The way we watch TV is changing. For many, that means smaller, mobile screens and a more isolated viewing experience. These aren’t necessarily bad advancements, but there are things we lose when the communal, big-screen viewing experience goes out of style.
Luckily, IMAX doesn’t plan on letting the communal, big-screen viewing experience go out of style anytime soon.
Next month, IMAX, Marvel, and ABC will release the first two episodes of new TV series Marvel’s Inhumans on IMAX screens around the world. Following the IMAX debut, Inhumans will be broadcast on ABC for its entire eight-episode first season.
This is the first time something like this has ever been done. Yes, IMAX has screened TV episodes before — with its successful screening of the last two episodes of Game of Thrones Season 4 in 2015. In that case, however, the episodes had aired on HBO six months prior. IMAX wasn’t bringing anything new to its screens, just giving us a chance to watch Game of Thrones like we never had before.
With Inhumans, IMAX aims to do both: debut a never-before-seen TV show on its screens and show us television on a grander scale than we’re used to. They are not distributing something that already exists, but investing in the production process. They chose Marvel/ABC to partner on this ambitious project, which is part business venture, part experiment.
In an age where the traditional means of production and distribution are constantly changing and, in some cases, being threatened, IMAX is taking some ambitious, innovative chances to change the way we think about on-screen stories.
IMAX gets into the TV game.
How did IMAX’s first TV venture begin? Den of Geek was part of a group of reporters who spoke with IMAX Entertainment CEO Greg Foster on the Hawaiian set of The Inhumans in March during the filming of these historic episodes. He gave us some invaluable insight.
“IMAX’s goal is to provide 52 weeks of compelling content,” said Foster. “The reality is that big tent pole, blockbuster movies, which is how we now make our living, do not come out 52 weeks of the year.”
“[Theaters] don’t really care that studios don’t release big time, full blockbuster movies during eight to ten weeks a year,” continued Foster. “What they care is that they have their biggest grossing screens, which are IMAX screens, and the most trafficked multiplexes, don’t have new product.”
IMAX is growing faster than ever. The theater company — which not only designs and manufactures IMAX cameras, but is also active in film development, production, post-production, and distribution — has 1,200 screens in 74 countries. Foster adds that another 500 theaters are in “backlog,” which means they have already been contracted, but have not yet opened. And the company is looking for the best content to fill all of those screens 52 weeks of the year.
So, IMAX decides it wants to become a production partner in original content, but why TV and not film? “We decided to take advantage of the marketplace, and the fact that, not coincidentally, television shows tend to premiere in the fall,” said Foster. “So, why not do this in a way that helps propel that television show into a different hemisphere?”
Following the success of the Game of Thrones IMAX event in 2015, Foster said IMAX was approached by a lot of other potential TV partners looking to recreate the success Warner Bros’ had seen with the Game of Thrones event. “I don’t have to name the broadcast networks or the streaming companies,” said Foster. “You know who they are. All of the biggest ones.”
But IMAX didn’t simply want to “repurpose old content.” It wanted to help create something new. Why Inhumans? Well, it doesn’t hurt that it is a Marvel property. If you’re going to take a risk on a brand new format, then it’s hard to find a more stable, successful company to balance out that risk than Marvel/Disney. And IMAX already happened to have a great working relationship with Marvel and Disney.
Past that, The Inhumans story is filled with characters and settings that stand to truly benefit from the IMAX experience. As Foster put it, it doesn’t make sense to watch Sleepless in Seattle in IMAX. The larger-than-life screens demand larger-than-life stories.
“It’s something … that is being designed and customized to take advantage of the IMAX footprint, the IMAX scope. It’s a television show. It’s not a movie, but it’s a television show with incredibly high production value, that features a lot of things futuristically, and in space, which lends itself to IMAX.”
Marvel’s Inhumans: a larger-than-life story.
For Inhumans showrunner Scott Buck (Iron Fist), Inhumans is “the perfect Marvel entity to take to IMAX.”
“The Inhumans doesn’t just happen in space or on Earth. We start out at the Moon, we come here to Hawaii and we’re very concentrated on making those places look extremely different.”
While the Moon sets are dark, grey, and utilize some of Hawaii’s brutalist architecture, the scenes set in Hawaii highlight the state’s rainforest, deep valleys, and other natural wonders. “We could have had the Inhumans land anywhere,” said Buck, “but Hawaii seemed to be one place that offered so much depth and so much potential scale and so much potential difference.”
The Inhumans TV show took full advantage of the IMAX techology, bringing in Dutch feature film director Roel Reine (Man With the Iron Fists 2) to shoot the first two episodes for IMAX screens using IMAX cameras. Reine, an IMAX fan himself, called the gig “a dream come true.”
“For me, movies are like, you can be somebody for a matter of two hours that you could not be in real life. You can be in that world. You can be that character, or you can be in this fiction place, and it is better, when you are surrounded with it, with sound and with image, and I really love it.”
Reine said the transition into using the IMAX cameras was much easier than he thought it would be, partially because IMAX had people on set to help with the cameras. “You always thing that IMAX is this big clunky film thing, and it was of course a few years ago,” said Reine. “It was like a minivan, right? So, like a mini cooper — as big. But, with this Alexa 65, it is a different ball game.”
Reine was also able to see ten minutes of Dunkirk, which, at the time, had just been filmed using the IMAX cameras. “I asked [IMAX] for a list of all the lenses that Chris Nolan used, so I could understand the lens length, and what it was doing,” said Reine, adding that the IMAX cameras and format, which is a different shape than regular movie screens, “never limited me, [but] more inspired me to do cool shots.”
Art Director Adam Davis took us on a tour of the set, highlighing the focus on verticality in their design, part of an effort to take full advantage of the IMAX screen’s unique aspect ration. The sets were designed as spacious and, in some cases, adjacent for plenty of walk-and-talk scenes, something that actress Serinda Swan (Medusa) called “wonderful.”
“When you have someone who can do such great set design, or who has a vision on a grand scale, you don’t limit it as an actor. So you don’t walk to the end of the room and you’re like, ‘uhp!’ [And they’re like,] on camera, it’s gonna look massive … But [on this set] they really built things to scale … There’s walk-and-talks. There’s run-and-talks. I mean I could do like a ballet-and-talk in there.”
“There is plenty of action [in the first two episodes],” said Iwan Rheon (Maximus). “I think to create this world and what they’ve done fantastically in the physical sets is unbelievable. I think that that’s really where you see where the money is spent. That’s the difficult thing, to create an original world and to you know and to reach all these aspirations because Attilan could be anything so you know you have to create something.”
Of course, there’s also a risk to IMAX, as well. “I think it’s a little more challenging,” said Buck, “because things that you might be able to get away with on a smaller screen you can’t get away and it’s blown up gigantically … Everything has to be perfect.”
Inhumans cinematographer Jeff Jur elaborated…
“We go into locations and sets and everything with the idea that there is going to be a lot of details that we are going to see a lot in the IMAX screen, which is exciting, it is thrilling. So, the amount of details is maybe a little finer, we always try to be aware of that.”
For most of the cast, crew, and executives gathered during the first few weeks of shooting Inhumans, the risk of this historic project — the first ever TV show made with IMAX cameras and specifically for IMAX screens — seemed to be part of the fun. “This is different,” Foster said of the new business model Marvel’s Inhumans represents. “That’s what makes this so fun. There are no rules. We get to create them.”
Marvel’s Inhumans premieres exclusively in IMAX theaters for a two-week engagement starting September 1st. Tickets are now available for purchase.
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