Boeing’s star turn

  • BRYAN CORLISS / Herald Writer
  • Tuesday, November 14, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

By BRYAN CORLISS

Herald Writer

SEATTLE – Boeing’s top satellite engineers were on hand Tuesday for a sneak peak at a movie with a plot revolving around a fatal airline accident.

This was no training film.

It was part of a demonstration of a system that can digitally transmit Hollywood movies to theaters worldwide using Boeing’s network of global communications satellites. About half of all communications satellites orbiting the Earth are owned by Boeing, said Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing Space &Communications Group.

“Boeing is more than an airplane company,” Albaugh said. “We are in the business of broadband connectivity. We understand how to get large data files to many locations simultaneously.”

To demonstrate, Boeing, Miramax Films and AMC Theaters on Tuesday screened portions of the new Ben Affleck-Gwyneth Paltrow romance “Bounce,” which opens nationwide on Friday.

The film was transmitted as a 51-gigabyte data file over a fiber-optic and satellite network from Los Angeles to New York for the event. It was the first time that a digital movie had been transmitted by satellite, and it occurred about five years ahead of most industry projections, Miramax Films president Mark Gill said.

“What you’re looking at is the future of motion-picture distribution – motion-picture broadcasting,” said Affleck, who spoke at a video press conference originating in New York.

Digital movie production and distribution could revolutionize the motion picture industry, Gill said.

The satellite transmission system can dramatically lower the cost of getting a movie into distribution, by eliminating the need to produce multiple copies of expensive film reels for each theater.

Cheaper production and distribution should make it easier for independent filmmakers to get their work into theaters, Affleck said. “My hope is it augers for an era of better movies.”

It also will open up a new era for theaters, said Disney spokesman Phil Barlow.

With the ability to transmit digital images by satellite, theaters will be able to hold new kinds of entertainment events, he said. Imagine watching a high-definition broadcast of the Super Bowl on a 40-foot screen, he said, or taking part in a nationwide college lecture series or a live music concert.

Converting theaters so they can show digital films will cost about $130,000 per screen, said Ron Mahel, Boeing Satellite Systems’ senior vice president for business development. Boeing Commercial Credit is working on a plan to help finance those conversions, he said.

As for the movie, Affleck stars as a hot-shot young ad executive who meets a beautiful woman at the airport and swaps plane tickets with another man so he can spend the night with her. The man, who is in a hurry to get home to his wife (played by Paltrow), dies when the plane goes down.

Haunted by this, Affleck seeks out Paltrow to see if there is anything he can do to help her “bounce” back. The two fall in love, and Affleck is left to struggle over whether to reveal his connection to the death of his new love’s husband.

Demonstrating the satellite system with a movie that involves a jetliner crash did raise a few eyebrows around Boeing, public relations manager Amanda Landers said.

But the crash scene is shown only briefly – too briefly to determine what kind of airplane is down.

“It’s not one of those disaster movies that shows people on a plane going down,” Landers said. “It’s more of a love story.”

Affleck created a buzz at Boeing headquarters before the press conference when he called Chief Operating Officer Harry Stonecipher to ask about buying a Boeing Business Jet, a customized 737. Stonecipher arranged for a demonstration flight on one of the jets, which sells for $37.5 million at list prices.

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