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2015: JAN | FEB

Using Giant-Screen Cinema to ‘Edu-tain’ Audiences About Ocean Tech
Paul Fraser

Today’s media universe is crowded. We have 500-plus-channel cable television systems. Streamed and downloaded content are available to myriad, small-screen devices. But one medium stands out as the best, and most enduring, for educating while entertaining: the giant-screen (GS) documentary made for IMAX and other GS theaters in science centers and museums.

GS flat screens can be 100 feet wide by 80 feet tall, and dome screens have diameters up to 88 feet wide. This is a powerful theatrical experience that cannot be replicated in homes. These theaters anchor many of the world’s iconic museums, such as the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts; Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, Canada; The Science Museum in London, England; and La Géode in Paris, France, which is associated with Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie. The global market of museum-based GS theaters sees aggregate attendance of 30 million annually, in more than 30 countries.

The GS documentary is a truly unique art form. Audiences are transported to a place they otherwise could not go on their own. You don’t just watch a GS film: you experience it. GS films have taken audiences into space and the oceans, to the summit of Mount Everest and the South Pole, and even back in time to the age of dinosaurs. All the while, informal science education occurs. People are inspired to learn more, and some may even pursue a career in a field brought to life on the giant screen. Hollywood films usually complete theatrical runs in weeks, but GS documentaries can remain in theaters for a decade or more; an evergreen quality attractive to film investors and sponsors.

Imax Corp. invented the IMAX projection system 45 years ago and pioneered the GS documentary, while encouraging other filmmakers to produce for the medium. Earlier in my career, I worked at Imax. I now run my own consultancy, whose projects include GS films. One project is a new film about ocean tech, currently in development. “Sea Watch” is our working title, and I am co-executive producer.

Produced by Massachusetts-based White Gate Films, “Sea Watch” (www.seawatchfilm.com) will harness the GS format, and 3D, to shine a light on amazing technologies that make the safe and efficient navigation of the world’s oceans possible today. We hope to do for ocean tech what the IMAX space films did for illuminating the challenges of human space travel: We’ll take audiences aboard the most advanced ships of today, giving them a new appreciation of how ocean technologies save lives and drive world commerce, while protecting sea life or leaving it undisturbed. Assuming completion of the film’s funding by midyear, principal production would begin by summer 2015. The theatrical release is planned for 2016.

Ocean-themed GS films have always been popular. Yet no producer has explored ocean technology the way we envisage. The tech story satisfies a demand for STEM subjects by the global museum theater community. Ocean tech is a giant-screen-worthy subject—no other medium can visualize the awesome scale of today’s modern ships and the natural hazards they routinely confront. “In our research, we found many compelling human stories about those who invented new technologies,” said Nancy Ogden of White Gate Films, “Sea Watch”’s first investor and executive producer. Our choice of subject was cemented by IMAX theater operators who have expressed enthusiasm for our project, and by its appeal to prospective investors and sponsors.

Directing a GS film on any subject is challenging. We’ve chosen Stephen Low, one of the format’s most accomplished directors. The size of the screens and the immersive theater geometry require the director to shoot with the highest-resolution cameras. Live-action capture will be impractical at times, so computer-generated images (CGI) will be produced. For instance, we will show a 19th-century windjammer sailing toward us in 3D, and the dramatic underwater point of contact when the wooden hull impacts the ocean floor in shallow waters near Sable Island, Nova Scotia, using CGI. Later, we’ll demonstrate 21st-century subsea imaging and geopositioning technologies with CGI graphics. Another challenge for the director will be capturing the scale and complexity of modern ocean vessels, but Low is up to the task: He has filmed ships, submersibles, trains, race cars, airplanes—they became characters in his past films, interacting with their human operators.

The subject of ocean tech is relevant to everyone, and the film will be available to theaters worldwide. GS documentaries have broad appeal to people of all ages, from four to 84. Quite often, a visit to a museum IMAX theater includes three generations from one family. School children who attend as organized groups are a big segment, representing more than 25 percent of a museum theater’s annual attendance.

Audiences don’t require a deep understanding of the science or technology behind the topic prior to viewing, partly because GS films visualize their subjects so well, as no other medium can, helped by the fact that GS theater audiences are well-educated. For school kids, there will be many different ways to engage with the film’s subject after the screening, including a companion educational website and video game, a mobile app, and perhaps even an interactive museum kiosk.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a GS film playing on 80-foot wide screens is the highest impact vehicle available for introducing the science and human stories behind ocean tech. There is no better global platform for bringing an appreciation of ocean tech to millions of people.

Paul Fraser is president of Blaze Digital Cinema Works and co-executive producer of “Sea Watch,” a giant-screen documentary from White Gate Films. Blaze specializes in business development for all forms of digital cinema. Fraser’s career in the giant-screen film and theater industry spans almost 30 years, including senior management roles at Imax Corp. and other entertainment companies.

2015: JAN | FEB

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Sea Technology is read worldwide in more than 110 countries by management, engineers, scientists and technical personnel working in industry, government and educational research institutions. Readers are involved with oceanographic research, fisheries management, offshore oil and gas exploration and production, undersea defense including antisubmarine warfare, ocean mining and commercial diving.