Discovery Channel Pictures (dcp) enters the large-screen motion picture business as it completes production on Africa’s Elephant Kingdom, set for a May 1998 release, and Wildfire, to debut later that fall.
DCP is concentrating its production efforts in the large-screen format as opposed to 35 mm films just as the industry is poised to make a dramatic leap in the number of theaters capable of screening in 15-70mm, the preferred ratio for large screen projection.
Currently about 160 theaters, mostly associated with museums and learning centers, have the capability of showing these films. By the year 2000 an additional 50, many of which will be constructed at entertainment complexes and multiplexes, will be equipped to run large-screen format. Four to six large-screen pictures are released annually.
‘We saw a point of critical mass where making these films would be viable,’ says Linda Isaac, VP, Discovery Channel Pictures.
Discovery’s first two large-screen movies are fully commissioned features, budgeted at a cost of $2 million to $6 million. Africa’s Elephant Kingdom is being produced in association with Mullion Creek Productions of Australia; Wildfire is with Big Picture Partnerships/The Principal Film Company. dcp has not ruled out coproductions or cofinancing deals for future films.
As IMAX-type films become more accessible to the general public, producers like DCP must become more involved in the promotion and marketing of their product. Currently, these types of theaters are mostly individually owned and operated. Theater owners have handled the bulk of promotion and scheduling of large-format films.
Discovery will support its large-screen releases with the full brunt of its expertise in cross-promoting non-fiction material across all DCI platforms, including developing affiliate relations with theater owners and assuming the burden of marketing from them. ‘This is an opportunity where we can take what we do well – non-fiction production – and provide museums with a quality product that they don’t have to risk their own funds for, except leasing,’ Isaac says.
Discovery’s ability to do surround marketing at its retail outlets and on its networks provides theater owners with an incentive to schedule the films.
‘We hope that we can leverage what Discovery does well and apply it to our large-format features,’ says Isaac. ‘That’s taking natural history, science and technology and making a human connection to it in a way that has worked so well for our networks.’