In a 2.16 interview with Zaki Hasan (i.e, Zaki’s Corner), The Wolfman director Joe Johnston complains about something I and Roger Ebert and others have moaned about before — the deplorable tendency of commercial exhibitors to turn down the projection-light levels, which degrades the values in the film being shown.
“Standard projection brightness is intended to be 16 foot lamberts,” Johnston says. “This is a measurement of the amount of light reflected off the screen, back into a light meter. Projection bulbs are expensive, and if the urban myth is correct, there is a near monopoly on them so the manufacturer can name their price, which I’ve heard is around $400 each. These bulbs last longer if the current surging through them is dialed down, resulting in reduced foot lamberts which of course means a darker screen and a less vibrant image.
“The exhibitors save money by needing to replace projection bulbs less often and the filmgoing public gets a less satisfactory experience. You would be shocked to see the difference in image quality between 16 and 12 foot lamberts, 12 being a common meter reading at a lot of chain theaters. Only a few of the big premier theaters even bother to ‘read the screen’ and keep the brightness where it’s supposed to be.”
I was told a few years ago that some theatres actually dial the foot-lambert levels down to 10 or lower.
“People who love movies and want their money’s worth should demand that theater chains keep the brightness levels where they should be. Exhibitors should have a choice of who they buy the bulbs from, there should be market competition to bring the price down, and someone should invent a projection bulb that will only work at 16 foot lamberts..” Excellent idea, that last one.