How They Put Together Hateful Eight’s 70mm Traveling ‘Roadshow’
Quentin Tarantino is infamous for mining cinema’s forgotten past—be it spaghetti westerns, kung fu flicks, or blaxploitation movies. But with his latest, the post–Civil War western The Hateful Eight, the director is taking his retro-mania to a whole new level. Tarantino shot the entire movie in Ultra Panavision 70, an ultra-wide format previously used for just 10 films—most famously Ben-Hur—in the 1950s and ’60s. And, beginning Dec. 25, he’s rolling out his movie in the style of the “roadshow” releases of yore—meaning touches like a musical overture, an intermission, and a souvenir program—in 100 specially retrofitted theaters in 44 North American markets. For that two-week (minimum) engagement, The Hateful Eight will be shown exclusively in 70mm. Meanwhile, the film will go wide in digital on Dec. 31.
Ultra Panavision 70 affords a 2.76:1 aspect ratio, 15.5 percent greater than the widest aspect ratio currently used in feature films—perfect for the grand vistas of a western movie. And because Ultra Panavision more accurately captures what the human eye would perceive—the image is clean, with more natural depth markers—it’s also particularly well-suited for indoor shots, which make up a good portion of The Hateful Eight. “I’m looking forward to my movie breaking that notion that 70mm is for travelogues,” Tarantino told the Comic-Con International audience earlier this year. “‘It’s to shoot Lawrence of Arabia, desertscapes, and mountainscapes.’ No. When you shoot 70mm indoors, it’s more intimate. More vivid and vital. It’s not just for shooting scenery. It’s for shooting great drama.”
Bringing the first Ultra Panavision 70 release in nearly 50 years to 100 theaters has been a complicated process, with a lot of moving parts (literally). Here’s how it all came together:
Stumbling Onto Ultra Panavision
“From the beginning, Quentin’s script said ‘Filmed in glorious 70mm,’” says Hateful Eight producer Shannon McIntosh. “So when we really got going, it was, How are we going to achieve this?” The answer came to cinematographer Robert Richardson during a visit to Panavision’s Woodland Hills, Calif., office, when he happened upon a bunch of odd-looking gear in a storage room: the original 65mm anamorphic lenses used to film Ben-Hur and the other Ultra Panavision 70 titles. (Though Ultra Panavision films are projected in 70mm, they’re actually shot in 65mm.) “[Richardson] said, ‘Let’s throw one of these up on the [optical] bench to see what it looks like,’” recalls Panavision’s vice president of optical engineering Dan Sasaki. “At that point, I knew we were in a lot of trouble, because I knew Bob was going to like them, and we were going to have to commit ourselves to a series of optics that hasn’t been used since the 1960s.”
Frankenstein-ing the Lenses
Panavision had a total of 18 Ultra Panavision lenses on the shelf, with focal lengths ranging from 35mm to 400mm. Problem was, only one of them—the lens that Richardson had tried out—was in working condition. That’s because the lenses had been lubricated with a lithium-based grease that “basically turned into concrete over time,” says Sasaki. To soften things up and get the lenses moving again, the Panavision team soaked them in kerosene and, in some cases, had to take a torch to them.
From there, a “complete teardown” was in order, a process that involved “basically cutting the lenses in half, and Frankenstein-ing a modern-day half to the older half,” Sasaki says. His team replaced each lens’s rear spherical component&mdsah;the part that actually forms the image—with a newer component compatible with the spinning reflex mirror used in more contemporary cameras. In the end, all 18 lenses were revived into working condition for The Hateful Eight, according to Sasaki.
Finding the Projectors
Once filming was complete, there was a whole new set of obstacles, like, you know, finding projectors that could actually display Hateful Eight’s beautiful images. The Weinstein Company, the film’s distributor, tapped Erik Lomis, who runs the studio’s distribution group, to oversee the process of procuring and refurbishing the projectors needed for a 100-theater roadshow. Lomis, in turn, hired the audio-visual company Boston Light & Sound to do the legwork. In January, Chapin Cutler, principal and cofounder of Boston Light & Sound, began purchasing 70mm projectors and parts from theater dealers and integrators around the country; eBay was another source for gear. “We were flying under the radar pretty good for about three or four months,” Lomis says, “and then it leaked out what we wanted [the projectors] for. That’s when the prices started to go up.”
Lomis says that making three working projectors required taking parts from about five. Boston Light & Sound also had to fabricate some pieces on its own and hire Schneider Optics to manufacture new lenses for use in contemporary theaters—necessary because those theaters tend to have a relatively short throw, or projection distance, compared to the movie houses where Ultra Panavision 70 films were originally shown. Ultimately, the project yielded 120 working projectors.
Bringing Eight to Theaters
Once the projectors were ready, 100 of them were delivered to the theaters and a dozen teams began traveling the country to get the systems set up and running. (The Hateful Eight reels came shipped preassembled—cumbersome, but no splicing required.) In the lead-up to opening day, technicians and qualified projectionists—a number of them pulled out of retirement—provided training to theater operators in the 80 or so venues that weren’t previously set up for 70mm projection. Supervisory tech staff will remain on hand throughout the opening weekend of the film, Cutler says.
Meanwhile, Boston Light & Sound has put together a private forum on its website complete with instructions manuals and training videos. The company also will operate a 24-hour hotline. “We have a setup of every configuration of machine that we have in the field” in the company’s shop, Cutler says. “So if somebody calls and says ‘I’m having this problem, and the solution is not readily apparent, we can try to duplicate the problem in the shop and ascertain a fix.” Each projector will come with spare parts, with bigger replacement pieces stored in a half dozen locations around the country for quick shipment.
Culter allows that things can, and likely will, go wrong. “You have to remember, it’s an electromechanical device,” he says. “It will break down. It is not perfect. It has faults.” But he downplays coverage of a couple of Hateful Eight press screenings that went awry. “The news media, generally speaking, is all over a plane crash,” he says. “But nobody talks about the hundreds of thousands of successful flights.”
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