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Digital shooting and projection

Discussion in 'The Moving Picture' started by Doctor Strange, Apr 13, 2012.

  1. I know we have discussed this somewhat on the threads about The Artist and others, but it deserves its own thread.

    It isn't news to any of us that film - that is, old-school photochemical film - is on its deathbed. Film as a distribution medium will effectively be gone in just a couple of years. The changes occurring in both creating and and showing movies are enormous, and the consequences significant... and not always in the ways you'd expect. This article lays it out very well:


    And this is the first of a series of excellent long articles:


    As a lifelong movie buff/collector/scholar and lover of older technologies, I find aspects of this situation unbelievably sad. There's no question that digital cinema is great in some ways, but I mourn the inevitable loss of art houses and small theaters, and the many thousands of old films that will never migrate to digital versions and eventually become nearly impossible to see. And since digital formats aren't remotely as archival as film, much is going to be lost going forward - someday, it will be equivalent to the situation with silent films: vast numbers will simply have been lost.

    Of course, I personally still run 16mm and Super 8 film (not to mention VHS tapes), but it's strange: I went from being a weirdo when I began collecting in the 1970s - before the introduction of home video, when just owning movies was an unusual hobby - to being a weirdo now because I still champion old media!

    I know something is always lost when there's a technological paradigm shift, but this situation is really distressing to a serious lover of film!
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2012
  2. Maybe there is some hope. Film photography is supposed to have died a thousand deaths, yet many of us still use it.

    Off topic, a news item recently focussed on a family whose house was broken into, and two laptops were taken among other things. The story angle - the two computers had virutally ALL the family "photos" on them. The story never mentioned a word on the fact these people never printed copies.

    Ah, technology....
  3. Yes, and I'm still happily shooting with my film cameras and developing b/w film. But that's a personal thing that I can control: if I still want to do it "the hard way", it's just me.

    However, the changes to the movie industry are beyond my ability to influence. And even worse, when Kodak - whatever it gets reorganized into - stops making 35mm film for movie cameras and projectors, you can bet that its tiny still photography division will finally stop producing Tri-X and T-Max negative film!
  4. many people feel that the 24 frames per minute of film over the higher digital is more comfortable to watch. Some digital video is done in 24fps to preserve the film feel. It is a choice on some digital video cameras and I belive that some editing programs can change higher rates to approximate 24fps.
  5. jlee562

    jlee562 My Mail is Forwarded Here

    I read that LA weekly piece too.

    As someone who greatly appreciates film, I am watching the digital switch with great consternation. I appreciate the clarity of digital projection, and I understand the economic sense that it makes. But digital is not film. It's an entirely different medium. The frame rate, the color saturation, etc, make film a unique medium distinct from digital.
  6. Atomic Age

    Atomic Age Practically Family

    The fact of the matter is that all 3 major motion picture film camera companies, Panavision, Arri, and Aaton, have stopped making new 35mm film cameras. No new 35mm film cameras will be made from this point forward. Most rental houses still have collections of film cameras for rent, but most of them report that rentals of film cameras have dropped off to around 1/3 of their business in 2011.

    Some see this as doom and gloom, but I'm not one of them. I think as more and more theaters convert to digital, you will start to see revival houses that will be able to show a classic film that looks brand new, and not some scratchy old print. Many of the studios are doing full 4K digital restorations on their films when they are prepped for blu-ray. This means that high resolution digital cinema versions of the films will be available to any theater that is able to project them. Not only that the cost of running a classic film will drop, because 12 reels of 35mm film no longer need be shipped by air freight, but rather sent via digital high speed connection right to the theaters media storage center.

    I actually think that the golden days of classics in a theater are ahead, not behind.

    Last edited: Apr 15, 2012
  7. Atomic Age

    Atomic Age Practically Family

    Actually most films shot digitally are shot at 24fps just like film, and the new cameras such as the Red Epic that shoot 4k, have latitude and color reproduction that is very film like.

    As an example, the recent movie Super 8, was shot full frame 35mm with Panavision anamorphic lenses. However when they went back to do reshoots, (which ended up being almost 1/3 of the movie) they shot on the Red One. (not even the Epic as it was not out yet.) I defy you to tell which parts of the move are 35mm film, and which are digital, shot on the Red.

    The look of a film has much more to do with the skill of the cinematographer, than it does with the equipment it was shot on.

  8. Looking at this from the perspective of an exhibitor, it's something that's making us feel blackjacked. Conversion to a DCP-compliant booth is going to be very difficult for us, as a single-screen small town indie house. We're exactly the kind of theatre that could be ground into the dust by this so-called "progress" unless the studios are compelled to finance the cost of conversion, as they did with the changeover to sound. There's an organized movement afoot among arthouses nationwide to push them to do just that. Sony has been offering a financed system, but it's so tied down with strings -- nobody but a Sony tech is allowed to open the casing or make adjustments, and we're hundreds of miles away from the nearest such tech if something goes wrong -- to say nothing of being of shoddy techinical quality -- that we're not even considering that company.

