When Quentin Tarantino first discussed his vision with the Weinstein Co. to resurrect the roadshow picture for his eighth title The Hateful Eight in 70MM, there was one major hurdle to overcome: How could the cinema format be rebooted if most theaters don’t even have the equipment?
In a digital cinema age, few theaters own reel-to-reel projectors, let alone a 70MM machine. While these projectors were still common in the 1990s when Universal released Ron Howard’s immigrant epic Far and Away, by today’s standards they’re antiques.
All heads at the Weinstein Co. turned to Erik Lomis to meet this challenge. While his daily oversee at TWC as distribution chief entails booking titles in the widest number of theaters, Lomis was suddenly tasked with a rescue and secure mission akin to Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield’s in Pulp Fiction: To obtain as many 70MM projectors for the roadshow release of Hateful Eight on Christmas Day.
“In order to play the best theaters, we had to get them the equipment,” says Lomis, “we bought into Quentin’s vision and we’re making it happen or we’ll die trying.”
Luckily, Lomis had a learning curve with the 70MM situation and the glitches that could arise when he released Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master in September 2012. While Anderson shot in 65MM, the filmmaker didn’t insist on a minimum percentage of theaters showing The Master in 70MM. At its widest point, The Master was shown in 70MM at 14 theaters, with a few prestige venues still in possession of the equipment, i.e. the Hollywood Cinerama Dome, The Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, and the Village East in New York City. During the run of The Master, dilemmas would ensue whereby a projectionist couldn’t thread the print or a projector’s motor would burn out. In such moments, the Weinstein Co. would send technicians out. A few times, Lomis even rolled-up his sleeves and solved some 70MM problems in projection booths around L.A. “We even had Paul Thomas Anderson threading in one booth,” recalls Lomis about one instance.
“That experience gave us an idea of what we had to prepare for and what to avoid. When you deal with these old machines, things happen that you can’t anticipate,” says the distribution chief.
Lomis had an 18-month lead before Hateful Eight would hit the screen, and he promptly began scouring eBay and interfacing with film warehouses and antique collectors across the country “pulling the equipment, checking it and Frankenstein-ing it together. Configuring the lens took six months alone. They needed to be adjusted to today’s stadium auditoriums, which from the booth to the screen have a shorter throw versus the lens on the older machines which had a longer throw due to the sloping floor auditoriums,” explains Lomis. For the first six months, Lomis was picking up 70MM projectors at affordable prices, but once word slipped out that it was for a Tarantino film, collectors tripled and quadrupled their asks. Essentially, to make three solid working projectors, one needed to pull parts from as many as five projectors. Gears, shafts, bearings and rollers were the typical replacements. At times, these parts were manufactured from scratch off original blueprints. On average, Schneider Optics made a lens a day during production to restore this antiquated technology.
In addition to piecing parts together and re-crafting lens, 70MM prints needed to be sent out on a platter, which when combined together weighs 401lbs. During the days when film prints were being delivered in cans, they were typically shipped to regional holding houses, before being distributed to a local theater. However, these 401lb print-platters of Hateful Eight are being shipped directly to each venue. “The more projectors we got, the more parts we realized we were going to need. Nobody has platters anymore to hold the print, not to mention there aren’t any splicing tables in the projection booths,” says Lomis.
Boston Light and Sound worked on the rehab of these projectors, with Lomis praising the company’s co-founder Chapin Cutler, as the guru behind the whole operation. With TWC currently owning 60-70% of the world’s current supply of 70MM projectors — in total 120 projectors– the plan is to designate them solely for the 100-theater U.S. run of Hateful Eight stateside in the top 44 markets which includes venues such as the Landmark on Pico in LA, The E-Walk and Lincoln Square in NYC, the Music Box in Chicago and the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, TX. Before any theater receives one of the Hateful Eight 70MM projectors, each model will have already had a standard run of 12 hours to ensure they’re ready for operation. Boston Light and Sound is providing training to projectionists at the 100 venues playing Hateful Eight, as well as an extra set of vital spares parts and instructions should any projector go down. They’re also on standby for service calls. Per one non-TWC source, the equipment is being provided to exhibitors by TWC as a gratis rental.
Overseas, where Hateful Eight has been pre-sold, the film isn’t going as wide in 70MM. Those foreign exhibitors playing the roadshow version will rely on their own equipment not TWC’s, i.e. there’s six prints in Australia and only a handful in the U.K.
After Hateful Eight has played its 70MM run, the projectors will be returned to TWC. Having uncovered the original Ultra Panavision 65MM anamorphic lens that Ben Hur was shot on in an L.A. warehouse, Tarantino and his d.p. Robert Richardson were adamant about shooting in the format. Whether Hateful Eight‘s rebirth of 70MM will start a trend for more features in the format, Lomis points out that “There are filmmakers who share Quentin’s vision, but the footprint can’t get any bigger. We secured everything we could get.”
Counting Hateful Eight, there’s only been 10 films that have used the Ultra Panavision 70 format, the last being the 1966 Charlton Heston-Laurence Olivier adventure film Khartoum. The unique wide format boasts an aspect ratio of 2.76:1, which means that the image has 2.76 feet of width for every foot of height. Most films have projection ratios of 1.85:1 or 2.39:1.
When television threatened to impact the moviegoing business for the worst starting in the 1950s, Hollywood stepped up the roadshow concept with titles like Around the World in 80 Days in Todd AO and Lawrence of Arabia in 70MM. The roadshow was a high-end experience that TV could never duplicate. Just like a Broadway production, roadshow titles offered an opening musical overture, 12-15 minute intermissions, visual spectacle and souvenir programs. As the current era of 65” HDTVs and edgy TV shows like Fargo, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad rival the moviegoing experience once again, along comes The Hateful Eight to not only breath life into a dormant cinema format, but to remind us that the movie theater experience remains unmatched.
Says Lomis, “It’s a unique vision and it’s one of those things that attracts me to this company. It’s not always about business, but a vision and a passion like Quentin, Bob and Harvey’s.”