Startup project company, BryteWerks' CEO tells us why a filmaker decided to build a projector and revolutionize digital cinema in the process.
Affordable Digital Cinema
Justin Eugene Evans, Founder & President | BryteWerks, LLC
1. You're a filmmaker by trade. What made you want to found a projector company?
I first began designing a projector that was laser-driven about 15 years ago. However, I was talked out of it by a classic “no person.” He told me I wasn’t an engineer and that if someone could create a laser-driven projector it would have happened…and that nothing could ever be as good as DLP.
Over the last 15 years I’ve invented a number of things and slowly gained the design skills & project management skills to oversee a complicated engineering project. I spent time on factory floors. I rolled up my sleeves and got my hands dirty. After I’d completed a number of simple projects that involved the basics (anodizing, water-jet cuts, laser etching, brush treatments, deburring, weldments, electrical harnesses) I realized that engineering wasn’t particularly difficult and that most engineers were also “no people” or have been thoroughly beaten down by “no people.” You walk into an anodizing facility and they’ll make it sound like what they do is magic. It’s just acid, dye and electricity, man. The magic is in what you do with the industrial arts.
About two years ago I began touring the film festival circuit with my feature film, A Lonely Place For Dying. The projection was consistently awful. It didn’t matter how large the festival was or how vast their budget; in the end the projection just sucked. I began climbing into projection booths and calibrating the projectors myself. I was lucky that one of my earliest jobs was for a movie theater in Portland, Oregon and I was comfortable around projection gear. As I assisted dozens of film festivals with the projection of my movie I saw the real problem; the gear was to blame. The gear was too complicated. The gear had a lousy user interface. The gear was counterintuitive. The projection booth had devolved from a clean celluloid environment using a single machine to a digital Frankenstein’s monster with a half dozen boxes wired together with a rats nest of cables. No one had designed anything to work effortlessly with any of the other components.
2. Who was The Model One designed for?
Everybody. Movie theaters, independent filmmakers and home theater enthusiasts. The first thing everyone needs to do is throw away their expectations. The price point leads many to confuse The Model One with a consumer projector. Can you use it in your home? You bet. Can you afford it? Sure! Starting at $2,999.00 it’s the most affordable cinema projector on the planet. But, it is a tool for cultural change. Americans invented the movies. In 1910 there were thousands of independent theaters in makeshift shops; hotels, bars and dance halls all became part-time movie theaters overnight. No one had a monopoly over our culture. You can’t step in the same river twice and so we shouldn’t attempt to replicate that era but we can learn something from those brave Americans; we can do whatever we want to do if we have the right tools. Take this box and change the world. Movies are not meant to be on phones. Movies are meant to be big. Families should project on big screens in the back yard, churches across America should create their own feature film circuit, independent filmmakers should toss The Model One into the back seat and conduct their own roadshows, small towns that have been considered too small by the snobs in Los Angeles should re-open part-time movie theaters and exhibit whatever they want.
It isn’t about what The Model One does. It is about what YOU can do with The Model One. You can do amazing projection mapping on any building. You can exhibit movies anywhere in the world. You can host Skype conferences with filmmakers and actors effortlessly. You can take culture back into your own hands and choose to become a tastemaker.
In 1982 there were only two major comic book publishers in the United States. In 1987 there were hundreds and the "B&W Explosion" had begun. What changed? The Macintosh. That amazing machine enabled an entire generation of illustrators to question a status quo twenty years old. In just three years the entire American comic book industry was turned upside down. A lot of crap was printed. However, some of the best comics in history came directly out of that era. And it changed things forever.
If some scrappy entrepreneurs grok the potential of The Model One that could happen for cinema. Hollywood doesn’t think so…but I’m sure there were some DC and Marvel executives who saw the Apple 1984 commercial during the SuperBowl and had no clue how that little box was going to thoroughly screw up their duopoly for nearly a decade.
3. I've read that 20% of North American movie theaters may go out of business this year because they can't afford to convert to digital exhibition. How does the Model One factor into this dire situation?
The DCI's expectations are unreasonable. Most of these theaters are small, single-screen theaters in small towns. Their owners do not have the ability to take on $65,000.00 in debt to convert a 35mm theater to a professional digital theater.
We're their solution. The Model One's WUXGA resolution (also known as 1080p+ or 1920x1200) is only 100 pixels less than 2K (2048X1080). Even people with perfect vision cannot tell the difference between WUXGA and 2K. In every other metric we equal or exceed what a $65,000.00 projector can do. And The Model One starts at $2,999.00. If the DCI created an independent theater exemption The Model One would save roughly 1,000 theaters from going bankrupt...and that's roughly 10,000 jobs.
So, which is more important? 100 pixels...or 10,000 jobs?
