The 70MM Roadshow Experience

Notes and Hopes

Quentin Tarantino (left) and Cinematographer Robert Richardson (right) shooting “The Hateful Eight” in Panavision Super 70


As we all have a front row seat to the unfolding scenario revolving the Sean Parker funded startup Screening Room, I figured that it would be appropriate to keep the conversation going, only within the context of Tarantino’s 70MM Roadshow edition of his latest opus The Hateful Eight (2015). Bear in mind that I do realize that it is a little late in the game in reporting this specific experience, but as the old saying goes better late than never.

Before moving forward with the review, I’d like to preface this by saying that me and my girlfriend traveled over 120 miles to see this specific engagement. We would’ve gone all the way to Atlanta, but with the notorious and hellacious traffic conditions, it just wasn’t worth the unnecessary aggravation. So the next best locale to catch the roadshow was a venue in Franklin, TN a much smaller city located twenty minutes South of Nashville.

So why in the hell would we drive all the way to Franklin, TN just to see a movie that will later be released the following week nationwide? What’s the difference?

PART I: History

For starters, the roadshow was a limited engagement where audiences had the opportunity to watch the picture on 70mm film instead of the standard 35mm or 16mm. Back in the 50s and early 60s, studios would release special roadshow engagements of epic films like Ben-Hur, Gone with the Wind, and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World where it be where it would be shown in select cities across the US. When audiences went to these special engagements back then, they would dress really nice for the occasion. Its was like audiences then treated this kind of experience as if they were going to a broadway play or an opera or flying in an airline. Because like the first two examples, roadshows give the audience in attendance a souvenir program, followed by starting the film with an overture. And then at the end of the second act climax, the film breaks for a fifteen minute intermission.

When looking at audiences today, they’re inundated with a plethora of choices of watching movies to the point where some of us would goes as far as replicating that experience in our own homes. With that said, the general public doesn’t quite value the theatrical experience as they use to in the olden days. What really bums me out about the current multiplex experience is how the majority of chains that I’ve been to over the last seven years (Carmike, Regal, & Cinemark) seem to not give a damn about the customer. To me, and like Tarantino said in various interview, feel that when we go to a cineplex these days, we’re pretty much renting a seat instead of collectively loosing ourselves in a world that’s flickering at 24 frames per second.

PART II: The Roadshow

Which brings us to the actual roadshow that we bore witness to in Franklin, TN. My feelings about the overall experience felt mixed. I do feel that when a film is presented with such a large canvas as 70mm, it felt as if every frame was literally alive. Like seriously, I had no idea how beautiful this movie would be. I almost cried. And that’s a notable element that I believe cannot yet be replicated by digital projection systems. Although IMAX with Laser comes VERY close, but’s that another article altogether.

Since it was part of the Roadshow experience, we were given those highly coveted programs, to which it featured production and director’s notes along with production stills and a brief cliffnotes history of the Ultra Panivison 70 format, to which it made me curious to look into the history of Cinerama and the use of Ultra 70 in other movies, which looked amazing that I’m tempted to buy the blurays of the movies featured in said program. And that brings me to how disappointed I was with how the film was presented. The reason for my dissatisfaction was that this was shown at a Carmike Cinemas. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE watching movies but I’ve had a growing sense of disillusionment every time I go one of these cinemas in the region. I was hoping to see this at the Belcourt in Nashville, but in the duration of the limited engagement the theater house was undergoing renovations. Damn.

Given the fact that the format of the film was projected on, you would’ve figured that this particular theater in Franklin Tennessee would be able to accommodate one of their larger screens in their facility. Because the film shown in this specific format deserves to be displayed in the largest screen possible. With that said, I do believe that The Weinstein company made the poor decision of releasing the roadshow and regular editions as “counter-programming” against Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which in retrospect had picked up so much momentum at box office that this wound up becoming Tarantino’s THIRD LOWEST grossing film of his career. And that’s both foreign and domestic.

Domestic Totals (unadjusted)
Foreign Box Office Numbers (unadjusted)

In spite of how I felt about the movie, I was really impressed and excited about how filmmakers in years to come can use this specific format to capture and display their all their hard work. That being said, there is ONE problem that filmmakers and exhibitors face when choosing to shoot and project in 70mm, and that issue is that its too costly.

  • Too Costly for filmmakers — budgets would skyrocket with the amount of 70mm footage that is shot in a given day. If any of you are considering shooting a 70mm picture sometime, a 100ft roll will cost you an average of 250 dollars for six minutes worth of footage! In an interview with Variety, DOP Robert Richardson mentioned that they used two different kinds of mags: A 2,000 ft mag for dialogue scenes and a 500 ft mags for remote camera shots. So one would imagine with the amount of coverage that was exposed, it would be safe to say that this was expensive to shoot.
  • Too costly for cinemas — even if studios like the Weinstein Company chose to offset renovation costs by renting out. 70 mm projectors, Theater chains that choose to show a film in this format would still spend a pretty penny in retrofitting their screens and sound systems to read multichannel magnetic tracks. in reading some articles regarding this process, the cost of retrofitting wound up averaging in the neighborhood of $80,000, but that scenario was from an extreme case where several cinemas had to go the full 9 yards in purchasing and installing said equipment for future use.


So with all this talk about how Sean Parker’s screening room will be the harbinger to the death of the multiplex, I do believe theater chains are forgetting that they too had the ability of giving audience is the choice of watching a film in DCP or celluloid. When you remove one of those choices, and when most screens across the country have more resolution than their cinematic counterparts then they ask them sells this question: what’s the reason to go to the movies anymore if I could have a similar experience in the comfort of my own home? But the blame really should really be aimed at the studios for not creating consistent quality content. Because without an impactful storyline, all the gimmicks that some movie chains around the world are trying to do, like adding motion seats and smell-o-vision will be rendered meaningless. If there’s one thing to take away from this experience, is that I hope that studios use the roadshow format two weeks before the official release of a particular film. The only types of films that I see this working on are our modern day tent pole movies and films from the greatest auteurs of our time. The benefit of using the roadshow format is that it would not just be able to see the movie before anyone else, but also have access to exclusive content. On top of the program that’s offered, the content can also come in the form of swag, i.e. pins, posters, and random giveaways. All this is a recipe for an experience that audiences will never forget.

Shortly after seeing the H8 Roadshow, I’ve read some rumors that Warner Bros is considering releasing their upcoming superhero tentpole Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in 70mm. I just hope that this is a step in the right direction for the future of the moviegoing experience.

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