Monday, April 30, 2012

CinemaCon '12: Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee Talk 3D & The Future of Cinema

Perhaps my favorite part of CinemaCon 2012 was the Filmmaker's Luncheon, which featured an in depth talk with Martin Scorsese and Ang Lee about the art of 3D filmmaking. I wasn't sure what to expect, as this was my first event at my first CinemaCon, but what followed was a wonderful, enlightening discussion, the kind I rarely get to be exposed to with the extent of my coverage usually being on geek specific gatherings. I thought I'd put together a summary of the biggest things I took away from the luncheon, and I hope you find it as fascinating as I did. 

 1. 3D companies realize what a major issue the dulling of the image is and are working on eliminating that as an issue. A scene from Hugo they screened for us was at double the brightness as normal, and I did notice a decidedly smaller difference between the image brightness when I lifted my glasses up. But also discussed was mportance of the theaters and projectionists to make sure they are up to date and know how to use the product so that their screens are showing the images in the best possible light, literally. Scorsese himself pleaded to the theater owners in the audience, "We all have to work together on this. Please show the films in the best possible light" It's a two way street, but ultimately it begins with the 3D companies, so here's hoping this isn't an issue we're still talking about in a couple of years. 

2. Ang Lee has been interested in making the Life of Pi into a film for so long, but felt he needed another dimension of filmmaking to make it work, so decided to look to 3D. He finds it to be incredibly intense and its purpose is to make the story more immersive. He sees 2D as easier to watch, which is necessary for some films, while 3D forces the audience to be more attentive and active in the story, a quality necessary for a very different kind of film. So ultimately, Lee doesn't think 3D and 2D should be compared, because 3D is its own art. Even if it's not quite there yet, it's where it is headed. 

3. 3D acting requires a different application of an actor's skill set.  Lee talked about loving a scene on the 2D monitor, then hopping back to the 3D monitor and realizing the actors (specifically first time actor, 17 year old Suraj Sharma, headed to NYU next year!) needed to bring the performance down. Scorsese chuckled in response to this, as he had the same issue on Hugo, working primarily with children. Lee is  also are nervous for the day that  actors see themselves on monitor and demand that the I O be turned down, because they don't like how they look. All of this leads to the question - how long until we see acting classes designed specifically for work in 3D? Lee already predicts that film schools will be teaching it as a technique to its students sooner rather than later.

More after the jump!

4. Scorsese is the grand master. I mean, yes, we knew this before Ang Lee said "it's a huge honor to sit next to the grand master" on Wednesday afternoon, but the luncheon with the two filmmakers really showed off Scorsese's incredible knowledge of film history, throwing around quotes like "imagine a film by Eisenstein in 3D", talking about showing his daughter David Selsnick's 1948 black and white picture, Portrait of Jenny in a movie theater to show his daughter what the theater experience was like then, with the switch to magnoscope in the middle, ending in technicolor, effects only on the theater print, and explaining how the jump from nitrate to acetate or black and white to color was just as jarring as the jump to 48 or 120 fps might be, but assured us, we will get used to it. In talking 120 fps, Scorsese said while we gasped, he said "let's shoot." He let us know that when films began, audiences wanted three things - color, sound and depth, to "recreate life.". First came sound, then came color, and now we're finally innovating with depth - it's a natural progression. He even notes how when he did Mean Streets in color, "that was a big big move." and how when he was told that in the future all movies would be in color, no one could believe it. He also noted that not even 10 years ago, he and George Lucas were up at the Skywalker Ranch talking about digital projection. He notes that how this upcoming shift goes comes down to how *we* accept an image. Man. On the fence about new technology in filmmaking? Just listen to Scorsese talk about it for forty five minutes, I'm telling you. 

5. Scorsese is a 3D nut. While he admits it "takes half a day of shooting to realize you're crazy", he had been wanting to make a film in 3D for forever and can't see why his films would ever *not* be in 3D. He was so excited for Hugo, he brought his crew to see House of Wax at Film Forum, then later Dial M for Murder, which was revelatory for them, to see 3D applied that way. He also feels very fortunate that his first 3D film was on one giant set with a giant crane to handle the 3D equipment. 

