Hell About to Freeze Over!!

9 08 2007

Remember when people said that Digital Cinema in movie theatres would happen shortly after hell froze over.

Be prepared to buy more warm coats.

The Hollywood Reporter writes in an article in Monday’s edition (entitled “Digital cinema standard is coming soon” that, if plans stay on track, that there will be more digital screens than film screens by 2010. Proposed plans call for more than 20,000 digital screens by then.

“Once beta markets feel ready, installation will accelerate,” said John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theatre Owners. “We believe that will occur in 2008.”

Though nothing is guaranteed, and the article points out a number of issues that could delay this implementation, we now appear to be over the hump for adoption in North America.

I have long felt that, once the labs lost the print income that is keeping the physical developers and printers running, that it would not be long before labs would start to pull out of the dailies processing business. In fact, since more and more films are skipping the film print altogether (in favor of HD dailies and previews) that labs would have to jack up the price of processing to such a level that most films would find it prohibitive. Sure, there will still be telecine/scanning for them, but we will begin to hear the ticking clock that will turn into the death rattle for film.

The prevailing wisdom is that filmmakers love shooting on film too much to give that up. However, with digital cinema soon to be here, and with HD resolutions beginning to overtake film is certain areas, the economics of moving away from film negative are going to ultimately make that decision for those filmmakers. Some labs will still hold out, though at drastically reduced size. Then, after a while, the talent to run those machines is going to go away. DP’s will have moved to tapeless cinema for capture and will be comfortable with it.

There was a panel here at UFVA run by Kodak, who claimed that film will not die for a very long time. Not only, they claim, do you get better image quality by capturing on film, but it’s the only reliable archive medium.

Could be (though there are some who would debate the latter point). But, at a certain point, it may be easier to buy film stock than it is to process it. It’s not the aesthetics that drive this business, it’s the business that drives the business.

You’d better get used to it.

Tick, tock. Tick tock. TICK TOCK!

Powered by ScribeFire.




4 responses

10 08 2007

I think that the use of film in production will fade away quickly, but using film for very long-term archiving is a very good idea. The technology behind retrieving an archive from film is very simple. Kodak need only produce a non-biodegradable stock that can last thousands of years. If civilisation breaks down and builds back up again, all you need is a light source. The rest can be worked out from that – in 100,000 years humans will probably still move at the same speed, the frame rate can be worked out from that. Once magnetism and electricity are rediscovered, future humans will be able to hear the optical soundtrack… Your post was categorised as being about ‘The Future’ right?! I still have some Mac 400K floppy discs from 1984. They stopped being readable by Mac OS in 1997. That’s not much time for a machine readable format to last. For a project designed to help knowledge survive the fall of civilisation, check out The Rosetta Disk

11 08 2007
Mike Curtis

I think there is a two prong dealie going on here:

1.) Digital distribution makes financial sense for the distributors (not quite as much for the exhibitors, since they get far less value from the conversion, but they do gain important flexibility to do things like vary how many screens they run a film on)

2.) Digital acquisition is an independent variable from digital distribution. ALL films of any reasonable size these days are done with a DI – so all movies, regardless of acquisition format, end up in a digital format during the post production process. The fact that the end product may be shown on film or on digital projection I feel is a largely independent variable from the acquisition format chosen for a given show.

3.) The economic forces pushing towards digital cinema cameras (which at the high end are distinguished from just “HD” cameras, and I’d include the Viper, D-20, Origin, Red, SI-2K, F23, Genesis, etc. (and maybe the F950, which I never hear of anybody using) are about quality at or above the minimum thresholds of “good enough” for feature film work, and at what cost. Digital offers a number of advantages for speed and convenience of post, and certainly cost savings (no film processing, telecine, scanning, etc.) with a few replacements (more expensive decks to dig from, potential downconvert costs). Wait, I’m getting lost in my parentheses!

Anyway, point being, caveats aside, the newest high end digital acquisition is pretty darn good, getting better very fast, and cost effective.

But that doesn’t mean digital projection is a given.

Your point about less work for the labs pushing up prices and hastening their demise is a good one I hadn’t thought of.

In much the same way that film stock costs are likely to rise since consumer film industry is massively on the wane, and R&D and tooling costs are leveraged from the consumer lines which are going away, I can see labs suffering similarly.

I’d expect that at some point in the next 10 years for the quantity of cinematic film stock sold to decrease. And the price to go up as it becomes a more specialty business.

The highest end film folks will still shoot film for major features, but digital will become more and more widely implemented.


11 08 2007
Mike Curtis

oh – and as for archival purposes, film rocks. Color seps, baby. How to decode zeroes and ones is tough. How to shine a light through a transmissive medium and record is it pretty straightforward.

Some have suggested encoding the 0s and 1s on B&W film. Not a bad idea, but harder to read.


28 08 2007
E-Books « Hello World!! (a blog from Norman Hollyn)

[…] been saying for years that, once the finances of digital distribution of features are settled, then the only thing that will hold back the mass adoption of it will be the audience perception of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: