NATO CEO to Tech Community: “We Are Not Going to Pay to Do Everything First”

2012-15 BKLOT John Fithian H

Fithian in his office at NATO headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Theater owners “are not going to put in every trinket just to say they are doing it first,” John Fithian, CEO of the National Association of Theater Owners, warned manufacturers of developing cinema technologies such as laser projectors, immersive sound and high dynamic range systems.

Speaking today at the Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat in Palm Springs, Fithian said, “[These technologies] all have great potential—but they are expensive, and we almost went broke doing the digital cinema transition. Yes, we should lead with the best experience, but we aren’t going to pay to do everything first. Some things just don't pan out.”

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He added that despite the fact that James Cameron and Peter Jackson’s films have been enormously successful, “I don’t think high frame rates (HFRs) is going anywhere. ... Jim is still convinced he’s going to do it [on the Avatar sequels], but my personal take is that’s not going anywhere.

“We love our filmmakers, but we answer to patrons,” he added. “When we answer to filmmakers we get confusing instructions."

In addition to HFRs, Fithian also doesn’t see an upside in investing in higher and higher resolutions. Noting that he’s now hearing about 8K, he asserted, “It doesn’t make sense to go higher. My patrons can’t tell the difference now between 2K and 4K.”

He is, however, excited about high dynamic range (HDR)—a wider range between the blackest blacks and whitest whites--which he called “mindblowing." And he added that laser projectors “are key because we are struggling with light levels.”

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Turning to 4D (moving seats, etc.), Fithian urged the industry to be cautious as the "potential gimmick can overpower the story." He also warned that standards are needed since each manufacturer's system is different and "studio are going crazy with different formats."

Underscoring that point, Dolby’s Curt Behlmer warned that “it’s not unusual now for a blockbuster to have 400-plus versions for a worldwide release." That includes combinations of 2D, 3D, 4D, HDR, HFR and different languages for a global release.

Twitter: @CGinLA