    As for our own plans, we're watching the situation closely. A theatre a few miles down Route 1 is going digital this spring and seems to be having nothing but trouble with the process, both financial and technical, so that doesn't exactly fill us with confidence. Our situation is complicated by our size -- the size of our auditorium and screen are such that even the smallest DCP system is actually too big for us. For digital events like the Met Opera we actually use a very powerful business-type projector which cost us a lot of money and is only a couple of years old -- it works fine for both HD events and the occasional feature which comes in on Blu-Ray.

    So, at present we're in wait-and-see mode, because we have no other choice. The only studio so far to have definitely announced an end to 35mm distribution is Fox, which has announced it will stop at the end of this year. But there is *heavy* exhibitor pressure on them to reconsider this plan, and it wouldn't surprise me to see that change.

    I haven't been impressed with the digital shows I've seen at our local multiplex -- I still think film gives a better show, and even our HD projector offers a better image than whatever they're using. So the argument that it's better quality doesn't wash with me. It's a marketing scheme, pure and simple, and it's pretty close to something that could fall under anti-trust laws if they don't watch it.
  9. Captain Lex

    Captain Lex One of the Regulars

    I work for what may be the last independent theater in the Twin Cities not to have converted yet, and it hasn't spelled the death of any that have, nor will it be ours. One theater even chose its digital conversion time as an opportunity to renovate the entire building. There's a theater north of here that mysteriously decided to stop showing their retro films due to their conversion. I do not understand the logic there. I went to see Back to the Future at the movie theater in the Mall of America, and was shocked to see the Blu-Ray logo dance across the screen after the credits--I hadn't noticed for the entire film that it had been digital. By contrast, when I later went to see Back to the Future at the Lagoon theater in Minneapolis, it was obvious it was a print: it was scratchy, it had frames missing, and the color had faded.

    That said, seeing Brian de Palma's Blowout once on 35 and once digitally definitely gave more credit to the 35--but the projector used for the digital screening was not DCP.

    It's definitely true that some--even many--theaters will not be able to make conversion. But this is the inevitable cost of progress.

    As far as filming digitally goes...well, I'm definitely in favor of the democratization of the medium. I understand that 35 has its own special characteristics in color, contrast, and motion, but there are largely incidental and arbitrary consequences of the process. It's no secret that the 24fps framerate is less realistic than digital's 30 or 60; it was not chosen deliberately. It's simply what we've grown used to. There's nothing wrong with wanting to preserve that look (which, if I were a filmmaker, I would likely do), but it's hardly better.

    The problems for archives, while real, seem only to exist for independent archives. They don't seem to even entertain the idea of keeping the masters digitally encoded on a Blu-Ray disc or alternative. I wonder why this is.

    I do not disbelieve that there are stumbling blocks, but I think perhaps everything we may have to sacrifice will be worth it in the long run.

    EDIT: Bordwell discusses a nightmarish scenario of trying to preserve film stocks when the ecosystem has disappeared--which only highlights the weaknesses of that medium for preservation.

    EDIT2: Access keys are likely to be a horrible, nightmarish bane on digitally distributed cinema. One can only hope that soon this medium, as all digitally media eventually do and must do, realizes how harmful its DRM is to its own existence.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2012
  10. Here is as good an explanation as I've yet seen of why this whole digitization swindle is bad news for indie theatres and the people who appreciate them. We're being bamboozled, folks. It's *not* just about convenience and picture quality -- it's about the big companies wanting control of what goes on our screen, and the screens of every other indie house. Alternative, low-budget regional film festivals? Forget it. Alternative content? Forget it. Classics that aren't the ones you've already seen fifty times over? Forget it. When you sign one of those VPF deals, you sign away your right to show what you feel your audience wants, how and when you want to show it. You surrender your right to equip your booth as you see fit with the equipment you prefer. It's The Motion Picture Patents Corporation all over again, only a century later. Except now there's no Carl Laemmle willing to stand up and spit in The Trust's eye.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2012
  11. Captain Lex

    Captain Lex One of the Regulars

    There's no Carl Laemmle yet. I seriously doubt the more insidious elements are going to become industry standard without a serious fight. I don't think bloggers are the only people aware of the challenges, and I'm confident those challenges will be met as soon as they have to be. The conditions described in these nightmare scenarios simply aren't sustainable. There'll be casualties, but it will work itself out.

    There'll be a tremendous effort to work out those kinks because few if any of those problems are inherent with digital distribution. The inherent advantages will be the motivation to work out the incidental (but no less substantial) problems.

    This post was rather italics-heavy, now, wasn't it?
  12. The feeling of dread people are expressing is experiencing how undemocratic this forced change is. Directors should have the choice to shoot on film or digital but when film is no longer being produced where exactly is that choice? The same lack of choice holds true for theaters being strong-armed into converting to digital lest they have little to show on their screens.

