Sony's Phil Molyneux talks 4K strategy, with Spike Lee as exhibit 'A'

DNP Sony's 4K strategy detailed by Phil Molyneux with Spike Lee as exhibit 'A'

Sony's consumer electronics COO Phil Molyneux has a story to tell about his company's deep plunge into 4K, so who better to help than veteran auteur Spike Lee? The filmmaker's foray into crowdfunded cinema production is well-known, and it turns out that he's using the company's 4K CineAlta PMW-F55 digital cinema cameras on the project, entitled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. The pair spoke at our Expand event in New York, where Molyneux said he had to drag 50 people together from across Sony's divisions to make 4K content distribution happen. Meanwhile, Lee, a moderate technophobe, detailed his first crowdfunding experience and how Kickstarter told him that there would be a "backlash."

Sony's level of commitment to 4K with its production and consumer cameras, projectors, players and TVs begged the inevitable question: What about Ultra HD content? Surprisingly, Phil acknowledged the silo-like nature of the sprawling electronics giant, saying that it often "hasn't worked well together for the greater benefit of the consumer experience." Because of that, he said he brought about a group of people from the company's various divisions together to figure out how to create a 4K consumer distribution network, first announced at CES this year. Having brashly committed to launching the service by the end of the summer, the team managed to get it up just before Labor Day with 70 films (all produced, unsurprisingly, by Sony Entertainment), a feat he described in retrospect as "tremendous."

Now that all the 4K pieces are in place for Sony, Molyneux said that the biggest problem with adoption is consumer awareness. He thinks that the sheer number of companies now producing 4K products helps, and Sony's also attempting to push Ultra HD content creation into the consumer space with the $4,500 FDR-AX1 camcorder -- which well-heeled buyers can pair with their equally pricey 4K TVs. As for pros, Sony's trying to democratize film production more thanks to new 4K production cameras like the PMW-F55 and PMW-F5, running $39,400 and $19,400, respectively. For serious filmmakers, those sums are manageable, believe it or not, and to illustrate the point, Lee came onto the stage to talk about his own experience.

Lee's latest project, bizarrely titled "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus," was crowdfunded on Kickstarter. He admitted he knew nothing about that process other than that some of his NYU film students had funded their school projects that way. However, after his teaching assistant explained that Zach Braff and the producers of Veronica Mars had raised impressive sums, he decided to give it a shot and met with Kickstarter's founders. Though they warned him to expect a backlash -- which totally happened -- he exceeded the $1.25 million goal, raising $1.4 million.

As for his experience using an all-digital shooting workflow, Lee said he quickly adapted to the new Sony cameras, despite the fact that he "still needs his kids to turn on the TV." The cost of using such tech was significantly less than film, as well, since the price of celluloid alone could have eaten up half his budget. The project was shot ahead of schedule, and Lee said that he was able to use his film school students as crew while taking a "run-and-gun" shooting style thanks to the relative simplicity of the PMW-F55. Though he remained coy on the film's story, he said it would be about people who need to drink human hemoglobin to live, but who "aren't vampires." Adding that while the story revolved around blood, the theme of addiction could take any form, including technology or "Air Jordans."