ISDCF Chair: 'We Are Delivering Stories; Technology Is Just the Enabler'

'Life of Pi'

"I can eat the biscuits, but God made tigers carnivorous, so I must learn to catch fish. If I don't, I'm afraid his last meal would be a skinny vegetarian boy."

Suraj Sharma as Pi

High frame rates and immersive sound are on the agenda at the HPA Tech Retreat.

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF. -- “The industry has spent more than $3 billion ... and by the end of this year I predict we will be releasing movies in the U.S. without any film prints,” said Jerry Pierce of the digital cinema transition at this week’s Hollywood Post Alliance Tech Retreat.

“The move to digital distribution and presentation can open the floodgates of new storytelling techniques. … We cannot lose sight of what we are delivering to paying customers -- we are delivering stories, and the technology is just the enabler," said Pierce, who is chairman of Intersociety Digital Cinema Forum, technical advisor to the National Association of Theater Owners and a former senior vp at Universal Pictures.

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His message -- that the focus should be on story -- was echoed in various sessions, including one on immersive sound.

Re-recording mixers Doug Hemphill and Ron Bartlett and supervising sound editor Eugene Gearty, all of whom are nominated for Oscars for their work on Life of Pi, emphasized that the use of sound boils down to story.

Citing as an example the shipwreck in Pi, Gearty said that director Ang Lee wanted to put the audience “in the middle of a frenzy. [Dolby Atmos] was good for that.”

“[Sound] is not about hearing every detail but making an impression,” Hemphill added. “That storm in Pi is an impressionistic scene.”

During his talk, Pierce shared his personal views on what is exciting him about cinema’s promise, including use of 48 frames per second. “This higher frame rate does make a difference for storytelling. It is a different experience, it is not an improvement over [today’s standard] 24 fps, it is different,” he said. “When properly used, for the right story, you can change the emotional reaction of the audience.

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“Can you imagine a movie where there is an out-of-body experience and you want hyper-reality? Shift to 48 for these scenes. Or the Quidditch scenes in the Harry Potter movies.

“48 frames per second is a tool that has been underutilized,” he said. “I hope the next Hobbit is released in 3D 48 fps and 2D 48 fps only.”

Pierce also expressed interest in immersive sound, though he cited two challenges: consistent presentation and the cost/benefit ratio. Adding that an installation could run between $50,000 and $100,000, he said, “It is not clear that patrons will pay more and not clear how to pay for the installation."

On 4K, he commented: “I’m in favor of 4K production, I’m in favor of 4K projection, but I don’t think 4K deliverables will make much difference to the experience."