THE STORY OF EDCF
John Graham, EDCF General Secretary 2002 – 2019
In 1999, Digital Cinema first started to make an appearance as a potential technology for cinema. Back then I was working as the Executive Director of the BKSTS (British Kinomatographic Sound and Television Society) which, at that time, was the premier technical association for film & cinema in the UK. Through the personal contacts of the BKSTS President, Paul Collard, we had a good relationship with the CST, Commission Supérieure Technique de l’Image et du Son, which is the French Association for Cinema Technology. We exchanged information and contributed to each other’s conferences on a regular basis. It was at one such conference that the seeds of the European Digital Cinema Forum (EDCF) were sown.
In 2000, BKSTS held the first D-Cinema conference in the UK. Held at Pinewood Studios, courtesy of Barco’s Keith Morris, this event gave us the first look at what this technology could offer the film industry.
It was just after this event that I was approached by BKSTS member, CST member, and media journalist Jean-Paul Cassagnac who said “John, D-Cinema is coming. We need to do something about this. We need a new association”. So where better to pursue this idea than within the BKSTS and the CST. With my colleague, John Croft, we had meetings with Jean-Paul, Matthieu Sintas, and others in the CST to agree on an outline of what was needed. A structure was created along the lines of the SMPTE Group DC28. Volunteers were assigned to the tasks of monitoring and reporting on the various elements of the new technology. I started work on writing a constitution. We called ourselves The European Digital Cinema Forum. Looking back, we could think of this group as the Interim EDCF.
We were now approaching September 1999; time for IBC. On behalf of the BKSTS, John Croft & I produced the first-ever D-Cinema event at IBC – a Mini-Conference entitled “Mastering for Digital Cinema” chaired by Paul Collard with speakers including Dave Schnuelle (Lucas Film) and Dave Bancroft (Thomson).
Following the success of the 1999 D-Cinema session at IBC and reflecting the growing interest in D-Cinema, the BKSTS D-Cinema session at IBC the following year was a much bigger event. This was another successful conference but finished with an unscheduled, impassioned plea from one of the delegates who demanded that “Europe gets its act together now if it is to have any influence on how D-Cinema develops.” We discovered that this person was Lasse Svanberg, a well-known Swedish Cinematographer who was working for the Swedish Film Institute. John Croft & I met with Lasse a few days later so we now had three countries looking to take a leading role in the development of D-Cinema in Europe.
Despite this progress, we were missing one important element at this point – funding. In pursuit of start-up funding, Matthieu Sintas approached Jean Menu at the Centre National du Cinéma (CNC, the French Government agency for cinema), and I approached the UK government’s Department of Trade & Industry in the form of Charlie Sandbank who already had set up a D-Cinema action group. This group had supported the first Digital Screen Network and created a D-Cinema Test Bed at the National Film Theatre. At the same time, Lasse went to talk about possible funding with the Head of the Swedish Film Institute, Ase Kleveland. These three organisations CNC, DTI & SFI could see the potential significance of D-cinema and agreed to provide some funding to move things along. As they were providing funding and they were their respective governments’ representatives for cinema, Kleveland, Sandbank and Menu decided that this should be their project so the Provisional EDCF group found itself taking a backseat for a period while the politics of structure, aims, and ongoing funding were dealt with.
The next step was to check if there was broad support in the industry for the creation of an organisation to be a focal point for European D-Cinema. To this end, the Swedish Film Institute hosted a conference at the Film House in Stockholm to discuss this question amongst the great and the good of European Cinema. This took place on May 30th, 2001 with more than 100 invited delegates.
There was universal support for the creation of such a Europe-wide organisation and there was agreement on a set of objectives, namely:
- To function as an umbrella organisation for European E- and D-cinema interests and as a consultative body for national governments and the European Commission.
- To liaise with other relevant bodies to assist in the establishment of appropriate worldwide standards for E- and D-cinema.
- To co-ordinate and establish European user requirements for standards for all parts of the E- and D-cinema chains.