4. I've read on the BryteWerks website that you have no interest in developing a 3D projector. Why is that?
About six months before Avatar came out I was excited about 3D. I, too, thought it might change the industry. Then I saw the movie. I was impressed with how well James Cameron executed 3D but immediately realized it interfered with the storytelling process. I felt detached from the film rather than immersed in it. I also found I didn't remember it as well...and I have strong memory skills. It turns out there is a scientific reason for this and Walter Murch's article sums it up perfectly; we're forcing our brains to process contradictory convergence & distance. We can do it, but it is mentally taxing and neurologically awkward. In short, it doesn't matter how convincing an artificial 3D film is...our brains aren't wired for artificial 3D. It's a waste of time.
Now, add to that Tim Burton's craptastic Alice In Wonderland with post-processed "2.5D" and the dozens of movies that have mimicked his short-cut and you end up with cardboard cutouts floating in artificial 3D space. That wasn't James Cameron's vision. Then, consider 3D projectors are dimmer, the glasses reduce light transmission even further and you have a truly uncinematic experience.
For me, there is one final issue and it is a massive deal breaker; the loss of peripheral vision. A movie theater allows the audience to have a communal experience. We see people laughing and crying through our peripheral vision. Experiencing emotions as a community heightens the powers of cinema. Its the reason comedies aren't as funny when you're alone. Movies are best when experienced with other people. They have a subconscious connection en masse because of our peripheral vision. Bulky 3D glasses cut off your peripheral vision and isolate you from the rest of the audience. This cannot be fixed; the only way to have thin-framed 3D glasses would be to use a more expensive material which would drive up the manufacturing cost..or have truly flimsy glasses that suck. That's why the industry embraced the current form factor; making granny-goggles is the only way to pop out millions of strong, cheap 3D glasses. And that means no peripheral vision. Which means no community. The whole thing is an expensive disaster that betrays how little Hollywood understands cinema. The best movies are about language and acting, emotions and people, the choices characters make and how we become lost in their lives. It ain't transforming robots.
BryteWerks has no interest in 3D and we're willing to bet the company's future on this choice. 3D is a fad. In 5 years it'll be history...again.
5. Any plans for 4K?
When distributed 4K content exists we'll make a 4K. Some of the projector manufacturers justify a stunningly high price point by saying it is 4K compatible. That's fine but currently that 4K upgrade is vaporware. More importantly, there is going to be a tremendous lag in 4K distribution. We're looking at 10-15 years before movies are distributed in 4K. It is entirely possible that mainstream movies will never be distributed in 4K. Why? Because it quadruples the price of visual effects work, it makes the job of a make-up artist damn-near impossible and it quadruples file sizes which quadruples storage space and requires even faster computers.
Take a movie like The Dark Knight Rises. That 250 million dollar budget would have to be 350 - 450 million with a 4K post-production pipeline. It doesn't drive up the cost of shooting a film nearly as much as it drives up the cost of post-production. So, a guaranteed blockbuster has its profit margin diminished by 50% by releasing on 4K. How many studio executives do you know that want to have their profit margins slashed by half? AND THAT'S A HIT FILM! What about a middling movie like Captain America? That 160 million dollar budget suddenly becomes 250 -300 million just to accommodate 4K visual effects. Captain America barely broke even (after P&A) so with the escalated costs associated with 4K content it would have lost 150 million dollars. I don't care how rich we think the studios are...they cannot afford to hemorrhage money like that.
And what middle aged actor wants every wrinkle, every blackhead, every age spot to perfectly resolve in 4K? Who wants their receding hairline photographed under an electron microscope? When an engineer looks at how easy it is to make a 4K projector system they geek out and think "Wow! We can do this!" However, it is irrelevant that the technology is possible if the supply chain doesn't want to support it. It also has nothing to do with storytelling.
It would be the death of independent film. No indie film can afford to post a 4K movie. I shot my last feature film, A Lonely Place For Dying, on a Red One in 4K. We posted in 2K. I wouldn't want to post in 4K. I'd lose the ability to recrop shots, effortlessly stabilize handheld shots and reduce noise in low-light situations all because the downsampling from 4K to 2K gives me tools that make my movies more professional. If we shoot in 4K and release in 4K we lose all of those advantages. The only way to get them back is to shoot in 6K or 8K...which to quote my wife's favorite movie, That Thing You Do, "Now you're talking gibberish."
6. Is the projector DCI-compliant and if used in a movie theater, will it be able to play commercial digital content from Hollywood?
Right now any theater can buy it, call up a studio and play their library titles. One of our customers called Fox yesterday and they had no problem licensing any library title to them for professional exhibition on our projector. The current challenge are first-run movies.
From the security side we are DCI compliant. You can install any DCP reader on our system. Our system eliminates the need for a server farm, which means content is more secure on our system than on a standard "dumb" projector that is connected to an external computer via a cable. Every external connection is a security threat. Putting everything in a single box and giving the theater manager the ability to lock down the external ports so the entire system is a read-only system is superior to the current DCI method.
