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Old August 30th, 2004, 10:37 PM   #1
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Why are we still using film for movies?

Hey gang,

After reading up on all the different formats for shooting motion pictures I keep wondering why the movie industry still uses film and even still keeps that fill at 24 frames per second.

Why haven't they gone digital? Whenever I see these "behind the scenes" or "the making of" shows they still have the big huge Panavision cameras.

Why?

Fast action on the big screen gets blurry and looks terrible, in my opinion.

Anyhow, just curious why TV is looking to go to HD in the next couple years but we're still going to be watching movies shot on film in the theaters.
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Old August 30th, 2004, 10:58 PM   #2
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A common enough question, so with a little searching you'll find thread upon thread about this topic here, with many more learned opinions. But here are what I think are the three main reasons why film is still in use.

THE INSTITUTIONAL REASON. "It's always been done that way." Most working cinematographers know how to shoot with film. There are established, reliable, relatively inexpensive workflows for celluloid, entire labs devoted to developing, printing, and duplicating film, and there's a whole industry of exhibitors with tens of millions of dollars invested in tens of thousands of film projectors, an investment they won't discard wantonly. A corollary to this is The Sentimental Reason--"I just like film." An illogicality though it may be--or symbolic gesture, depending on your squint--many filmmakers, Spielberg included, have vowed to shoot all of their works on celluloid.

THE QUALITATIVE REASON. "Film just looks better." In terms of both resolution and dynamic range, a frame of 35 mm film captures a higher fidelity image than a CineAlta or Viper Filmstream CCD. (The resolution problem will be solved long before electronic dynamic range begins to approach that of photochemical processes.)

THE ECONOMIC REASON. "It's no more expensive." Except in cases of very high schooting ratios, shooting film isn't appreciably more expensive than shooting high definition video, since the principal cost of a feature film isn't the shooting medium. And, especially for small budget projects, posting on film is considerably less expensive than a specialized HD online suite at someplace like FotoKem Digital.

All of these reasons will change as technology improves and the old guard gives way to the young whippersnappers (all film students learn digital video production and editing these days), but something makes me think that your primary objection to film--its 24 frames per second frame rate--will not change with the digital revolution. In fact, one of the first major pushes of video cameras was the capacity of cameras to shoot at 23.98 fps rather than the NTSC or PAL standard frame rates common to video systems.

A more interesting question: is there any human endeavor that has driven technology and been driven by technology more than cinema? Warfare and space exploration are good candidates, but come on, which would you rather have had: spy satellites and velcro, or Gigli?
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Old August 31st, 2004, 12:07 AM   #3
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Robert,

Well, this is getting way OT (we'll probably get shut down any moment now), but I couldn't let this go. :-)

<<<-- Originally posted by Robert Knecht Schmidt : is there any human endeavor that has driven technology and been driven by technology more than cinema? -->>>

Was this meant to be sarcastic? :-))
What technology has been driven by cinema?

On the contrary, the military and space efforts have contributed enormously to the advancement of technology. You almost had it, "spy satellites" -- rather it's communication satellites that today have a huge impact on just about everything.
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Old August 31st, 2004, 01:15 AM   #4
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Hey Jim.

"What technology has been driven by cinema?"

Cinema--and all filmed entertainment by extension, including video and television--is an inherently technological medium. From its earliest days right up to today, it's spurred countless innovations in photography, audio production, computing, graphics, mechanical motion control, signal processing, electronics, pyrotechnics, power transmission, and on and on. There are special technology Oscars awarded every year to honor such innovators--although the separate ceremony dedicated to these awards warrants only a minute of excerpt coverage in the big telecast that we all watch each year. There's no business like show business.
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Old August 31st, 2004, 06:09 AM   #5
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Robert: excellent overview of the topic. Personally I think the factor that will ultimately lead to film's demise is one that you only mentioned in passing however. Distribution. Once a theatre makes the intial investment in high qulaity video projectors, there will be some very compelling economic reasons to go digital. The cost of making all those prints, shipping them around the country, maintaining and storing them must be huge. Energy costs for shipping the film and controlling the climate in storage warehouses are only going higher, but data storage and transmission costs continue to fall. Perhaps this will lead to a period of transition where the die-hards continue to shoot on film, but the final product is digitally distributed and projected?

As an interesting parallel, most modern theatres have already converted to digital sound where the audio is provided on CDROM's which are loaded into a computer and sync'ed to a timecode track on the film for playback.

And we can find plenty of other parallels of resistance to change because of a large user base for an old technology. How about the slide rule vs the pocket calculator? The LP record vs the CD? Automobile vs horse-drawn carriage? Electric light and gas mantle? In all these cases there were passionate arguments as to why the old technology was superior - some of which may very well have been valid. But in the end things do change once a critical mass is reached. Not necessarily because the new technology is "better," but for economic reasons.

But of course in any form of artistic endeavor it isn't quite so simple. I'm sure there were people who proclaimed that painting was dead after the invention of photography. So maybe there will always be a place for film, but in the world of Hollywood and the mass media it's really all about the money when you get down to it. Once the studios see a clear advantage to going digital it will probably happen with surprising swiftness. As a barometer for the industry, take a look at Eastman Kodak's stock chart...
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Old August 31st, 2004, 09:04 AM   #6
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This is one of those questions like "Why are we using PCs (or Macs) instead of Mac (or PCs)" and so forth. I'm reading DVFilm's book about shooting digital over film, and they give great arguments for shooting both. Most of all, it's an economic decision.

