Widespread movie captioning in California came one big step closer to reality in April 2011, when Cinemark announced plans to equip all of its first-run theaters in the state to show closed-captioned movies by June 15 of 2012. Cinemark’s decision led to a friendly resolution of the lawsuit filed by two individuals, Linda Drattell and Rick Rutherford, and by the Association of Late-Deafened Adults. I represented the plaintiffs in the suit in partnership with Disability Rights Advocates, a public-interest law firm based in Berkeley.
Cinemark will convert at least half of its first-run theaters in California to digital projection by June 15 of this year, and will install equipment in each auditorium to show closed-captioned movies. The captions will not be visible to the general audience, but only to patrons who use a viewing device that the theaters will provide at no charge.
Over 80% of the major-studio movies today come with captions. The theaters must install the equipment required to show the captions.
The captioning capability will be installed in conjunction with Cinemark’s conversion of its first-run theaters to digital projection. When digital projecting equipment is installed, film ceases to exist – movies become a package of digitized information transmitted either on computer discs or over the internet. Because there is no film to physically deteriorate, colors don’t fade and the print doesn’t scratch.
Digital projection is highly desirable from the studios’ point of view, because the expense of producing and mailing large canisters of film is enormous. But the benefits to the theaters are less clear, and may in fact be negative, because digital projectors are expensive, and they require considerably more expensive upkeep than film projectors.
While digital conversion has been technically possible for some time, its actual roll-out was delayed while the theaters and the studios negotiated over who paid for it. The precise details of that resolution are at least somewhat confidential, but the general outline is that the theaters will borrow money to finance the conversion, and then the studios will reimburse them over time in the form of a “print fee” paid for showing digital movies.
The delay in widespread digital conversion also hampered the expansion of movie captioning. The equipment used to show captions in theaters using film wouldn’t necessarily work with the equipment used to show captions in a digital theater. Because of that, the theater chains essentially froze their captioning capability for several years rather than buy equipment that might become outmoded.
With the financing questions resolved, at least for the large theater chains, digital conversion is finally under way. As that has occurred, the theaters are also beginning to install equipment necessary to show captions.
Although many people with hearing loss prefer open captions, in which the captions are projected on the screen and are visible to the entire audience, the theaters are firmly convinced that open captions deter other patrons. Therefore,...Read more →