Film-makers go digital

Film-makers go digital
Not using 35mm films means the 15 screens at Cathay Cineleisure can now be controlled from a central room.

When Singapore film-maker Chai Yee Wei released his first feature, Blood Ties, in 2009, the horror flick was distributed on traditional 35mm projection prints - the bulky "celluloid" reels of yore - sent around the island's cinemas and spooled up on machines with spinning hubs, clicky sprockets and humming motors.

Just four years later, his coming-of-age drama That Girl In Pinafore exists only as ones and zeroes on hard drives, USB flash drives and other digital formats.

Released last month and still showing in cinemas, the feature was zipped around to halls in containers many times smaller and lighter than the reels of his first movie, and was screened using computers in projection booths.

Money was saved in transport, storage and conversion costs compared with prints, says Chai, 37.

That Girl In Pinafore is screened in a format known as DCP, which stands for Digital Cinema Package. It is a high-quality format, typically higher than Blu-ray, intended for professional use and offers viewers a sharper, brighter image.

"Pinafore is 100 per cent DCP here, but it might still go to film, because in the rest of Asia, a lot of halls still use 35mm," Chai says.

The end of the road for film projection here is in sight, but few film-makers and distributors are shedding tears for the medium that has been closely tied to cinema since its birth in the early 20th century.

This year is a watershed for 35mm projection in Singapore. While all the major distributors, such as Fox, Warner Bros and Universal switched wholesale to DCP some years ago, smaller organisations which release works from independent film-makers occasionally handled the older format. Not because they wanted to, but because, sometimes, they had no choice.

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