Some cinema stories begin with a history waiting to be discovered. Hidden pasts, a tapestry of tales awaiting the perfect moment to emerge. Such is the story of a remarkable private cinema in the hills overlooking the Los Angeles skyline and the Pacific Ocean.
“I bought a property that had a 35-millimeter theater in it that had been built in the nineties,” reports the owner, a self-described audio and film enthusiast. “A great building, separate from everything else, but decades old.” Those decades, however, had seen noteworthy Hollywood guests who availed themselves of the 35-millimeter screening room. Stories that remained hidden like an elusive holy grail. Foretelling a fantastic future, as we will see.
The owner had inherited his enthusiasm. “I really was an enthusiast of audio to start,” he recalls, clarifying, “Home theaters didn’t exist back then per se. But my dad was an audiophile of his era, the sixties, seventies, and eighties.” He took that legacy to school, where he had outfitted his “tiny room with a pair of AR-11s and a Marantz receiver.” He recalls, “The first thing you did when you woke up in the morning was put on an album, and the last thing you did at night was turn off your stereo.” He recalls that he was “on top of the world!”
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Ryan Brown, Paradise Theater’s President, remembers getting the call. “We were busy with several projects, many in Beverly Hills and surrounding areas, and several DCI theater projects. So, when I first heard of a unique project, I didn’t realize how unique it would be!” After an introductory telephone conversation outlining the Paradise Theater design and engineering process, Ryan agreed to meet on site to see it himself. What he observed at first glance was a study in contradictions. “On one hand, there is this really great brick building with a barn wood interior that just shouts character and history, a soaring ceiling complete with timber trusses, a vast and intriguing space.” He recalls, going on to say, “Contrast that with aged AV, which clearly had not been engineered to any real standards, a dated interior that felt unplanned and construction elements that would require a lot of attention if the owner’s stated objectives were to be met.” Objectives that needed to be sorted out. “What was clear was that he [the owner] wanted a DCI compliant 4K image and Dolby Atmos sound. He said he wanted the best.” The best is what requires clarification.
“The best really has to be defined for each client,” explains Ryan. “In this case, we had a good indicator due to the DCI and Dolby standards. Where we needed clarity was that the systems alone and the existing room would not likely meet the client’s real expectations.” The owner had a point of reference, stating, “Our expectations are set by our experiences in life, so my best movie experience would be a theater.” He stated his goal was “to have one of the premier theaters in Los Angeles’” Not a trivial standard for someone who has personally experienced a screening at the Paramount Studios screening room. However, he was still unconvinced of the need to revise his room significantly. A room that was, after all, a dedicated building and purpose built as a screening room.
Making the best of his face-to-face client meeting, Ryan set up an ad hoc design meeting with Paradise Theater’s founder and director of design and engineering. “Sam works from Hawaii, so I suggested we hop on a Zoom call while walking through the room with the owner,” recalls Ryan. “I had taken some pictures and had identified a few issues. When Sam got on the call, we got into how some of the issues would affect performance. The chemistry was instant, and before long, we were talking about moving walls, adding doors, seating arrangements, sight lines, and developing design ideas. It quickly became clear he wanted more than just a quick refresh of the interior and equipment.” Paradise Theater was retained, and the real work began.
Paradise Theater designers and engineers merged construction drawings, as-built and field observed conditions, into a 3D model the team used to develop a functional concept. A vital first step that is always a balancing act made more difficult by the need to work within the constraints of an existing building and the stringent standards of DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) and Professional Dolby ATMOS. Solutions cycled through engineering, design, and construction teams to assure compliance with state-of-the-art performance standards, aesthetic preferences, and feasibility before being presented to the owners for final review.
This concept also featured a new lobby that facilitated proper housing of the substantial DCI projector, new seating layouts, and other modifications that were a hit. “The family’s new private cinema became something very real at that point, and we were able to build their [the owners’] confidence.” Ryan recalls, adding, “It was time to establish some budgetary estimates!”
The revitalized cinema interior, previously opening immediately into the screening room, featured a proper lobby. A change that served both form and function, providing a vestibule to allow entry from the outdoors without interruption but also introducing a sense of anticipation for guests who can gather, visit the adjacent concessions kitchenette and prepare to enter the auditorium for a showing. This separation of the auditorium from the entry acoustically encapsulates the space and facilitates proper rear speaker location.
It also elegantly integrates the DCI projector, with its significant noise level, in the equipment room above. Auditorium entry is through a pair of acoustically sealed doors at each side, offering unobtrusive access to and from the auditorium. Aesthetically discrete, the doors are clad in barn wood on the lobby side and match the rear wall fabric in the cinema. A fabric that also covers the gabled ceiling some 14’ above. A massive surface that is articulated with rustic wood beam trusses. The complementary acoustically transparent fabric conceals the 18 loudspeakers and many acoustical devices arrayed above.
In any celebrated production, much must be accomplished before opening night, and what happens behind the scenes is paramount. That is the case as M2 Multimedia engineered and procured the systems that would drive a world class cinema experience. M2’s Matt Milstein relates, “It’s technically two systems. The fact that we had the ability to do DCI indicated a Dolby ATMOS processor and signal path.” This is about the owner’s access to films in a DCP format (Digital Cinema Package) directly from the studios as a member of the Belair Circuit. “Or he can choose to watch consumer content from his Kaleidescape movie server or even down to the streaming level,” Matt explains. “The technology to interface the DCI signal path and the consumer signal path, both essential in a room like this, can be daunting.” M2 engineers worked with their consultants to create a reliable and seamless interface minimizing the learning curve for the owners. Matt boasts, “To this day, we don’t get phone calls about it.”
The goal, as we understood it was, what’s the best you’ve got? Because that’s what we want to put in: “The ability to not only replicate the cinematic environment but also realize higher performance than the [public] cinema means having a better experience, better video, better audio, and more comfortable seating in your own private cinema.”
Producing a superior video experience was a team effort as well. Paradise engineers had calculated the screen size, aspect ratios, and viewing angles, but there was some “heavy lifting” required to make that perfection possible. Daniel Nilsson, Global Director of Barco Residential, advises, “Our goal is to make it possible to create an experience matching the commercial cinema. Many of our residential models are derived from a commercial cinema projector which we have optimized for compatibility with 4K consumer sources such as Kaleidescape. Also, contrast is increased even further when these powerful machines are calibrated for even the largest residential screen”. Housing the Barco Residential Prometheus cinema at home projector, at a hefty 318 pounds, is not a simple task under any circumstances. The de rigueur location of a dedicated projection booth directly behind the auditorium was not an option. Instead, the room was above, at a height that conflicted with DCI criteria and compromised image quality.