Delivering the goods: Event Cinema Technical Handbook offers useful advice for live offerings

Features
Technology

“If I had had this document in my hands when I started, it would have saved me a lot of time and spared me a lot of headaches.”

—Robin Boldon, BBC Worldwide

The growth of the event cinema industry worldwide has been unexpected and unprecedented. An accidental outcome of digitization, the live broadcast of “alternative content” or “additional programming,” or the quaint “other digital stuff,” has come a long way since those first pioneers paved the way for this industry in the early 2000s.

Today, event cinema is the fastest-growing sector at the box office, predicted to be worth $1 billion by 2017, and it may occupy an average of 5% of the world’s box office by then as well, although anecdotal evidence already claims box-office shares variously as 21% (Picturehouse Cinemas, U.K.), 48% (The Light House Cinema, U.K.) and incredibly, 50% (Folkets Hus Och Parker, Sweden).

Such rapid growth is great news, but it is unregulated and entirely organic. While the headlines have been celebrating record-breaking figures in the tens of millions of dollars and the business itself has certainly moved into a second phase of maturity, with Harry Styles of One Direction beaming at us from the trades, Monty Python quips in the press, and David (“Doctor Who”) Tennant looking moody on the posters, the backbone of this industry, namely the technology, has unfortunately not received the same level of attention.

Without the technology there would be no event cinema industry, but the consequence of a sector that has emerged without fanfare or strategy is that there is no real directive on the processes required to get the content onto the screen. There’s been nowhere for those involved to turn to except one another and this has worked well on the whole, but the industry is now at a level where the knowledge has to be standardized and laid out clearly. As the industry continues to diversify, there is a need for a manual, a go-to resource available to both newcomers and existing users to find out about the supply chain, understand the use of terminology, etc.

In January, the Event Cinema Association published its Technical Delivery Handbook for live delivery. Laid out in five chapters covering live capture at the venue, satellite delivery, distribution, exhibition and sound, as well as a comprehensive glossary of terms, we feel it is an essential tool to educate and inform this increasingly diverse sector, but also to aid growth and add credibility to the industry.

The TDH committee was assembled from ECA members from each link in the supply chain for event cinema, and we spent time working out exactly who this book was for, the tone it should take and, crucially, how technical it ought to be. It’s aimed at newcomers and mid-level management—the last thing we wanted was to blind people with science and put them off altogether. The impartiality of this handbook was integral to the tone; we were at pains to avoid this becoming a sales pitch for the competing voices in the handbook.

Having consulted in the industry for some years, I was well aware of the gaps in knowledge and the confusion caused by two parties talking at complete cross-purposes, especially in a stressful live situation, and the idea for a handbook started germinating several years ago. There have been other excellent publications written previously on this new area, but this is the first time a handbook has been published directly for newcomers and those with little technical knowledge, so again, striking the level of tone correctly was key.

Isabelle Fauchet, ECA board member and editor of the Technical Delivery Handbook, explains, “It was fascinating to work with such a wide variety of professionals and to hear from each of them how they approach live events. We’ve tried to keep this Technical Handbook not so overly technical to ensure that it can be read and understood by everyone, but a great part of this publication is the work of the best and most experienced engineers in this field and we’ve learnt a lot from them in the process.”

“Event cinema is coming of age,” says Peter Wilson, ECA board member, who also chaired the Technical Delivery Handbook committee, “and it needs to adopt a common approach to the technology to allow maximum flexibility and creativity. Issues of custom and practice, equipment capabilities and support services need to gradually crystalize into a common approach to improve reliability and production quality. I believe the handbook is a good step in the right direction, with training initiatives to follow.”

So what do the readers think? The launch was well attended at Dolby’s head office in London in January and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Jim Amos, VP of distribution at Fathom Events, said, “The Technical Delivery Handbook is the industry bible on how best to present event cinema productions on the big screen, the way they are meant to be seen. It succeeds brilliantly in providing easy-to-understand steps to provide moviegoers with the finest in-theatre experience and is a must for everyone involved in the alternative content industry.”

Mark Rupp of U.S. distributor SpectiCast agrees: “The ECA Technical Delivery Handbook is not only an excellent reference and planning tool for technical issues surrounding the event cinema industry, it provides usable insights from some of the industry’s leading experts in content delivery, distribution and exhibition.”

The ECA feels passionately that education and information form a central part of our mission to support the industry. As a result of this handbook, we are hosting some one-day training events across various cities in the U.K. in 2015. This training course, which is available in two parts, “Capture/Distribution” and “Reception/Presentation,” is aimed at improving the quality, viability and reliability of event cinema. Full details will be announced shortly.

There are also plans for a publication on non-live content, as well as one concerned with the unique type of marketing critical to the success of an event cinema release. 

Readers of Film Journal International can obtain a 35% discount by clicking on this link: http://eventcinemaassociation.org/fji.html. The offer is open until June 30, 2015.