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The Audience Rules for LFCA

This article first appeared in
..in 70mm
The 70mm Newsletter

Written by: William Kallay Issue 61 - June 2000
Despite the success of "Everest" and Disney's "Fantasia 2000", some members of the Large Format Cinema Association (LFCA) expressed varied opinions over the direction of the large format industry. Was it better to aim in the direction of the commercialization of large format films, or in the direction of tried and true documentaries for the giant screen? Over 300 delegates representing such companies as IMAX, Imagica U.S.A, Iwerks and DTS, among others, met in Los Angeles for their annual three-day meeting to discuss this and other issues. Also in attendance at the event were filmmakers from all realms of the industry.

Once again, the event was held at the California Science Center and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Closing night festivities were held at Universal Studios Hollywood for the first time. Like the previous year, the conference was professionally organized and efficient. Intertwined between the showings of large format films were meetings on the success of the large format industry. 

The large format industry, on which LFCA was built, has been growing at a phenomenal rate over the last five years. Most audiences are familiar with the large format through the IMAX trademark name and associate it with 6-story screens, great sound and documentaries. But the addition of IMAX auditoriums in commercial theaters in the mid-90s took the industry onto a new plateau. Suddenly, audiences didn't have to drive to museums and science centers to see large format films. They could now go to their local theater megaplex instead.

With the financial success of "Everest" in 1998, the niche film industry had a new dilemma on its hands; who do we cater to? Do we cater to education, entertainment or both? Further blurring the educational slant of the large format was Disney's successful launch of "Fantasia 2000" earlier this year. It grossed over $65 million in domestic [USA] release during its four month run in IMAX. Because of those two films, audiences who normally wouldn't see an IMAX movie now did. 

"The audience rules," said Mary Jane Dodge of Loews-Cineplex. "We want good entertaining films people want to see." 

Dodge added that the expectations of commercial theaters and institutional theaters were different. When Disney approached theaters about showing the film in IMAX, many institutional theaters balked at the idea of having "Fantasia 2000" playing exclusively for four months. The head of the California Science Center, Joe De Amicis, was initially questioned on his decision not to run the film in his theater. He wasn't willing to give up the theater's educational film schedule for an entire run of "Fantasia 2000". Had Disney been willing to share space with the other films, De Amicis would've run it. His decision did not affect the theater's box office. It had its second best season since Los Angeles built its first IMAX theater in 1984.

Overall, most exhibitors in large format were pleased with Disney's foray onto the giant screen. Disney paid for the prints and marketing of the film, sharing 50% of the box office take. Exhibitors, though not all, were rewarded with good-to-excellent attendance.

Which led to nearly everyone attending to ask; what do we do for an encore? Despite having huge financial success in such films as "To Fly", "The Living Sea", "Everest" and now "Fantasia 2000", the large format industry must decide which direction will keep it viable and alive in the future. It was agreed upon by many that large format films should be more inventive, humorous, daring and even more commercial to keep audiences "ruling."

The keynote speaker of LFCA 2000 was Roy E. Disney, Vice Chairman of the Board, The Walt Disney Company and Chairman, Walt Disney Feature Animation. Not only did Disney spearhead the revival of the company back in 1984, he also kept his uncle's dream alive for the original concept of "Fantasia" to evolve. In a powerful speech, Disney emphasized that his uncle always utilized the latest technologies to tell a story. 

"From the beginning, we have tried to use technology to provide people with entertainment experiences that were beyond the ordinary," said Disney. "(But), we saw the IMAX release as a logical extension of the Disney legacy."

The rest of the conference offered attendees an opportunity to see other large format films. Many of the films were shot in different formats other than IMAX 15-perf 70mm film. Some were shot in Iwerks 8-perf 70mm, a more compact system which allows for high-quality conversion to 15-perf projection on larger screens.

Included in the film festival were such films as "Dolphins", "Amazing Journeys", "Loch Lochmond", "Michael Jordan to the Max", "Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box" (3D) and the Academy Award winning, "The Old Man & the Sea". Shorts "Pandorama" and "East End" (shot in Super 8 (!), then blown-up to IMAX) were also shown. Cinematographer Sean Phillips ("Thrill Ride: The Science of Fun", "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous", "Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box"), received the Kodak Vision Award for his brilliant work in the large format.

Once again, the LFCA conference offered those in attendance a forum in which to discuss the industry's issues. Last year, there was uncertainty about the future arrival of "Fantasia 2000"

After all, "Everest" caught the industry off-guard and it was still trying to figure out its next home run. "Fantasia 2000" became that homer. As a result, it's becoming more clear that audiences will see longer films with more of a commercial premise on giant screens, whether they be in the IMAX or Iwerks formats. Now the question is what's going to be the next blockbuster for the large format industry.

The LFCA is a non-profit organization dedicated to public awareness of the large format industry and its films. Membership is open to the public. Their website address is lfca.org.

Further in 70mm reading:

in70mm.com's IMAX Page

LFCA 1999

70mm 3D

The Passing of Graeme Ferguson - IMAX Pioneer

Low Tech IMAX?


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