The following interview originally appeared on the World Enteractive website in 2005.
Dan Fellman has been with Warner Brothers Pictures for more than a quarter century, where he now holds the post of President, Domestic Distribution. As such, he plays an instrumental role in Warner Brothers’ transition from film-based to digital cinema. He has also established a robust relationship with IMAX Corporation, including both DMR films and original 3D productions. The company’s newest film, “Batman Begins” opened on Wednesday, June 15, in both 35mm and IMAX DMR. Over its five-day opening weekend, the film earned $71 million worldwide. On June 14, Fellman spoke from his office at Warner Brothers with World Enteractive’s Senior Correspondent, Joseph L. Kleiman. The following Q&A is culled from that conversation.
JOSEPH KLEIMAN: You’ve been with Warner Brothers for, I believe, the past twenty years or so?
DAN FELLMAN: Twenty-seven.
JK: During that time, digital technology has dramatically changed the way movies are made and seen, and by seen I’m including DMR along with digital projection. Could you comment on how these changes have affected what you do and where you see the industry headed in the future?
DF: Well, most technological changes have really been directed at the consumer. At the end of the day, we wish to project the best possible picture available. Over the years, the quality of film has improved. The projectors have really been basic for the last twenty years. Now the digital era is upon us and the current technology for digital projectors is excellent. There is a 2K projector in the market doing a very good job, and hopefully within the next few years, we’ll see a 4K projector, which would be even better.
JK: When you’re saying that it’s going to end up pretty much all digital, what effect will that have on the DMR program?
DF: I think the DMR program will become digital as well. Everything is moving in that direction.
JK: You seem to have a good relationship with IMAX. What is it that keeps Warner Brothers coming back to work with them?
DF: I think the success of our relationship has proven itself at the box office. The IMAX DMR and their 3D process have “eventized” our films. They have an audience that enjoys seeing these films larger than life – and committed to their brand. We will continue to work with IMAX and release our tent pole films on a day-and-date basis with conventional theatres.
JK: I’m really looking forward to “Batman” in DMR.
DF: “Batman” is fabulous in IMAX DMR. You should read the quotes from Chris Nolan. He is very pleased with the outcome.
JK: Unfortunately, for every DMR release, our IMAX Theater here in Sacramento has to wait about a month after the 35mm release before it can play the DMR version.
DF: There are clearances in certain markets from conventional theaters that we have honored. First go to a conventional theatre and then you can see it again in IMAX.
JK: This is the first time that anyone has had two DMR films opening a month apart. Do you have any concerns about this?
DF: No, I don’t. We’ve been able to work out showtimes. Because we’re the same distributor, we can alternate showtimes and be able to maximize our box-office.
JK: Regarding the original product, you have opted to co-produce with IMAX. Buena Vista (Disney) has a different approach where they’re having third parties produce the films, which they are then distributing themselves. Is there an advantage to one approach over the other?
DF: We like what we’re doing and this process works for Warner. We produced “NASCAR 3D” with IMAX and have “Deep Sea 3D” opening in ’06. We are in negotiations right now for another 3D release.
JK: Let’s move over to digital for a bit. Do you also handle Warner Independent Pictures?
DF: No. We have a separate distribution company.
JK: Well, with arthouse theaters jumping on the digital bandwagon, do you feel that independent cinema will take advantage of digital projection before the major studios do?
DF: There are a lot of specialty films – student films in particular – that are shot digitally, that art houses will have access to. But, at the end of the day, it’s a good film that fills the theater, not the method in which it was shot. There might be more product available, but it’s not going to substantially enhance the box office.
JK: I understand that you’ve partnered with SONY and Disney to help subsidize the exhibitors in purchasing digital projectors. Can you comment at all on how that works?
DF: We’re in the initial stages of creating that joint venture. We did start out with Disney and SONY as partners, but it has since grown to include Universal and Fox. This needs to be an industry effort. It would be helpful to have everyone aboard.
JK: We were at ShoWest and we saw the screening of “Miss Congeniality 2” in digital projection. The picture was lost and it took about ten minutes to get it back up and synched with the sound.
DF: That’s correct.
JK: I’ve heard so many different explanations as to what happened. Could you share your understanding of what happened in that instance?
DF: Well, it was a technical glitch that was basically a human error. The studio that presented before us had shown some film digitally and changed the settings on the equipment. It was a very unusual circumstance.
JK: I’m going to go a little further off into the future and talk about digital 3D cinema. 2007 right now is looking like a banner year for digital 3D. Fox has three projects that they’re working on – “Star Wars” in 3D, James Cameron’s newest film, whichever one that might be, and Blue Sky is working on a CG feature which will probably be released in 3D. Does Warner Brothers have any plans to jump on this digital 3D bandwagon as well?
DF: We are going to be doing some 3D IMAX projects in ‘06 and if REAL D becomes a reality and there are enough screens in the marketplace, we’ll certainly consider that process as well.
JK: What are your impressions on the REAL D system?
DF: I like the company and their technology; I look forward to working with them in the future.
JK: Regarding 2D to 3D live action conversion, there are two companies pushing the fact that they have this technology – IMAX and In-Three. Have you seen demonstrations from either of these companies?
DF: Yes. They both are doing a very good job, it’s only going to get better but the cost must come down.
JK: Do you expect to have one of your live action films converted by IMAX, In-Three, or another company for exhibition next year in either digital or IMAX?
JK: Regarding the piracy issue, Warner Brothers has taken something of a unique approach in China, where you’re distributing legitimate DVD’s at the same time the films are out in the U.S. How far into this program are you, and do you feel it’s a success?
DF: Jim Cardwell, the President of Warner Home Video, said he’s pleased with the initial results and anything that can combat piracy, he will try.
JK: Dan, I certainly appreciate your time.
DF: You’re welcome.