- To initiate a European Digital Cinema Laboratory
The strong positive response to creating the Forum from all sectors of the industry underlines the myriad concerns at the time around distributors losing control, security of content, potential projectionist job losses, exhibition revenues being monitored by others, film-makers resistance to “digital” and overwhelming concerns about affordability.
Thus, the European Digital Cinema Forum was created with initially France, Sweden, and the UK providing funding. Management services were to be provided by myself at the BKSTS.
The reference to E- and D-cinema in the objectives reflect the serious anxieties at that time. Intense debates were had to try to define D-cinema and define E-cinema and the relevant standards and applications of each. Affordability for a very diverse cinema industry was at the core of most of these discussions. This question of D-cinema standards was only answered finally in July 2005 when Digital Cinema Initiatives, DCI, (see later) announced its D-cinema standard, commonly known as the DCI Spec. At that time there was no funding plan but the direction for d-cinema systems had been set for the future.
At IBC 2001, we held the first open, public EDCF meeting and the first meeting of the management group was also held at this IBC. Attendees at the management meeting were:- Jean Menu (CNC), Mathieu Sintas (CST), Renaud Di Francesco (Sony), Ase Kleveland (SFI), Peter Wilson (Snell & Wilcox), Charlie Sandbank (DTI), Lasse Svanberg (SFI), John Graham (BKSTS).
The main topic at this meeting was to establish a structure that would deliver the information and services that industry people were saying were needed. The agreed structure mirrored that of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) with three modules or working groups; Commercial, Content & Technical. The respective Heads of these modules appointed in 2002 were Commercial (Renaud Di Francesco, Sony), Content (Lasse Svanberg, SFI), and Technical (Peter Wilson, Snell & Wilcox).
Another issue for discussion at this time was language and what should be the official language of EDCF: English, French, or both? After several months of debate, English was chosen as the language of EDCF. Similarly, there was serious debate about where the EDCF should be based – London or Paris. However, by this time the administration was well established with me in the BKSTS in London and that is where it stayed. At the end of 2006 the contract for management services with the BKSTS came to an end and from then on this service was provided within EDCF through the General Secretary.
In this formative stage, the management group was anxious that the organisation did not become dominated by manufacturers like some other associations. It was felt that EDCF needed to serve the wider industry, remembering that public organisations were providing all the funding at this time. It was agreed that there should be a three-way equal balance in the membership between manufacturing, traditional cinema, and associations/government agencies – the so-called three “constituencies”.
This model would not only apply to membership but was also applied to the management structure so that when a Management Board was created there would be equal representation of these three constituencies on the Board. It was also agreed that the Board should select a President and two Vice-Presidents with each of these three positions derived from the three different constituencies.
These requirements, plus many others, were to be written into the EDCF statutes which I was asked to write. Not surprisingly, the first draft of these statutes looked remarkably like the constitution written for the Interim EDCF. These were created within the UK business structure known as a Company Limited by Guarantee which was widely used by associations like the BKSTS. However, we discovered that French publicly funded organisations were not allowed, by law, to be a member of an organisation based outside of France. So, we had to think again.
After considerable research, we agreed that the EDCF should be established as a “Stichting” (Foundation) under Dutch law. This is a non-business structure designed for not-for-profit organisations that collect money to provide services to members, do not create any profits, do not pay dividends and do not pay their Board members. Furthermore, there are minimal tax implications for the Stichting structure.
The next move was to register EDCF with the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce with our official, registered address in Amsterdam at the Nederlands Film Fond, the government agency for cinema in the Netherlands.
The Amsterdam Notary completed the documentation and finalised our registration in 2004. The European Digital Cinema Forum was now an official international organisation. This registration enabled EDCF to recruit members and to collect subscription fees from them. Volunteers amongst the fee-paying members were then sought to complete the Board membership. The first Board of Management was as follows:
EDCF Board 2004
Snell & Wilcox
In addition to formalising the Board structure, the Statutes formalised the position of General Secretary as being responsible to the Board for the management and administration of the organisation.
