Edward Norton made headlines in October 2019 after sharing his belief that movie theaters were doing more damage to the theatrical experience than streaming giants such as Netflix. The bulk of Norton’s argument centered on movie theaters offering poor theatrical projection and thus not offering a better alternative to streaming and television, which is an opinion “Logan” and “Ford v Ferrari” director James Mangold doubled down on in a recent interview with Discussing Film. For Mangold, poor projection and lousy theater conditions aren’t doing theaters any favors in the fight against streaming.
“The reality of theater projection has gotten so tragically bad in so many cases,” Mangold said. “The fight to put your movie in a theater that stinks and someone’s eating an enchilada next to you — half the screen is out of focus or too dim. Theatrical has its own problems, which is that if it doesn’t make itself a sterling presentation that you cannot approximate at the home then theatrical kills itself without any other delivery method even competing with it. When I talk to theater owners or theater chains, that’s the big thing.”
Mangold recounted how a “Ford v Ferrari” screening earlier this year in New York City was ruined because of poor projection. The filmmaker was in attendance to participate in a Q&A and watched as “Ford v Ferrari” was screened through a projector that still had a 3D lens attached to it. Mangold noted it was an Academy screening of the film at a major theater in New York City. Two “Ford v Ferrari” screenings that evening were presented through 3D lenses even though the film is not a 3D movie. Mangold said this is a frequent issue at theaters and the reason for it is either “financial or physical laziness to send someone up and put a different lens in the projection system.”
“My point really is just that theatrical is a wasteland right now of a lot of shitty delivery of movies to audiences who are paying a premium to see them on a big screen,” Mangold said. “That’s something that needs to be solved in the future.”
When asked whether or not filmmakers should therefore have more involvement with the exhibition process, Mangold answered, “Well, of course, but do I believe they do? No, because the theaters are, like all capitalist endeavors, in a never-ending cycle of running from bankruptcy. They pay people as little as they can. They hire as few people as they can. They serve snacks that cost them 45 cents to manufacture at prices 22 times the cost of creating. They put you in a theater that is as possible as it can be at the minimum amount of expense.”
Mangold added, “Once in a while, the main theater chain will renovate and put new equipment in. But if the people running the equipment aren’t great, trained, or even give a shit because they’re paid so badly then the result is always going to be questionable. It’s just that simple. It really doesn’t matter what filmmakers say when theater owners are worried about whether they can pay rent next month. More than whether some spoiled filmmaker thinks that their sound is too low or the image brightness isn’t high enough. That’s not where their heads are.”
Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” was nominated for four Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture. The film took home the Oscars for Best Editing and Best Sound Editing. Head over to Discussing Film’s website to read more from Mangold’s interview.