    What is scary is the rush to convert while certain drawbacks and apprehensions are being expressed.
  13. It's not about art, democratization, convenience, quality, or necessity. It's about dollars, and nothing else. If they could eliminate all directors, writers, and actors, and replace them with a series of automated digital algorithms, they would. And probably they will.
  14. Captain Lex

    Captain Lex One of the Regulars

    Well, when film stops being produced, yes, they don't have the choice. Market factors will always limit freedom, and that is unavoidable. They don't have the 'choice' to use 8mm film either, because it's outdated--even if it does have a specific look and feel. Framing the medium choice as a dichotomy between digital and 35mm film tends to overlook that 35mm film isn't the only way either. There are plenty of alternative techniques and media that don't have any traction because they aren't practical. A standard had to be adapted for medium; for a long time--almost all of film's history--35mm stock was the most practical solution, so it was adapted, at the exclusion of other media with their own characteristics. Now, digital is the most practical solution. We're moving from one marriage of convenience to another, and a bunch of people who've remembered the benefits of the first are claiming it's objectively better.

    The problems with digital distribution, archiving, etc. are real. The problems with shooting digitally are essentially trivial--no different (in magnitude) from the problems with shooting on 35mm for someone who knows digital as well as current cinematographers know 35mm. Hard drives can get wiped? Negatives can be exposed. Data corrupted? Prints spoiled.

    I think as long as big-earners like Christopher Nolan continue to push for it, it will remain an option. That said, I imagine we're seeing the last such generation of filmmakers now. Not only will new filmmakers be more open to shooting digitally (not having started on 35), but digital camera technology will be able to seamlessly emulate 35mm shooting--which it nearly can now.

    The bottom line is demand will never go unfulfilled. If the need for 35 is real--even only artistically--then it simply won't go away. If it does go away and they start to miss it, it'll come back. I doubt the movie industry will find itself in need of 35 cameras and manufacturers will simply respond "Sorry, boys, S.O.L." If there's a need, it'll be filled.

    Most of the problems brought up with digital (shooting and distribution/preservation) are real problems (of varying degree), but none of them can't be fixed. As such, I guarantee they will be fixed.

    Aside: Does anyone know about Lumière and Company? 41 directors from around the world were invited to use the Lumière brothers' original camera. If this camera still works, and film stock can be made for it, after what was then 100 years, I think directors who truly wish to use 35 will be able to for some time.
  15. Wow Sarah Moon, David Lynch, Spike Lee

    3 takes? Bela Tarr would have had a field day with this. Surprised he wasn't on the list.

    Film will live on. Its confusing they want digital to look like film when they already have film.

    I'm a strict film photographer as long as its around I will use it.
  16. Hear, hear.

    And here it is 2013, the "end of 2012" deadline has come and gone, and Fox is still distributing 35mm prints.
  17. not sure if it's been mentioned in another thread, but the documentary 'Side by Side' is all about the film to digital debate and hears arguments from both sides:


    ...if you haven't seen it don't let the fact that it has Keanu Reeves as 'host' put you off.
  18. MikeKardec

    MikeKardec Practically Family

    I love the smell of film, real film. Hell, I love the smell and the sound and the feel of working on mechanical equipment. I love the look of film and, though you can approach that look on digital, the hoops you have to jump through and the finicky aspects of making it look that way require a lot of effort. How many TV series have you seen that look fine until there is one shot that just screams VIDEO? In those cases they almost had control of the medium. A bit more time, a bit better lighting and that shot might have been okay. It's been ten years since I worked on a real film set and when I did we were still using real film, Kodak Vision, a truly beautiful stock.

    Today my friends complain about how hard it is to hide flaws from HD cameras. Set construction must be flawless, make up ... sheesh, it's best to wax all the tiny hairs off of you actor's faces so the build up of make up on the HAIRS doesn't show! Make up errors show up on extras at a fair distance. Film looked great, had the appearance of extremely high definition yet side stepped many true HD issues.

    On the other hand it was noisy, dirty, expensive and ran out in ten minutes ... and, worst of all, the back end, processing post and duplication was overwhelmingly expensive and slow.

    I still work in the recording industry doing Audio Dramas. If I was in music I might love analog tape. But digital equipment has saved our lives and reduced our costs so that we can still do it even though it's mostly sort of a "paying" hobby. Film and analog tape, mediums you can not manipulate in a computer, locked you into having to work with big, professional, expensive plants. Photo labs, recording studios and the like. When that is a requirement big business takes over your life. I'm not really sure if cameras like the Canon 5D (the bottom end of "professional" video capture) are any cheaper to buy today than a Bolex or Beaulieu or Eclair 16mm camera was when I was in film school ... but everything down stream is cheaper, meaning post production and the potential for distribution.

    I believe Argo was shot on film. It will probably be the case that movies use chemical film for quite a few more years in the cameras. Then it will be scanned (as it has been for quite awhile) into a digital format for post. What is definitely dying is the projection of film.

    ... and, gosh, I love projectors too!

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