A slightly unusual element contained within the statutes stated that the original founding members would have permanent seats on the Board. These organisations were CNC, CST, BKSTS and SFI. This requirement was in recognition of the initial funding and organisational effort made in the formative years by these four organisations. There was a change in 2004 when the Board decided that, additionally, the FDA and UNIC should have permanent Board seats. How could EDCF adequately represent European Cinema if it did not have the Exhibitors and Distributors tied into its organisation?
Other Board positions are filled by election among the members and these elections take place every two years.
It is instructive to look at the members list for that time.
Danish Film Institute
Nederlands Film Fond
Norwegian Film Institute
Swedish Film Institute
UK Film Council
British Film Institute
Cinema Exhibitors Assoc
Dutch Film Distributors Assoc.
Film Distributors Assoc UK
Folkets Hus och Parker
Snell & Wilcox
There was an attempt to provide a balance between the three constituencies although, inevitably, there are more members in the “industrials” group. It is worth remembering that this was the early days of digital cinema and many companies were testing the water to see what D-Cinema might hold for them. Many of these names are no longer in D-cinema and many have disappeared completely.
At this point EDCF had members (lots of members), a Board, a management organisation and three Modules to carry out work on behalf of the membership. Things were moving along well.
In 2006, there was a significant change to EDCF’s management structure. Board members were concerned that their “day jobs” meant that they did not have the time to give to EDCF that was really needed. In particular, the public face of the organisation at conferences and other public gatherings was badly lacking. It was decided to look for someone who carried respect within the industry who could be the “face” of EDCF.
We approached the respected and familiar Dave Monk who had recently retired as Vice President of Texas Instruments, Europe and Chairman and Managing Director of TI’s UK and Ireland Subsidiaries. Dave agreed to join EDCF as its first Chief Executive Officer.
Having established a modular structure how was that working out?
Under Lasse Svanberg’s leadership the Content Module produced two publications in a short space of time: “E-Cinema Content” in 2002 following the conference of the same name at the Swedish Film Institute in December 2001 and “The EDCF Guide to Digital Cinema Production”, published by Focal Press in 2004. The aim of this Module was to educate Producers and Directors about the new technologies and to help them understand how this would change, and should benefit, their craft. Lasse would be the first to admit that persuading the production community to engage with us in this process was less than universally successful. Following Lasse’s untimely death, Johaness Lassila from the Finnish Film Producers Association became Chairman of this group but the inability to involve production personnel in this work eventually brought about the closure of the module.
The Commercial Module started under the chairmanship of Renaud Di Francesco (Sony) and attracted much attention probably because many were interested in trying to figure out how this transition could be financed. There was also interest from many companies looking to play a part in this transition. In 2002, we had 160 people signed up to be part of this group and seminars were attended by large numbers. However, there was one major problem that limited the output and hence the value of this group. This was simply that in a public forum, and especially one of this size, nobody was willing to share sensitive commercial information.
EDCF prided itself on being completely neutral on all issues (this is still a key plank of the EDCF’s ethos) and this increased the difficulty of providing meaningful commercial advice. In 2004, Anders Geertsen from the Danish Film Institute became chairman of this module and took it in a different direction as a Distribution Support Group. The most significant output from this Module was a Conference for Distributors at London’s National Film Theatre in 2008 with close to 100 attendees. Following a change in career, Anders left EDCF at the end of 2008.
Even though the Commercial Module had ceased to function, this did not mean that “commercial” discussions stopped. Vital questions around funding the transition were just as important to EDCF as they were to everyone in the industry. When the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) funding proposal was introduced explaining the mechanics of this scheme was as needed and called for as any technical issues at EDCF seminars.
