THERE are movie screens and there are Movie Screens. MobileVision, a new projection process unveiled at the Baltimore Civic Center last Friday, is an eye-numbing five-story-high, 60-by-80-foot MOVIE SCREEN, with an image twice the size of 70mmand a 100,000 watt sound system to match. With rock groups becoming less willing to tour but needing exposure to sell their albums, MobileVision may change the face of rock 'n' roll.
Veteran filmmaker Saul Swimmer, president of the New York-based MobileVision Technology Inc., unveiled the process for a select audience of arena and stadium managers from around the world, representatives from such film companies as Imex and a few hundred volunteer viewers. What they saw--a brand new concert film of the rock group Queen--will certainly change the concept of performance films. In this case, bigger is far, far better.
Two and a half years in development (at a cost of close to $3 million), MobileVision is a blast from the future whose sheer scale could break down the barriers that have kept arenas and stadiums from accommodating mass audience film viewing. It's analogous to the development of giant sound systems, inspired in the late '60s by rock's move into arenas.
To match the sight of Queen in concert, Swimmer has put together the largest sound system ever to accompany a film: 44 pairs of speakers, producing 120 decibels, with the music recorded on 24-track stereo. It's the same system Queen uses in concert, and the sound was mixed by the group's engineer, Mack. Ironically, the sound and visuals may be clearer than in a real concert, while the visceral impact is a pretty close second.
Swimmer is an independent film producer who has worked in the music field before, directing "The Concert for Bangladesh" and producing "Let It Be." "That's probably where the idea came from," he said. " 'Bangladesh' was shot on 16mm and when it was blown up to 35mm, it lost one-third of its image." Swimmer was also disappointed by the lack of quality control in traditional film distribution channels and the "lousy" sound systems in most theaters.
He sees similarities between the plight of today's independent filmmakers and that of concert promoters. "The concert business is very much a dying industry because it's too damn expensive. If you have a strong attraction and can do it economically," says Swimmer, "if you have a picture that holds up by itself musically and visually, it can be a tremendously exciting thing because more and more groups are finding it's impossible to get out on the road. They're destroyed physically and they lose money. They all swear they don't make a dime off the tours, that it all comes from the records and they have to do the tour to support the record. So this is a great method of showing off the group. Queen, for example, overdubbed and worked with us closely in the editing room."
The British quartet was approached after Swimmer shelved (temporarily) an Elvis Presley film. "I needed to do a supergroup to work out all the techniques . . . and lead singer Freddie Mercury thought it would be fabulous to see himself 55 feet high!" The group was shot in two Montreal concerts. Director of photography Richard E. Brooks used 10 cameras using specially made lenses (hand-ground to 1/100,000th of an inch) in a double anamorphic process. "The image was squeezed down as it is in Cinemascope and then in; when we unsqueeze the blowup, it has a tremendous fixed clarity," Swimmer explains.
The resulting image is "slightly under double 70mm. We had to work with top optical technicians, specially built projectors besides the size, MobileVision runs at double normal film speed, necessitating a substantial cooling system , a specially adapted printer. The projection reel looks like the hub to a truck tire. Everything is new, and when you do anything that's out of the ordinary, it's always very expensive. For instance, a normal print of 'Tootsie' might cost $1,200; each of ours costs $38,000." The Queen film, titled "We Will Rock You," ended up costing about $2 million.
Because of its size and the fact that it must be mobile, Swimmer also had to develop a screen created "of special manmade fiber for rigidity and sharpness of image. Normal screen material, if you fold and unfold it, light never gets into that crease. Our screen has steel fibers in it so that weight of itself won't break it apart." The projectors sit on special platforms, Swimmer explains. "The center of the projector is in the center of the screen, about 28 feet high." His five-man tech crew is a mixture of film and rock roadies, hauling the equipment around in three huge trucks. The whole setup can be rolled in and out of an arena in a few hours.
Swimmer plans to take "We Will Rock You" overseas and has arranged 22 dates in Spanish bullrings. The film will then return for a U.S. tour in the fall.
Swimmer points out that MobileVision needn't be restricted to rock 'n' roll, but for a while, that's probably what it will focus on. He already has some acts lined up to follow Queen, including several known for both their spectacular shows and their disdain for touring. "They know they've got to do something about it," says Swimmer, and MobileVision may be one answer.