Sundance showcases the best in independent films. The first “U.S. Film Festival” debuted in 1978 in Salt Lake City as a way to lure filmmakers and tourists to the state. In 1985, the festival found the support of Robert Redford, who four years earlier had started the Sundance Institute to support young filmmakers.
From there, the event now well-known as the “Sundance Film Festival” grew very quickly to become a world-class film festival. In 1997, the festival director approached BL&S to advise Sundance on improving their projection
and operational quality. Chapin attended the 1998 festival to survey operations and make specific recommendations on making the festival run better.
Chapin knew from his years of experience with events such as the Telluride Film Festival that in order to setup and run multiple venues as reliably as a cinema, they needed to treat each facility as a permanent installation, even though it was temporary. The BL&S team had considerable expertise building systems that they could transport easily for doing premiere and road show work, and they applied this tested philosophy to Sundance.
“We have very complex presentation systems that we expect to operate as if they were permanent world-class cinema and video exhibition spaces,” Chapin said. “People are coming to Sundance for that experience. Our goal is to ensure that nothing interferes with that experience.”
In 1999, BL&S put that philosophy into action, constructing subassemblies consisting of integrated projection and sound systems custom designed for each of the 15 Sundance venues. They prewired all of the components as an integrated system, just as if they were going to be installed permanently in real movie theatres. They ran the systems through a full battery of tests at their facilities in Boston to ensure that they would work properly when installed at Sundance. In mid-1999, Chapin became the technical director of the festival. Since that time, he and the rest of the BL&S team have worked continuously to improve the performance and reliability of the subassemblies.
In recent years, high-definition video has become a major component of the Sundance program, adding to the complexity of the presentation. All the equipment has to be active and available all the time to allow the projectionist to move between formats in a matter of minutes. To address this need, BL&S builds and installs two to three standalone projection systems for each venue, allowing for seamless movement between 16mm, 35mm, and high-definition video formats.
The team also developed an AMX-based automation system, enabling one projectionist to cleanly move between formats and control all activity, from house lights to announce microphones, without having to leave the operational side of his projector.
In 2005, Sundance designed and installed a new 700-seat venue at the Park City Racquet Club. BL&S provided the design and consultation to turn this basketball court into a premiere quality theatre. The project involved redesign of the existing air conditioning system, acoustical isolation of an adjacent exercise room, and extensive acoustical treatments. The BL&S team also designed a complete Dolby Digital sound system to provide premiere quality audio for both film and high-definition video.
Each year brings new challenges that the BL&S team readily embraces. The team continues to build on their systems, working to ensure a flawless presentation for those fortunate enough to experience Sundance.
Highly dedicated people
“Chapin and his team at Boston Light & Sound have the benefit of experience behind them, as well as vast technical knowledge. These highly dedicated people love what they do and perform daily miracles to make sure things go right throughout the festival.”
“We constantly hear from outside sources that our presentation quality is the highest of any festival – and I give all of that credit to Chapin and BL&S.”
Preparing for a film festival is a major undertaking requiring the convergence of many different exhibition technologies. Based on its reputation supporting the New York City Tribeca Film Festival, Boston Light & Sound (BL&S) was invited to manage digital and film projection for a major festival recently in Doha, Qatar.
The second annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival — a major festival of
international scale — encompassed 56 programs over a six-day period.
A joint project of the Tribeca Film Festival and the Doha Film Institute, the
festival incorporated traditional film systems, digital cinema, high-definition
video, projected electronic subtitling, outdoor screenings, and traditional
high-end screening facilities.
BL&S integrated all these and other presentation elements. A crew of 18 technicians supervised the installation and provided technical direction for all 20 screening venues. Locations ranged from a huge 1,500 seat outdoor amphitheatre and screening on a wharf by Doha’s bay on the Persian Gulf, to intimate multiplex-based screening spaces.
Given the lack of local technical resources, most of the festival equipment had to be shipped from the U.S. BL&S coordinated the transport of 12 tons of video, film, and digital cinema gear by boat and air cargo, and provided power conversion for the elaborate set of equipment. Additionally, BL&S made it possible to display subtitles in Arabic and English for the festival’s 160 performances.
Festival organizers know they can rely on BL&S for exceptional cinema presentations, and plan to engage the firm for next year’s event.
The first-ever Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival unspooled recently in Hollywood, CA giving film buffs a chance to discover
movie gems the way they were intended to be seen—on the big screen!
Programs included restorations of the 1933 version of King Kong, the
American premiere of the newly reassembled Metropolis, and a hand-
restored print of The Day of the Triffids. Alec Baldwin, Tim Roth, Esther
Williams, Ernest Borgnine, Tab Hunter, and John Carpenter—as well as TCM
hosts Robert Osborne, Leonard Maltin and Peter Bogdanovich—were
on hand to introduce the program of classic films to movie aficionados and newcomers alike.
