One Booth for 3-Filmstrip
Circuit Will Produce
by WILLIAM R. WEAVER
HOLLYWOOD: Last week Thursday tall,
lean, candid Elmer C. Rhoden, president of National Theatres, Inc., exploded two news
bombs in the circuit's spacious Melrose theatre, once-thriving Hollywood neighborhood
house converted two years ago to experimental and research uses of NT's famed
technical director, R. H. McCullough.
First the straight-talking Mr. Rhoden told
his press guests simply, without boast or bombast, that NT had developed a single
booth setup capable of projecting Cinerama or any other three-filmstrip pictures as well
as they're being projected from three booths in present engagements, as to size, brightness, clarity - better as to panel-to-panel
match-up - and was going to demonstrate the setup then and there.
National Will Produce,
Next he told them that, since a single
booth system of projecting three-filmstrip pictures isn't very useful unless you've got
some three-filmstrip pictures to project, National Theatres is going to produce some,
for its own use on its own equipment in its own theatres, and for the use of other exhibitors who may be disposed to book the
pictures, and the equipment, on a roadshow basis.
Interwoven with these disclosures was the
announcement that a working arrangement had been entered into with the Smith-Dietrich Corporation, under which that company will furnish electronically-synchronized photographing lenses capable of virtually eliminating inter-panel vignetting in
multi-panel projection, and that P. Stanley Smith, president of that concern, was on
hand to demonstrate their effectiveness and to answer questions.
Sees No U. S. Objection
To Production Plan
To press people quick to ask whether
Government objection to production of pictures by a circuit only lately separated from
a major producer-distributor might not be encountered, the circuit head said, "I don't
see why it should be. The Stanley Warner Cinerama precedent is a direct parallel. We
expect no objection."
To inquirers asking whether any definite
subjects for production were in mind, and what kind would be filmed, the answer was,
"No, we haven't acquired any story properties, so far. As to kind, we think we can
take our cue from the fact that three travel type features have been produced in this
type of process already, and we probably should make a story-type of subject, selecting one, of course, that will take advantage of the scope the process affords." Ultimately the single production made in the Cinemiracle process, Windjammer, was no more a story-type vehicle than the Cinerama product up to that time.
Yes, there had been conferences with a
producer experienced in making three-strip pictures. "In fact it was he who led us to
the Smith-Dietrich people, and made our photographing process practicable." But no
deal has been made with him and he can't be named at this time. It wouldn't take a lot of detective work to figure out that the unnamed producer was Louis deRochemont.
No, NT's entry into picture production
will not entail entry into distribution. NT's three-filmstrip pictures will be roadshown,
only, and will move from point to point, theatre to theatre or town to town, aboard
a two-truck caravan transporting the portable single-booth projection unit and the
curved screen. It is estimated that installation of this portable setup will cost between
$2,000 and $3,000 per theatre, on the average, but these figures are subject to reduction, rather than to increase, as simplification progresses.
An early arrival at the place of demonstration is personally conducted by Mr. McCullough on a tour of inspection through the surprisingly compact single-booth-13 x 22 feet overall - containing the three projectors that deliver the picture to the three
panels and the fourth used, in this instance, for the seven-track stereophonic sound. The
projection mechanism is a modified Century, with the intermittent sprocket axis
specially fortified, and altered to pull down six sprocket-holes at a time, as in Cinerama
and Todd-AO, instead of the standard four. Todd-AO's 65mm and 70mm film had a pull-down of five, not six sprocket holes, but this announcement was made before Todd-AO was unveiled to the public but not before virtually everything about it was publicized to Kingdom Come.
The process will give a 145-degree picture. The booth requires the removal of only 52
seats, it was explained.
One of the three projectors faces the
screen head-on and projects its image directly onto the middle panel of the screen.
Another, positioned at right angles to this one and pointing at 3 o'clock, projects its
image onto a surface-coated mirror that deflects it onto the left-hand panel of the
screen. The third projector, positioned opposite to the second and pointing at 9
o'clock, projects its image onto a corresponding mirror that deflects it onto the
The last 20 or 25 minutes of "This Is
Cinerama," lent to Mr. Rhoden by Stanley Warner's Si Fabian for use in the McCullough experiments, and run through the
NT projectors 270 times before demonstration day, was projected for the attendant
press upon a screen 23 feet high (architectural limit of the Melrose theatre) and
63 feet wide, by curved surface measure, 58 feet edge-to-edge by straight line. The
measurements were approximately identical with those of the Cinerama screen on which
"This Is Cinerama" had its world-premiere.