6. Over 1000 computers were involved with the first shot of Hugo, which actually wasn't finished until right before opening - it didn't even screen with the film at the first academy screening.

7. When Sacha Baron Cohen leans in to talk to Asa Butterfield in one particular scene in Hugo, the effect of his truly popping off the screen was actually an accident, but this, plus the makeup and costume 3D tests for the film, have led to Scorsese describing actors in 3D movies as "moving sculptures", a combination of theater and film noting that it creates more of an immersive experience and takes audiences in, making them care more. 

8. Ang Lee had a difficult time with 3D. Whereas Scorsese approaches 3D like a kid in a candy shop, Lee was extremely intimidated by the 3D camera and is still in an incredibly nervous place about the gamble he took. "I'm dealing with kids, tigers, water, and big visual effects, all in 3D…it's a huge learning curve." He noted that it was a tremendous undertaking from conceptualization to post, and how often on set, both he and the crew would forget they were shooting in 3D, "The biggest learning curve is that sometimes I forgot it was 3D. We are used to shooting in 2D. Our training in lighting and creating depth is in 2D," and how there was a bit of a struggle at times with his cinematographer, who had shot Tron: Legacy, because he would "walk around like he knows" and sometimes counter what was ultimately the "filmmaker's vision", especially because Lee is so used to trusting his eyes and can no longer do that when using 3D. Although, based on the breathtaking footage screened the next day from Life of Pie, something tells me it's all gonna work out just fine, Ang Lee :)

9. Why was Hugo in 3D? Scorsese explained that 3D takes you into another land more fully, which was important for this film. Plus - what was the film talking about? Technology to tell stories. So by using 3D, it's automatically doing a better job of communicating that. On how it works without that extra dimension? "In 2D, it's all right. It plays…"

10. If Scorsese and Lee could go back in time, Scorsese would have made anything after Raging Bull in 3D, and thinks Bergman's The Passion of Anna would look great in 3D, as would a smaller film he just saw called Mud. Ang Lee thinks 3D could have been cool for his Hulk movie.

11. Ang Lee changed the frame rate many many times in Life of Pi. "Fox doesn't know yet…"

12. Life of Pi features the first 3D camera with a box for underwater shooting and the film was shot in a giant tank in Tawian. Lee noted that he cherishes the amount of budget he got and can't waste it by shooting in the actual sea. 

13. We need to pay more attention to preservation and officially introduce Migration as the standard. Scorsese is passionate about film preservation and talked to us about how digital means no negative. There is nothing there. So the only way to preserve our films is to migrate original technologies to new technologies or else it will literally disappear. The key is to set a standard for good, often updated copies, and make them available in more ways than just digital.

14. Scorsese and Lee very much value the physical movie going experience. Lee noted "there is nothing like sitting with a group of people in a black box and watching something larger than life," while Scorsese added "there will always be the need to see films with an audience," whether it's Titanic reissued in 3D or a new form of filmmaking involving holograms. Scorsese even mentioned how he saw Lucas in New York last week for an hour, and part of that time was spent watching a video of cat sneezing on the internet, and how even that proves the importance of the communal experience of watching film with someone else. Both Scorsese and Lee emphasized that movies have the most meaning when shared and that experience is not replaceable. 

15. Lee's childhood dream was to make a film combining Chinese melodrama and martial arts, which he accomplished with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Scorsese's first real dream was to put what he was experiencing in life, on screen, which seemed impossible in the days of censorship, but that he later got to accomplish with Mean Streets and Raging Bull. He also has long had a dream of making a roman epic in 75mm, with an Emperor, betrayals, and lots of gladiatorial combat. Um. Yes please? 

How do you feel about 3D? Do you think, like Scorsese, that it is part of a natural progression and will be the new standard, or are you more on the side of Lee, that it's a specific art form to be used only for specific pieces that require a higher level of immersion and intensity?


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