If I had $2 million to shoot my film, I would probably go either HD or 35 mm film. Sure, my company is called MPS Digital Studios, and sure, I've been behind digital since Lucas said we'd be digital way back in 1996, but hey, if I had the money to do 35 mm film, I certainly would. Or HD and spend the extra money saved on the production.

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Old August 31st, 2004, 09:27 AM   #7
 
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This thread sure is interesting, if not significantly different from this topic 5 years ago. I was getting into digital just as the first consumer digi-cameras were hitting that market. About that time, I discovered this forum and some of the celluloid proponents here. Their mantra was "film will ever die" and cited all the reasons given above. I think digital has come a long way and is knocking on the door of celluloid.

I agree, ultimately it will be the distribution issue that forces the move to digital. These digital projectors are not inexpensive. As more and more theaters invest in them, they'll have no economic choice but to keep their capital investment working, and not sitting idle. The one twist to this scenario is the one where some sequences are shot on celluloid, then digitized for production and distribution.

As computer CPU's become faster and faster, more and more capability will become feasible. The most ignored, yet the fastest growing technology is the ability to create virtual environments together with virtual actors/actresses. Increased computational power means more realistic virtual realities. I hate the thought of removing real humans from a theater experience, but, one of these days, when kids don't know the difference, human actors will go the way of celluloid. Virtual actors don't have egos, expensive demands, or unco-operative demeanors. I imagine there's a certain financial incentive to use them. And guess what? They don't age, die, or eat.
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Old August 31st, 2004, 10:35 AM   #8
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There's something to be said about an analog technology. With an analog technology even mistakes can be quite interesting or inadvertent. In the recent interview with Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer of "Hero", he talks about how one film processing mistake lead to the entire look for a movie he did with Wong Kar Wai.
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Old August 31st, 2004, 01:10 PM   #9
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"Once a theatre makes the intial investment in high qulaity video projectors, there will be some very compelling economic reasons to go digital. The cost of making all those prints, shipping them around the country, maintaining and storing them must be huge."

This is, of course, a valid assessment, except that the pressure to go digital seems not to have materialized, even during the exhibitor construction boom that began several years ago and continues today. New multiplexes are going up all over the country, and they're buying film projectors for all their theaters--only the most intrepid owners are going digital, and in most cases its only one booth per multiplex. (Hollywood's dirty little secret is that studios stand to benefit most from the transition, but they will never be willing to pay for it--so the onus of getting the momentum started will lay in the exhibitors, whose profit margins are usually slim and who cannot afford to make an investment mistake.)

Digital projection technology is still advancing rapidly, and nobody wants to get caught with an obsolete projector, so it will probably take another 10 years before the standards have stabilized, digital projection is considered a viable alternative to film projection, and the economic pressure to go digital begins to kick in.

I'm waiting, but I'm not holding my breath.
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Old August 31st, 2004, 01:14 PM   #10
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We said 10 years five year ago, so it's REALLY slow...

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Old August 31st, 2004, 10:34 PM   #11
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<<<-- Originally posted by Boyd Ostroff : Personally I think the factor that will ultimately lead to film's demise is one that you only mentioned in passing however. Distribution. Once a theatre makes the intial investment in high qulaity video projectors, there will be some very compelling economic reasons to go digital. The cost of making all those prints, shipping them around the country, maintaining and storing them must be huge. Energy costs for shipping the film and controlling the climate in storage warehouses are only going higher, but data storage and transmission costs continue to fall. Perhaps this will lead to a period of transition where the die-hards continue to shoot on film, but the final product is digitally distributed and projected?-->>>


Well put! Scarier even is that Theatres will continue to raise their prices even if their costs go down! I used to roll my eyes when my grnadparents said "When I was your age we only paid a nickel to go see a movie!" and now I say it to my 4 year old "When I was your age I paid only $2.75 to see a movie!"

Off Topic but couldnt resist!
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Old August 31st, 2004, 10:53 PM   #12
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It was $5.75 12 years ago, now it's $8.50. Not TOO much of a jump, but still a jump. How much does this play into the projection of the image? Well, who knows, but a digital projector, not leased, can run around $100,000 to 150,000, which may drive ticket prices up higher...

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Old September 1st, 2004, 12:17 AM   #13
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I'm not sure if this a huge deal at this point, but isn't Hollyood really scared of putting an unreleased completed film on a digital medium right now?

If the whole process is digital the chance that raw clips or maybe the entire "film" spilling out onto the internet early increases many fold. It might be more advantageous for Hollywood to ignore entirely digital moviemaking until it finds a good way to protect the media.

Imagine what the music industry would do to get us all back into buying analog tapes! With DVD burners becoming more and more advanced, cheap, and easy to use, and more and more people getting broadband internet, H-Wood is already pretty worried! (or at least should be)
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Old September 1st, 2004, 01:29 AM   #14
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<<<-- Originally posted by Heath McKnight : It was $5.75 12 years ago, now it's $8.50. >>>

There might be a theatre or two in San Diego with that pricing but the two nearest my house are more than that. Almost double. Thats horrible. And the fact they charge what they do for a freakin Coke is absurd.
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Old September 1st, 2004, 04:28 AM   #15
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Wonder how long digital projectors will last. A machanical film projector can be maintained and repaired. But with a digital projector I wonder what they will do about hot pixels or any form of electronics breakdown. The cinema would have to reinvest in replacement equipment all over again.
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