Thursday, April 19, 2012

Film & Digital

                             Good news is everyone can make a movie...
                             Bad news is... everyone can make a movie
                                                  - Unknown on digital age

There's a great article in this week's LA Weekly about the end of film, or at least of real acetate films shown in theaters. Digital screenings are taking over, they're cheaper and smaller than those huge projectors that film demanded.

My first memory of film was when my parents took me to the Crest Theater in my little home town way back in the "olden days". I also remember how a huge rattlesnake hissed at me from the 30-foot wide screen. I was outta there, kicking and screaming.

I could have been done with movies forever. Gone.

But my mom instead took me up to the projection booth where the projectionist sat, I actually think he lived there in a small upstairs room. His name was Leonard and like everyone in a small town, knew my mom and dad.

Mom sat me down on a chair and said I'd be ok and she left to see the rest of the movie. Leonard was too busy to show me anything but I watched the projector, a dinosaur-like contraption that rattled like a train.

There was heat too, warm and cozy, since it was winter outside. It wasn't long before I got the rhythm of the machine, 24 frames per second just like film cameras.

Whatever it was, I was hooked, movies became my life. We moved to a smaller town but it also had a theater, in fact every little town across the country had theaters.

Now, after over 100 years, film is readying itself for it's death. Many directors still prefer to shoot film and Christopher Nolan (of the Batmans) is urging his friends to keep shooting film. The studios, as they always do, think of money.

While some directors are still shooting film, a lot more are going digital for the obvious reasons; smaller, faster, cheaper. Although it's debatable in terms of cheaper as more computers and hard drives become involved.

What's really at issue now revolves around showing movies in digital theaters. It costs $1500 to make a 35mm film print whereas a digital print costs 10% of that. It's an argument that filmmakers will lose, money always wins out.

While I sat in a warm room watching a huge monster roll film through it's jaws and rattle all the way, a kid today couldn't even get to see a projection room, and if they did, they'd be looking at a small hard-drive.

Imagine the inspiration that would give.

The expression at the top relates to the fact that one can film in hours, rather than minutes. And the fact that the easier it is to shoot, the less interesting it gets and the less craft that is shown.

With film, because you had 10 minutes in a 1000 ft magazine from a 35mm and then you had to change film, you tended to be careful with every shot. You made sure it was good. Digital allows you to take more photos than any human could ever watch over their lifetime.

Are they better?

The bigger question with film and digital is this; what about storage.

Have you looked at any of your old VHS tapes lately?

Not only are they bad, they are losing resolution and will soon be useless. And does digital do that too? You bet it does. But there's even more. Digital formats change all the time, how many of you had 35mm cameras, changed to digital and then bought new digital cameras every 2 years or so... because they had more resolution even though the camera you bought earlier could make a perfectly good print.

This need of the industry to create new formats makes it hard as hell to save movies, old ones, not so old ones and even recent ones. What happens if you want to replace your Jennifer Aniston collection only to find that the new technology won't work with the old one.

I have a friend who works at a library and confirms that film can last, if stored right, for 1000 years.

Remember your VHS?