Compares to Cinerama's
And the impact of the Cinerama footage
on the attentive Melrose audience of reporters was approximately identical, too. And why not, it WAS Cinerama, after all.
The McCullough single-booth setup is asserted to achieve a reduction of inter-panel
oscillation, as compared with the three-booth
setup in Cinerama use, due to a gain in
projector stability attributed to the fact that
the three projectors are mounted within little more than arm's length of each other. Although this of necessity remains a claim
open to rebuttal, it appeared to be supported
by a consensus of those attending the demonstration. In fact, the claim is preposterous. But the NT planning is not limited
to this degree of difference.
On the contrary, the NT plans contemplate a three-panel picture in which the lines
of demarcation will be so nearly imperceptible as to escape notice save by trained experts. This improvement over all present
three-strip screenings will be achieved, in the Rhoden and McCullough opinion, by the
Smith-Dietrich system of three-camera photographing. As explained by Mr. Smith,
the electronically-synchronized lenses to be used "achieve the essential vignetting of the
panels in the photographing stage, instead of only in the projection operation, and our
system permits an inter-panel overlap greater than any other." Unscientific press
people who witnessed the ensuing screening of a two-panel test film shot in black and
white with the Smith-Dietrich lenses were convinced that he spoke with authority. The projection demonstration was not a faithful representation of a three-panel color image. The demonstration used black & white film, thus avoiding differences in color quality between the panels. Secondly, while the mirror photography and projection for a two panel image can almost eliminate brightness differences at the panel joins, adding a third panel will show the brightness differences where the center and third panels join. See our other information provided in the Cinemiracle internal memo.
Mitchell Now Making
In a subsequent conversation the lens expert said his system of electronic-synchonization accomplishes its purpose by altering the internal relationships of the integral
parts of the lens, without altering the distance between the lens and the photographic
plane, as is done in standard camera-lens focusing. The Smith-Dietrich photographing setup consists of three cameras, mounted
in much the same fashion as the Cinerama three-camera unit; and two such setups,
comprising three cameras each, are being manufactured for National Theatres by the
Mitchell Camera Company at this time.
Mr. Rhoden said he expects it will be
about six months until the Smith-Dietrich camera setups are completed and ready for
the start of production, and hazarded the estimate that it might be as long as six
months after that before the first picture produced in the process can be completed. Cinemiracle wouldn't debut for two years.
Answering a long-running barrage of
questions, some of which he referred to Mr. McCullough and/or Mr. Smith, the circuit
chief covered many points.
The Cine-Miracle pictures and the NT
single-booth projection equipment are to go hand-in-hand as a package, available on a
roadshow basis exclusively.
National has a number of theatres, as
have other circuits, needful of tri-panel attraction of magnitude and exploitability.
The circuit has been hopeful of getting an arrangement for showing the Cinerama
films in secondary-size cities, and still is.
The recent acquisition of large blocks of
National Theatres stock, such as the Virginia Zanuck holdings, has not been entirely
unrelated to the new undertakings disclosed last week, but the relationship is not of the
The motion picture theatre has an abiding
and growing need of entertainment that cannot be duplicated on television, and the
three-panel Cine-Miracle process is one of the best answers to that need.
Elmer Rhoden, National Theatres president, in New York this week, said he will
conduct talks with Stanley Warner officials on the possible use of "This Is Cinerama"
with Cine-Miracle. He questioned whether SW is "free to negotiate" the use of the
first Cinerama production, referring to SW's contract with Cinerama Productions on exclusive production and exhibition rights.
He also said National plans to acquire
additional theatres although he denied any "great expansion movement" under way,
saying NT is interested in theatres to "complement" holdings in areas already occupied.
Acquisitions will be "where permitted" by the justice Department.
Mr. Rhoden said he, representing himself
and a group, had acquired 100,000 shares of NT stock from Mrs. Virginia Zanuck, bringing management's holdings to more than