Expanding its mission of providing access to great films for audiences worldwide, TCM established its festival to run popular and arcane classics the way they were meant to be seen—presented on the big screen, and whenever possible, in the original film format. The five-day event featured 55 programs at the historic Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, two of the Mann (now TCL) Chinese multiplex theatres and the Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. In addition, the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel—location of the first Academy Awards—was used as a non-screening venue.
Festival organizers needed a projection team skilled at both handling and presenting delicate archival film prints. TCM turned to Bill and Stella Pence, founders and long-time co-directors of the Telluride Film Festival. They highly recommended Boston Light & Sound (BL&S) as the best company to handle such a high profile and complex project.
BL&S came on board to design and provide the complex technical infrastructure needed for the event. Plans included orchestral setups for two silent movies in two different locations, presentations of specially produced tribute reels and on stage interviews to be taped for future broadcast by TCM. The process included disassembly and removal of the existing projection equipment in the multiplex theatres. They then installed equipment tailored for archival projection in its place. This enabled festival projectionists to run archival and one-of-a-kind feature films from studio vaults, film archives and private collectors uncut.
As archival projection experts and classic film devotees, the BL&S team knew how to care for each film gently and with great respect. To protect each of the films used in the festival, BL&S set up an offsite separate film handling and inspection facility near the theatres. Craftspeople specially trained in the care and handling of film prints inspected and prepared upwards of 60 films before presentation, and then carefully re-packaged the films afterward for return to their respective vaults.
Because several of the festival theatres were being used as commercial movie houses until a scant few hours before opening night, BL&S faced a tight time crunch to install and tune the equipment. To meet these deadlines, the BL&S crew prewired and tested many racks of equipment at its staging center beforehand to ensure that everything would work properly on-site. With the assistance of local California film presentation expert, Christopher Reyna, the BL&S team modified each auditorium as needed to run non-standard film formats. In some cases, BL&S installed screen masking to change the shape of the screen to match each film’s original format.
The challenges didn’t end there, however. A dozen projection, sound and video experts worked on-site to prepare the technical infrastructure and ensure it was working seamlessly. For one theatre, the team needed to jack up the two existing projectors—each weighing close to half a ton—remove them, and replace them with the custom projection system needed for the TCM program, all in less than 20 hours. “It was all part of the challenge and the adventure of producing a project like this.” noted Chapin Cutler, BL&S Principal and project lead.
The festival opened to theatres packed with audiences eager to see these rare films. BL&S earned stellar reviews from archivists, industry insiders, and movie fans alike. As a result, TCM enthusiastically committed to partnering with BL&S for next year’s event.
An ideal partner
“Boston Light & Sound was an ideal partner in realizing our goal to present the best possible projection. It was very important to our brand, for our audiences, and for our archival and studio partners, that presentation quality be top-notch. BL&S provided the direction and services that we needed to launch our first-ever film festival.”
For the past two years, Boston Light & Sound has had the unique challenge of creating movie screening venues aboard a cruise ship for the Turner Classic Movies “Classic Cruise,” an unconventional film festival.
While the ship did have one theatre-type venue, it was not equipped to
show films or HD content. Additionally, they needed a way to provide
high-quality film presentation in an environment that was continuously moving.
To solve these challenges, BL&S brought in all the necessary equipment, including a 15x35' screen, to present HD content. They then secured the AV equipment and pinned the masking system together to keep it from swaying in and out as the ship moved.
During the inaugural voyage in 2011, BL&S turned the lido deck into a “movies under the stars” venue, building a complex truss structure complete with a screen that could sustain winds speeds up to 30 mph. The BL&S team then used special black fabric designed to let air flow through to enclose the area. This ensured a brighter picture in outdoor conditions.
The maiden voyage for the festival was such a success that the cruise organizers doubled the duration of the cruise for 2013.
Hollywood columnist Jeffrey Wells declares, “Cutler is like a NASA rocket scientist when it comes to theatrical projection. He adheres to standards that most commercial exhibitors avoid due to their cheapskate, nickle-and-dime attitudes about putting on a show with celluloid and digital.”
Telluride is a film aficionado’s dream, showcasing everything from the latest independent films to early silent classics that were unseen for the past 75 years. BL&S first participated in the festival in 1982, providing technical
guidance and producing special technical events. BL&S co-founder Chapin Cutler is now one of the technical directors of the festival, responsible for ensuring that all the pictures are presented as perfectly as possible. Over the years, he’s lent his technical expertise for many one-of-a-kind cinematic experiences.