Under the chairmanship of Peter Wilson, the Technical Module (100 members in 2002) made progress. With a brief to explain the new technology and to engage with other technical organisations on the question of standards this module had a clear set of aims and ambitions and was productive. Many of EDCF’s explanatory publications came from this group and workshops were well attended, often held at the premises of manufacturers who always had something new to demonstrate. The “Four Levels of Service” proposal – an attempt to define E-cinema and D-cinema – was the first output from this module followed by “The Early Adopters Guide” which proved to be invaluable to cinema operators trying to understand the new technology. In 2007, this Module, together with IMAGO (the European Cinematographers Association), created a Frame Rate sub-group led by Kommer Kleijn and Peter Wilson. The aim of this sub-group was to have 25fps and archival frame rates included in D-Cinema standards. It needed a lot of persuasion and patience before some colleagues in Hollywood were convinced that some film makers did indeed work at 25fps not just 24fps. This standardisation work was carried out within the structures of SMPTE and finally translated into ISO, the International Standards Organisation.
In 2008, recognising the difficulties that the Content & Commercial modules were having, the three-module structure was changed into a Technical Support Group (Peter Wilson), a Distribution Support Group under Anders Geertsen and an Exhibition Support Group.
Another reason why the Module and Support Group structures were not sustained was that some of the biggest questions of the day did not sit comfortably in a module or support group structure but rather sat across all of these groups. A classic example of this was the emergence of Alternative Content. A potential “win” for digital cinema was the ability to screen non-movie content in cinemas. This brought into focus questions about funding and technical standards but also fundamental questions about the structure of the industry and the relationship between distributor and exhibitor. A pioneer in the Alternative Content field was EDCF Board Member Kees Ryninks who created Cinemanet. This was a network of cinemas showing non-movie content, primarily documentaries, concerts & opera. Initially these cinemas were equipped with lower specification and therefore cheaper projectors than those being proposed for screening movies.
Eventually the support group structure was abandoned in favour of EDCF being project led. A direct output from this project-led structure was the creation of the EDCF Guide to Film Festivals a project driven by Angelo D’Alessio.
The most successful, long-running project across the years of EDCF’s existence has been the annual LA TOUR. Started in 2005, and still going strong to this day, these annual 2-day visits to Hollywood and Burbank have been the most important benefit of EDCF membership for many members. The driving force behind this idea was to develop stronger ties with the US industry, to offer EDCF members the opportunity to meet with some of the movers and shakers in cinema technology in the US, to increase understanding in the USA of the European industry and to see demonstrations of technologies in development.
The first couple of Tours were certainly very challenging on two fronts. Firstly logistics; transporting 35 people to as many as 8 different locations per day in LA traffic was a problem. Establishing a group hotel, providing a Tour Bus and having assistance from an LA colleague, Thomas Macalla, solved this problem. Secondly, our first meetings with representatives from the Studios were cautious affairs with Studio lawyers limiting areas of discussion due to concerns about US anti-trust laws. However, we soon became recognised as a group that knew how to behave, for example no leaks to the press and the fact that that there was significant expertise in our group which resulted in valuable and meaningful discussions that benefitted everyone. These meetings established long-term friendships with many organisations and many individuals, and even between European members on the Tour. In turn, these relationships spawned a meaningful relationship between EDCF and ISDCF which is discussed below.
I don’t recall a conscious decision within EDCF to provide a bridge between European Cinema and Hollywood but in effect this is what happened and the LA Tour was the most significant part of that process.
Another highly successful project was the EDCF/UNIC SMPTE DCP Project. Why was this needed?
The DCI specification pointed at a particular specification for the DCP or the Digital Cinema Package and the means of packing and transporting movie files to cinemas. For various reasons this was not implemented for several years with “Interop” being deployed as the alternative. Interop is not a standard but rather a packaging format that was agreed between some of the early manufacturers of digital cinema equipment to try to ensure that content was interoperable between all of their systems. The SMPTE DCP is based upon the Interop DCP but with some further enhancements such as support for 3D subtitles. The specification was published as a formal standard by SMPTE & ISO.
After a few false starts, the Studios applied pressure to persuade the industry that the change from Interop to SMPTE DCP needed to happen. However, there was a serious risk associated with the change, namely the possibility that some cinemas would not be able to play the new format and there could be dark screens.
