<img src="https://certify.alexametrics.com/atrk.gif?account=43vOv1Y1Mn20Io" style="display:none" height="1" width="1" alt="">

IMAX in burst of positivity at NAB

The well regarded IMAX film Deep Sky is getting a wider week-long release to mark Earth Day this month
2 minute read
The well regarded IMAX film Deep Sky is getting a wider week-long release to mark Earth Day this month

Before NAB opens (and while it’s on too) there are hundreds of sessions examining all aspects of the industry, and Phil Rhodes found himself at one of Saturday’s most interesting ones looking at The Art & Science (and positive trending future) of IMAX.

On one hand, it’s difficult to meaningfully feature IMAX at a trade show, because IMAX involves vast screening rooms which are custom-designed by the company to create an atmosphere of quality, comfort and spectacle before the first photon even bounces off the screen. The Las Vegas Convention Centre, which is beige and labyrinthine and prominently features several thousand square miles of the world’s ugliest carpet, is none of those things.

The reason IMAX turns up to events like this, though, is pretty straightforward. There are relatively few IMAX screens on the planet – 1500 or so at the time of writing, and very, very few of them are equipped to project the 15-perforation 70mm prints for which the company is perhaps most famous. Even so, Greg Ciacco, the company’s VP of original content (it’s America, everyone’s a vice president of something) reported that 2023 was the company’s best year ever, which is shockingly good news given the malaise in cinematic exhibition in general.

When the Arclight dome on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles is shut down for lack of footfall, things are getting bad. Still, the numbers released at this year’s show suggest that historic attempts at bigger and bigger cinema, in the face of then-nascent home TV, might not have been entirely misguided. That dome was built to exhibit Cinerama, and while that didn’t thrive, it might be reasonable to suspect that the really, really big screen has finally found its place, if only thanks to Mr Nolan.

It’s no great surprise to discover Kodak tagging along, given the company’s clearly keen interest in selling large amounts of film – and selling 65mm negative to the likes of Chris is a pretty direct and straightforward way to sell large amounts of film. The company’s senior motion picture person, Vanessa Bendetti, was more or less as effusive as Ciacco, talking about rising numbers and a ten-year program of investment to improve facilities at the company’s Rochester factory, where all of the company’s film is made.

Big film, small crew

But it’s not that hard to walk into a carefully-choreographed press conference and find employees of large corporations who’re willing to push the idea that everything’s going tremendously well. Probably the most interesting part of the discussion came from photographer, filmmaker and thoroughbred madman Tyler Shields, who discussed shooting 15-perf 65mm with a crew of no more than seven on what sounds a lot like a reasonably high-end indie mockumentary. Anyone who knows the name will be aware that Shields likes shooting stills on large format, and apparently saw no reason to overcomplicate things when shooting 24 large-format frames per second.

It’d be easy to interpret all this as the entirely predictable behavior of profitmaking entities in search of profit if it wasn’t for the fact that IMAX has recently been putting its not-inconsiderable funds where its mouth is. The company has famously commissioned designs for new 15/65 cameras. Its current fleet is dwindling (every so often, somebody drops one), at best decades old, and therefore not particularly user-friendly. New designs will include features such as a high-quality video tap, which, with 4K resolution, will still be grotesquely inadequate to really characterise a full size 65mm frame – but it’s a big step in the right direction.

Apparently, the company intends to build four. Whether that’s really enough to satisfy the sort of production which is likely to shoot 15/65 in the first place remains to be seen, but in all, IMAX’s presence at NAB 2024 is a welcome dose of positivity in an industry – and recently, even a world – which has seemed desperately keen to bombard us with bad news. With strike concluded, pandemic largely cured and alien invaders yet to breach the atmosphere, it wouldn’t be past time. 

Tags: Business NAB 2024 IMAX