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A day with Doug Trumbull

The 70mm Newsletter
Written by: Rob (Bert) Murphy Date: 13.02.2022
Doug Trumbull with Rob (Bert) Murphy

The accomplishments of Douglas Trumbull and his career in the movies are well documented. So I would rather take this opportunity to share part of the remarkable interview we recorded for "Splice Here" and my memories of spending the day with one of my idols.

Go to youtube

As I ventured up the stairs of his beautiful farm based office, my first impressions upon shaking Doug's hand were of his kind but piercing blue eyes and how much shorter he was than I’d imagined. As we unloaded the car we chatted about the drive up from Boston and the beautiful spot he and Julia enjoyed here in Massachusetts. I wasn’t sure how long we had to capture the interview, so I cautiously inquired as to what we could fit in. Within minutes we were driving over to another building to see what Doug and his team had been working on. The prefab MAGI theatre stood indoors and was lit dramatically for impact. A circular structure made out of blocks (of a sort), revealed stadium seating and a completely sound baffled interior. The screen was curved both vertically and horizontally as if to hug the viewer visually. As Joanne and I began to set up equipment, Doug pulled in a smoke machine so we could capture the beams of light from the projector. I remember we chatted about Cinerama, which led to Stanley Kubrick and how he wanted "2OO1: A Space Odyssey" to be, “How The Universe Was Won!” Then he pulled up U.F.O.T.O.G, (his MAGI test film) and we settled in for a private screening.

Now I haven’t witnessed Showscan, but I have seen IMAX and three strip Cinerama, and in comparison this was mind blowing. It really can’t be summed up in words but it was so real, so clean, so immersive I was speechless (not a good thing when the camera’s rolling). It was like every advance in wide screen photography and projection had been distilled and combined in this moment. I struggled for a way to encapsulate it and simply offered, “its just the perfect illusion” to which Doug laughed.

The elevated stadium block that the seats were mounted on was fitted with a fan incorporating adjustable blades that could push or pull the air via a control cue on the soundtrack. This gave a Sensurround like effect to the sub base moments; shaking the seats! And I was staggered by the sense of depth created by merging multiple shooting planes running at different frame rates… simultaneously!
More in 70mm reading:

Douglas Trumbull. A Great Legend Departs

Douglas Trumbull - A Conversation

Immersive filmmaking with Douglas Trumbull

Ladies and Gentlemen, This is MAGI Cinema

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”

Doug Trumbull and Rob Murphy in the MAGI theatre.

With some fantastic B-roll done we headed back to the ranch for lunch and the interview. I was a little embarrassed that lunch hadn’t really been spoken of in our phone conversations, so we all snacked on the FODMAP free offering that Jo and I had packed for ourselves.

The interview was just brilliant, covering so many topics surrounding the survival of film and his amazing work in pushing the science of the cinematic process beyond its 24fps confines. We constantly went off topic as the conversation wandered to
"Silent Running", "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and the story behind "Brainstorm" and how he negotiated the ownership of ShowScan away from Paramount and the complicated mess that ensued.

I got to ask many of the questions I had in my head since I was a boy. Like was the decision to shoot "2001" in 70mm (and not three strip) due to the shape of the Discovery? “Absolutely not”, he chortled. The hours flew by and I realised Doug was getting tired so it was time to stop and with the exchange of a handsome bottle of red wine, we took some stills, shook hands and it was done… but not before the fan boy in me was indulged by wearing the Brainstorm helmet for a moment.

As the edit for "Splice Here" continued over 2020 - 21, I would pester Doug for stills and video footage to help illustrate his interview. Sometimes it took a while but he would always come through with the goods.

I will treasure one of the final email exchanges we had where I sent him the picture-locked cut for Splice Here. He loved it and raved about how it summed up so well what he had been working towards all these years, offering to help get the film finished and seen.

For me, it’s a small consolation that he did get to see the documentary and that he enjoyed it so much.
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Updated 07-01-23