Many cinema operators and their associations were concerned that this move might create technical problems and incur costs. At the UNIC Autumn conference in 2014 a group of interested parties agreed to form a working group to facilitate this transition for all European Cinemas. The group was led by EDCF and UNIC and included Studios, Integrators, Manufacturers and Service Providers. It met regularly from 2015 until COVID-related restrictions intervened in 2020. This was an eyewatering total of 39 meetings run by Dave Monk.
The plan was to create simple but effective test content to be sent to every cinema in Europe on a territory by territory basis with local cinema associations assisting in the collection of the test data. Any problems were identified and dealt with quickly and smoothly. Data collection rates were approaching 80%. This was a long, but ultimately very successful and needed project that saved the industry more problems down the line.
This SMPTE DCP project perfectly demonstrates the strength of EDCF in bringing together would-be competitors to deal with an industry wide issue under the neutral and respected leadership of Dave Monk with support from me.
EDCF Annual Convention
Following the retirement of Antoine Virenque, who had guided the organisation calmly and skilfully since 2008, the respected market analyst David Hancock, who was the go to guy on cinema data and trends and known by almost everyone in global cinema, took over the presidency in 2015 to lead EDCF through its next phase, as laser illuminated projection and LED panels gathered interest for the next round of investments in presentation technology to keep the cinema experience special.
In addition to increasing the organisation’s membership and with a renewed direction following the completion of cinema digitisation, David was responsible for adding an Annual Convention to the EDCF schedule. A two-day event is held in late November for members to review the state of the industry and to agree an action plan for the organisation for the next twelve months. Member companies ARRI, Barco, Cinemanext and The Swedish Film Institute were very helpful in hosting these events.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER ORGANISATIONS
As noted earlier, in its formative years EDCF hosted the first D-Cinema sessions at IBC. Over several years this developed into “The Big Screen”, 3 or 4 days of leading D-Cinema sessions, and the premier event for D-Cinema technology in Europe. With strong support from IBC’s Phil White, EDCF’s CEO, Dave Monk, was the Big Screen producer for several years until the Big Screen Committee was created under Julian Pinn’s chairmanship in 2014. Attracting large audiences and top-flight names such as Ang Lee & James Cameron, the Big Screen Programme continually broke new ground for example providing the first public demonstration of laser projection in Europe and the first demonstration of laser illuminated 3D in Europe. The EDCF’s Global Update became a cornerstone of the Big Screen programme.
SMPTE was, and still is, the leading standards organisation for cinema and therefore it was essential that EDCF engage with SMPTE to fulfil its need to contribute to establishing D-Cinema standards that would be appropriate for Europe as well as the USA. EDCF members contributed to many of the SMPTE groups working on specific areas of technology within D-Cinema. The most significant input being the long process of including 25 frames per second into the D-Cinema standards which were eventually incorporated as ISO standards. Again, EDCF contributed to the ISO working group that finalised these standards.
The European Film Agency Directors (EFADS), was a key group in the early stages of D-Cinema development. These agencies recognised the potential that D-Cinema had to facilitate the distribution of European films and engaged with EDCF because of this. At one point 6 of these agencies were members of EDCF and their subscriptions were a significant contribution to establishing a firm financial basis for the organisation.
Digital Cinema Initiatives (DCI) is a consortium of the Hollywood Studios formed in 2002 to establish specifications for a common systems architecture for digital cinema systems. This became known as the DCI Spec. This hugely important organisation was headed authoritatively by Chuck Goldwater. The EDCF Board realised the importance of developing a relationship with DCI to input into the standards-setting process and to enable the Studios to have a greater understanding of the complexities of European cinema. These complexities included the on-going e-cinema/d-cinema debate the definitions and the different applications. This in turn linked to the concerns about affordability. In these discussions the diversity of European cinema needed regular reminders. The connection between Studio and cinema in the USA was relatively straight forward with the 6 Studios distributing the vast majority of content to cinemas. Meanwhile at that time there were more than 300 distributors operating in Europe! The first meeting with Chuck was held at NAB in 2003 and subsequent meetings took place at NAB, Show West, Cannes and IBC in Amsterdam.
