From Small Screen To Really Big Screen

‘Game of Thrones’ makes its IMAX debut
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Peter Dinklage plays Tyrion Lannister in the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”
HOLLYWOOD, CALIF.—In a first-of-its kind presentation that may be a harbinger for the future of crossover exhibition, HBO and IMAX earlier this month presented two episodes of HBO’s popular “Game of Thrones” series on the largest exhibition screens available in over 200 IMAX theaters. The showings, which took place Jan. 29–Feb. 5, was a counterpoint to the notion that viewers are increasingly enamored with watching episodes of their favorite TV shows on small handheld screens like iPads and cellphones.

 “The passionate ‘Game of Thrones’ fans have helped make the series a worldwide phenomenon and we are always looking for new, innovative ways to get them excited for the upcoming season,” said Pamela Levine, chief marketing officer at HBO. “We thought the IMAX promotion would be a fun way for fans to come together, on a national level, and experience the show in a way that has never been done before.”

BETTER THAN EXPECTED RESPONSE
In addition to showing two installments from season four (episode No. 9 “The Watchers on the Wall” and episode No. 10 “The Children” season finale), the presentation was followed by the worldwide debut of a season 5 “sneak peek” trailer created exclusively for IMAX.

Tickets originally went on sale Jan. 16, but due to the enthusiastic response, the debut was actually delayed a week from its original announcement to let IMAX increase the number of cinemas showing it. By the time of the release, approximately 205 of the 430 domestic IMAX theaters had the R-rated “Game of Thrones” on their 72-by-53-square-foot screens or larger, and Box Office Mojo estimated total ticket sales of $1,501,000 by the first weekend ending Feb 1.

“IMAX is always looking for innovative ways to provide audiences with something different and unique,” an IMAX spokesperson said, “and this partnership with HBO, Warner Bros. and ‘Game of Thrones’ achieves just that. ‘Game of Thrones’ is a truly epic series and the scope, scale and production value are remarkable and will really highlight what the IMAX experience is capable of.”

THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND THE SCENES

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Lorne Orleans, senior vice president, executive in charge of production, IMAX Corp.
However, the technology required to prepare the cable TV series for the really big silver screen involved a massive amount of digital horsepower. After all, it was originally shot with Arri Alexa cameras in 1920x1080 HD and recorded to HDCAM tape.

To deal with the needed “supersizing,” IMAX has developed a proprietary process called DMR, involving a massive render farm outside of Toronto holding 2 petabytes (2,000 TB) of storage capacity.

“When we first developed DMR, it was intended to upgrade film releases,” said Lorne Orleans, senior vice president, executive in charge of production, IMAX Corp. “But the algorithms have evolved over time to accept a totally digital workflow. Fortunately, the Alexa records its master with JPEG2000 codecs which is a part of the cinema standard for DCP [Digital Cinema Package] files.”

However, they still had to square the circle since the original aspect ratio of ”Game of Thrones” was 1.78:1, but the IMAX specification is 1.9:1. “That’s a function of the digital chip size in the projectors and we never crop data,” Orleans said, “so in order to shine the whole HD frame on the IMAX screen, it required black letterbox bars on the top and bottom and skinny pillarbox lines on the sides.”

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In addition to showing two episodes from season 4, the “Game of Thrones” presentation was followed by a “sneak peek” of season 5, created exclusively for IMAX.
‘COMMUNAL EXPERIENCE’
So will we be seeing future tales of the houses of Stark, Lannister, Baratheon and Targaryen from the mythical land of Westeros on giant IMAX screens?

“Premiering our content on the cable network is still our priority,” Levine said. “Featuring episodes nine and 10 from season four lets fans engage with the show in a unique way, and celebrates its cinematic qualities. This is really about a different kind of communal experience for ‘Game of Thrones’ fans than has been available previously, and we’re very gratified that they seem as excited about it as we are.”

But IMAX is looking toward the potential of a new audience market, especially once their spectacular laser-illuminated projection system, currently under development, is deployed in their theaters.

“Based on the initial reaction we saw among fans there is definite interest for this type of project and it is turning into a must-see event,” an IMAX representative said. “That’s what we are all about—giving audiences an experience they can’t find anywhere else and a reason to leave their homes. There is something special about being part of a movie or show that you can get in an IMAX theatre surrounded by an audience that you can’t get in front of your TV.”

And can we anticipate more episodic TV on giant screens?

“This initiative is part of a larger effort around providing theaters alternative forms of content,” the IMAX representative said. “We’ve had preliminary conversations with other entertainment companies about showing other television series and have also tested technologies allowing for the screening of live sports and concerts.”