In the age of digital technology, cinema owner Graham Spurling laments the use of celluloid as a marketing weapon


Dateline 21ST July 2017 and Dunkirk is about to fill cinema screens across the UK and Ireland. The pre-release press is strong. Reviews are 5-star across all the media. Advance bookings are huge and we, in exhibition, eagerly await the morning of the 21st with blockbuster business beckoning. When out of the blue, like a wave of screeching Stukas on a strafing run across the Dunkirk sands came “SEE DUNKIRK IN 70mm!!”

This request, nay demand, was most unhelpful and most unwelcome for those of us who have invested many thousands of our hard-earned money in the game changing digital changeover. In no time at all, our crystal-clear, flicker free on-screen presentations were not worth a jot.

It’s the message not the medium

Now, I am not a hater of 70mm projection
as a format. Far from it — in fact, I greatly admire IMAX and others who present in digital 70mm. My main gripe (here in Ireland) was that the only 70mm that “you had to see” was the celluloid version of 70mm. That in and of itself, might not seem an unreasonable request.

My issue was and still is that the only 70mm projector here in Ireland is housed
in the Government-funded Irish Film Institute. A worthy and well-run cinema with few demands on it to make money. This is where it differs from every other cinema in Ireland where we have to turn
a profit or go out of business.

The 70mm hype was accompanied by a new breed of “experts” in how cinema should be seen (and where)! The hipster cine luvvies were out in force (reference my Twitter and Linkedin profilesfor details) which merrily panned all things not IFI. Now were these soy latte sipping luddites right? I would say no. Dunkirk did not need the 70mm hype. It was always going to blow the UK/Ireland Box office sky high.

Were 70mm celluloid actually the panacea for all of cinemas ills, then where was the blockbusting business on The Master, Hateful Eight and the re-releases of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Laurence of Arabia? The truth is that the desert boot wearing, brown rice eating critics will always hate digital precisely because it doesn’t clank or flicker and live with that we shall have to.

Follow the facts

The reality is that if you were to look at the recent UK/Ireland box office successes such as The Queen, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Star Wars Force Awakens, Last Jedi, Paddington 1 and 2 and others you would notice that they have all smashed it out of the park with no assistance from 70mm “marketing”.

These titles and the many other hundreds of movies that have garnered hundreds of billions in box office revenue worldwide, have all earned those billions in digital cinemas. We are the future and cogs and belts undeniably belong to the past.

Bigger things to worry about it?

We are (like the Force) strong right now, but 2018 may well hold new challenges for the exhibition side of the industry. What will the Disney/Fox merger bring? Yet more movies with unnegotiable terms? Will online streaming bite into the reducing market. Will all the bad news still emanate from the USA and be taken as a worldwide problem? More tired and tiring franchise titles? Exactly what month will MoviePass run out of cash?

This little missive started with a question, 70mm, a marketing tool or just an unwelcome throwback to the past?

You decide. My mind is clearly made up and when I think of my passion for our new digital world, I harken to the Don Henley classic The Boys of Summer…

“I can tell you my love for you will still be strong,

After the boys of summer have gone”  



Joint MD, Movies@ cinemas