Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Digital killed the Film Star

As independent filmmakers, we have benefited from the digital takeover - digital media has enabled the filmmaking and distribution processes much more affordable and accessible for us - but the digital revolution has a much broader effect than one might be aware of. Digital media is affecting everything from how you watch your favorite films at the movie theater to how you save your own work.

Say goodbye to film projection: digital projection is quickly sweeping over movie theaters worldwide. Roger Ebert posted a letter from Twentieth Century Fox, who stated that "within a year or two" they will stop sending out film prints. Digital distribution is more economic than distributing film prints to theaters, but the change to digital projectors is a costly move for theater owners. Many movies are now filmed digitally, and this year alone has seen over thirty 3D releases. Observations on film and art reports: "No technological development since 1930 has demanded such a top-to-bottom overhaul of theatres. Assuming a modest $75,000 cost for upgrading a single auditorium, the digital conversion of US screens has cost $1.5 billion."

And if you're a fan of "the film look" like I am, you might worry about how digital projection is changing your experience at the movie theater. Roger Ebert writes: "Film carries more color and tone gradations than the eye can perceive. It has characteristics such as a nearly imperceptible jiggle that I suspect makes deep areas of my brain more active in interpreting it. Those characteristics somehow make the movie seem to be going on instead of simply existing." Although one would argue that many digital transfers today do a good job at preserving some of the film grain and "look", they are simply two different media and they produce two different experiences.

Outside of the filmgoing experience, the digital revolution affects filmmakers - mainly independent filmmakers who rely on digital storage for their work. An article in Variety notes that "digital storage, be it on hard drives, DVDs or solid-state memory, simply isn't on a par for anything close to the 100-plus-year lifespan of film. The life of digital media is measured in years, not decades, and file formats can go obsolete in months, not years", making preserving our work very vulnerable. Considering the extended amount of time independent filmmakers experience for possible distribution, preserving work is big issue for us. (Read more on this particular issue here)

Get more in-depth on this film vs. digital issue with these great articles from Observations on Film and Art here and here.

How do you feel about the digital takeover in the industry? Is film truly dead?

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