If EDCF was considered to be a bridge between Europe and LA, The Academy was one of the pillars of this bridge. The Academy was the first non-European organisation to become a member of EDCF and Andy Maltz, Managing Director Science & Technology Council, featured each year in the EDCF Global Update at IBC. Furthermore, Andy has hosted a visit by EDCF members on each and every LA Tour, well beyond the call of duty but much appreciated by all.
While DCI drove policy and tackled major issues, there was a clear need to have some means of dealing with the huge number of day-to-day practical issues surrounding the creation, distribution and screening of digital movies. In 2006, the Los Angeles based Inter-Society created the Inter-Society Digital Cinema Forum (ISDCF), a non-executive group representing studios, manufacturers, service providers etc. Under the astute chairmanship of the knowledgeable Jerry Pierce, monthly meetings dealt with problems, produced recommendations, and generally oiled the wheels of digital cinema. Being the nearest thing to this in Europe, EDCF set out to develop a strong relationship with ISDCF and some EDCF members spent many hours late into the evening on conference calls into the ISDCF meetings to ensure that there was European input into these discussions and, in turn, Europeans could discover what issues were on the table in Hollywood and Burbank.
EDCF had steady, continual involvement with the European Commission in different ways across many years. Some of these contacts were very productive but others more contentious. The EU and, more specifically, the MEDIA Programme had a brief to expand cross-border distribution of European films and they saw Digital Cinema as a tool to transform distribution across Europe. EDCF fulfilled an important role here in explaining the technology to the Commission’s bureaucrats and to cinema operators, especially the smaller chains and independents. The annual Europa Cinema conferences were an essential part of this process. It became clear very soon that there were two major and connected issues that were seen as problems for the Commission: affordability and US influence.
The Commission’s view was that a lower standard than that being proposed as a world-wide cinema specification was more appropriate for European Cinema; more akin to E-cinema as set out in the EDCF Four Levels Guide. After much internal debate, EDCF made its position clear that only one single world-wide standard could work to enable every film to be shown in any cinema in the world which replicated the 35mm distribution model. A timely report by Screen Digest’s David Hancock did much to underline the importance of a single international standard. At the same time it was recognised that affordability was a big issue both in the commercial sector as well as the public/arthouse/non-commercial sector.
In 2013, the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) appointed Phil Clapp as President and Kim Pedersen as Vice President. From that point onwards a strong relationship developed between UNIC and EDCF to the benefit of both. EDCF’s role in this relationship was primarily the provision of technical advice and supporting UNIC’s Technical sub group. The value of the relationship between UNIC and EDCF is best demonstrated by the success of the joint SMPTE-DCP project as described above.
A major part of EDCF’s mission has been to educate and inform. This has been achieved by conferences, seminars and publications. The EDCF Annual Global Round-up at IBC has been a very powerful example of the value of EDCF conferences attracting a large international audience for 13 years. Publications both in print and web-based have also been pivotal.
Digital Cinema the EDCF Guide for Early Adopters (also in Spanish)
- EDCF Guide to Digital Cinema Production
- The EDCF Guide to Alternative Content
- EDCF Mastering Guide
- The EDCF Guide to 3D Cinema
- Buyers Guide to Laser Projection
- EDCF Best Practice Guide
- EDCF Guide for Film Festivals
- EDCF Guide to Digital Cinema Mastering
- SMPTE DCP for Dummies
- Ase Kleveland 2001 – 2006
- John Wilkinson 2006 – 2008
- Antoine Virenque 2008 – 2015
- David Hancock 2015 – Present
EDCF BOARD MEMBERS PAST & PRESENT
Cathy huis in’t veld-Esser
Patrick von Sychowski
I would like to thank all of the companies, individuals and organisations that give of their time so freely and generously to support the work of the EDCF, both while I was General Secretary and now. The work it does provides an invaluable help to the industry and long may it continue.