One of the basic assumptions of media of all kinds – books, television and movies – is that creating a holiday classic can result in both short-term and long-term success. One that I’m personally familiar with is the fact that among the joys of living in the New York metropolitan area is the opportunity, every December, to see the New York City Ballet’s annual performance of The Nutcracker. This holiday season an even larger audience will have the chance to experience the joy of seeing a new and sumptuous production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet brought to life on the big screen for the first time in 3D. This production was made all the richer because the performance was filmed at the historic Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, the original home to the ballet when it made its worldwide debut in 1892. NCM Fathom and alternative content specialist, More2Screen, supported by Sony Digital Cinema, are distributing the film to digital cinemas worldwide. A production of EuroArts Music International and Mariinsky Theatre in co-production with Ovation, Samsung Electronics and Digital Images, it was made under the direction of EuroArts producer Bernd Hellthaler and Valery Gergiev, the Mariinsky’s artistic director and conductor.
Peter Jackson’s highly anticipated first Hobbit movie – set to be released by Warner Bros. in December – is suddenly at the center of a growing dispute over the technical issues involved with shooting and distributing movies in frame rates higher than the long-standing industry norm of 24 frames per second. The Hobbit is the first studio release of a 4K 3D feature film shot at a higher frame rate, in this case 48 frames per second. And, as is widely known, director James Cameron has been lobbying hard to shoot all of his upcoming Avatar films at as much as 60 fps. This dispute gained momentum last month between the studios and many people in the technical and creative communities over the whole idea of how to handle higher frame rates through the entire production through exhibition process. This dispute will impact anyone who shoots, edits, distributes or exhibits a digital movie. Technically, the heart of the issue is the level of the compression rate needed for high quality movies shot and projected at higher frame rates. Realistically, the issue is, as always, money. The studios are always reluctant to spend any more money than they absolutely have to and shooting at 48 fps is more expensive than shooting 24 fps; 60 fps costs still more. 3D adds to the equation. There are also serious concerns that this dispute will confuse filmmakers and, worse, stall the transition of the thousands of exhibitors around the world who could be driven out of business very soon. In more ways than one, the big squeeze is on.