The DCI designed their security protocol in 2002. In 2002 the internet was slower, CPU's were slower, hard drives were smaller, the typical business had a DSL connection...and we didn't exist yet. Now, it's 10 years later and everything has changed. We all need to help the DCI realize The Model One exceeds their wildest expectations in security by simplifying the entire supply chain to one simple box. It's pretty tough to present yourself as the future of cinema when you were created in 2002 and made all your critical security decisions a decade ago.
The second aspect of being DCI compliance is visual quality. We match every spec except our resolution, which is WUXGA. WUXGA did not exist in 2002 when the DCI adopted the 2K standard. The difference is minimal; 100 pixels. The price difference is dramatic; about $61,000.00. To me this is a basic economic question. Should a business be required to pay 20 times as much money for 100 more pixels? If our projector is good enough for library titles it is good enough for first run films as well.
7. Most commercial movie projectors are 2048x1080, is it a problem in commercial environments that the Model One is only 1920x1200?
We have slightly lower horizontal resolution and significantly higher vertical resolution. However, for all intents and purposes, the audience can't see a difference. The human eye just isn't good enough to resolve a 100 pixel difference. This is also why we don't brag about exceeding the DCI's vertical resolution specs. It would be hypocritical and scientifically unsound. I can't see the difference between their 1080 vertical pixels or our 1200 vertical pixels. Depending on the aspect ratio of the film the two can end up projecting an almost identical pixel count.
The whole debate is what happens when non-technical people form a committee, settle on a standard and refuse to keep up with the times. It's been ten years. This isn't a qualitative argument. It's a political one that burdens small companies with unnecessary debt and will drive 10,000 American out of work.
We could have easily built a 2K projector. It would have cost 400% more. That would be much less expensive than our competitor's 2K systems but most theaters can't afford a $16,000 projector anymore than they can afford a $65,000 unit. We opted for the WUXGA standard because it met everyone's needs...churches, businesses, home theaters, military applications, projected advertising, music acts, stage shows, projection mappers and movie theaters. Movie theaters are the smallest demographic in projector sales. We're hoping they can stand up for themselves and demand the DCI catch up with the times.
In the meantime, we'll continue to make inroads in dozens of other industries.
8. The model one has a great price and feature set for home use. With a 1:1 throw ratio lens, there’s a good chance the projector will be in the middle of the seating area (assuming a 120” screen). Ceiling mounting obviously isn’t intended with built-in monitor and Blu-ray drive. Is it quiet enough to be in the “audience” and can the screen be turned off completely?
With respect, that's not true. The built-in monitor and blu-ray drive are meant for professional exhibition: film festivals and movie theaters. The consumer can ceiling mount it and operate it through any wifi or bluetooth device. They can hook up external components at ground level and have those connected to a wireless hub or through a cable that's hidden under the carpet or in the wall.
We built an anything box, which means we designed it for multiple environments. No one says a swiss army knife is useless just because they never used the scissors. We gave people multiple tools and multiple interfaces so it works in all environments.
I thought of the typical small town movie theater when I was originally conceiving the device. They're usually closed on weekdays. The theater owner can use it in their home Monday through Thursday, unplug it in seconds, put it in their back seat and hook it into their movie theater in under 5 minutes. The independent filmmaker can put it in the back seat and drive from town to town projecting movies. The home theater enthusiast can take it into the backyard, set up a 20 foot screen and watch the Superbowl while the kids swim in the pool. It has the versatility we all enjoyed with 8mm projectors but the visual quality of a cinema projector and enormous computing power allowing people to do absolutely anything.
A testament to this is our first customer. I don't have permission to disclose who they are, but they do huge acts in Las Vegas. Their intent is to use it for projection mapping.
We understand people are struggling to figure out what to do with it. They want it to fit into the existing world. It doesn't. It destroys the existing world. You can do anything you want with this.
9. Will BryteWerks be coming out with any other devices?
I can't tell you what we're working on...but yeah, we have some killer products in the pipeline.
10. You've been accepting pre-sales for about two weeks. Any sales yet? Anyone we might know?
I'm thrilled with our sales. Right now we're securing more manufacturing partners to keep up with demand. And some of our customers are hugely famous. Just walk down The Las Vegas Strip and you'll see a few of them. One of our customers has hinted that if The Model One performs as expected we'll be their de facto solution for their shows around the globe.
But most importantly, I'm just happy that my five year old son already knows how to operate it. Who would have thought you could design a powerful projector so easy a child could do professional projection?
Justin Eugene Evans began his film career as a theater projectionist in Portland, Oregon. He also worked part-time in his family's video store. He attended NYU's prestigious film school, The Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film & Television. His latest feature film, A Lonely Place For Dying, played in 46 film festivals on three continents, was nominated for 52 awards and won 28 including 18 for best feature film. Justin rewired most of the festival theaters while on tour, spending more of his time in the projection booth than at festival parties. He is also a proud husband to Jeanne Evans and father to David Aleksander Evans.
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