“Telluride is an exploration of everything that film can be,” Chapin said. “This is what we live for. As a technical director, and as a film lover I get to do things I would never be able to do, in any other place, in any other way. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
For the 25th anniversary of 3D movies, the BL&S team equipped the MAX Theatre to run everything from early 1927 Pathé material up to the latest 21st century 70mm theme park releases. This required an extremely precise technical configuration involving two projection systems for two separate strands of film, one for the left eye and one for the right. A third machine was required for the soundtrack. BL&S ensured that the projectors were completely synchronized with one another, balancing the machines for color and light intensity.
“Being able to run World’s Fair material from 1939 and pieces of Kiss Me Kate right up to the latest Daffy Duck animation, that’s the kind of exuberance that we get out of Telluride,” Chapin said. “Being involved in setting those projects up, and providing the expertise to make it happen is part of what Telluride special for me.”
In 2002, the BL&S team recreated the great panoramic process Cinerama, which required three special projectors interlocked together with a separate sound follower on a very deeply curved screen. The project involved designing the screen to fit into the MAX Theatre and then locating and installing the original Cinerama projection equipment from 1955.
With the help of Pacific Theatres, BL&S tracked down the necessary equipment. They set it up in Boston with their own drive systems and lamp houses to ensure that everything worked perfectly. The team installed the equipment at Telluride, presenting four thrilling Cinerama performances. “To give this to an audience is one of the most exciting things that I could have done in my entire career.”
Quality of presentation
“The Telluride Film Festival has been blessed with the assured expertise and support of BL&S. Year after year this remarkable company has managed the technical side of our event with unparalleled excellence.
Nothing is more important to us than the quality of presentation, which BL&S delivers more than 100%. They clearly appreciate ‘showmanship’ in all that it suggests and they are consistently beyond state-of-the-art in their field. In short, they’re the best!”
In the News – September 2011
Hollywood columnist Jeffrey Wells declares, “[BL&S’s Chapin] Cutler is like a NASA rocket scientist when it comes to theatrical projection. He adheres to standards that most commercial exhibitors avoid due to their cheapskate, nickel-and-dime attitudes about putting on a show with celluloid and digital.”
Dubai’s Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum spared no expense for the city’s premier film festival. Serving as a cultural bridge, the Dubai Film Festival was designed to be an instrument of global understanding and dialogue between Arab and non-Arab worlds. A-list celebrities from the east and west were invited to the weeklong gala featuring 75 films screened at six venues.
Dubai is known as a playground to the very rich, with countless resources on hand for businesspeople, tourists and expatriates. However, launching
its first-ever film festival was a tremendous undertaking that involved turning four venues, including a bare bones auditorium, huge exhibit hall, and an outdoor amphitheatre, into cinema showcases. These venues were not intended for motion picture viewing, so all equipment needed to be flown in and brought together seamlessly. The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) committee hired BL&S for the complex preparations.
BL&S happily took on the role of turnkey provider, determining all equipment specifications; shipping, installing, and testing equipment; collaborating with local suppliers; and handling all logistics to ensure the best presentation. After an initial fact-finding visit to Dubai several months before the event, the BL&S team pulled together all the necessary resources.
Seven projection and sound specialists flew to Dubai, bringing with them 80 crates of equipment, including giant portable screens, movable masking for remote controlled opening and closing of theatre curtains, a complete set of projection system spares, four complete Dolby sound systems with enough spares to build three more, etc.
Once there, the team set out to create world-class presentation theatres, working alongside local vendors to ensure that every piece of equipment was properly installed and calibrated. For the outdoor amphitheatre, an enormous structure was constructed to support and protect the screen from wind and constructed platforms for an array of high-fidelity speakers.
BL&S conducted rigorous tests before the event to ensure the best presentation possible. Technicians tested dozens of lenses to find the one with the ideal throw distance for each venue. Lamphouses and reflectors were chosen to achieve ideal brightness and evenness across the screens. The team brought in isolation systems to eliminate any sound disturbances from the movement of the projectors. The equipment was selected or modified to run on local power which is different than the US or Europe. BL&S has power distribution and conversion technology allowing operation anywhere in the world.
The festival opened to much acclaim. His Highness Sheikh Ahmed, the festival chairman, praised the DIFF team on their exhaustive readiness, expressing his confidence in the inaugural festival.
The outdoor venue opened with a screening of Lawrence of Arabia — the first-ever showing ever of this film on the Arabian peninsula.
Flawless projection and technical support
“BL&S are masters in their field. BL&S has provided flawless projection and technical support to Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) since 2004. They implicitly understand what it means to deliver world-class standards of presentation. The logistics of delivering tons of equipment to this part of the world can be challenging, but the professionalism BL&S provides is unmatched by any company in the world.”
Other film festivals BL&S is proud to have provided with equipment and services include:
BL&S is simply the best
“They have all the answers, they can do anything and they enjoy the challenge. What’s more, they do what they say they will do, they stand by their work, and they do it all with joy and flair. We are an extremely demanding client. We always need the impossible done yesterday, and they have never let us down.”