurus volunteered his opinion. In so many words, he said, “forget it. There is no hope for success” He remarked that the studios won’t pay to produce or distribute large-format movies photographed and projected at 48 frames-per-second, and that exhibitors won’t invest in improving the movie-going experience. What’s worst of all, he insisted that the public just doesn't care.

      The room got very quiet. Time seemed to slow like someone under-cranked reality. The audience included such consummate artists as John Toll, ASC, Victorio Storaro, ASC Russell Carpenter, ASC, Steven Burum, ASC, Bill Butler, ASC, Adam Holender, ASC

      Jack Laskus, ASC and many others. It was like someone telling Pablo Picasso and Leonardo DaVinci that from now on they could only paint on small screens and neutral colors, and had to forget about creating contrast. It was like telling them that the public doesn’t care and that galleries won’t buy bigger frames.

      Our colleague Steven Poster, ASC broke the silence by asking, “Do you understand who is in this audience?” It was a good-natured jibe, which provoked a lot of laughs. The guru shut up, but the question he raised lingered. Is the public indifferent? If Thomas Paine were alive today, he’d surely observe, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” We are coping with run-away production, the harmful impact of the SAG strike on commercial production, the possibility of a writers and actors strike next year, and absentee management of the studios by corporate bean-counters. But none of those problems mean that we should dream smaller dreams that would make the world a much poorer place. We don’t want to be the generation that sold out and gave in to mediocrity. If you don’t believe the audience cares, you probably wasting your time.

      As always, your opinions and suggestions are appreciated.

George Spiro Dibie, ASC
National President
Editor-in Chief
Reprinted from  IPG Magazine -