Is Film Dead? Then Why Do People Keep Wishing For It To Return?

11 04 2012

I am a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is that Academy.  The one that gives out the Oscars every year. Though, actually, that’s only one teeny tiny part of what the Academy does.

One other thing that it does is to recognize great student work from around the world — by giving out Student Oscars. I am one of a whole slew of members who watch shorts (defined as 40 minutes or under — which often doesn’t seem so short) from non-U.S. film schools so we can vote on the ones that we think represent filmmakers who we would love to see be nominated for feature films in the future.  It’s a great committee

But something odd happened the other night, and it dovetailed nicely with an annual survey that Harry Miller conducts for A.C.E. every year.

Here’s the odd thing that happened.  One of the committee members got up and noted that fewer and fewer of the films submitted to us are captured on film. This member wondered if there wasn’t some way that we acknowledge and reward films that were actually shot on film. He wasn’t suggesting that we vote with that in mind, he hastened to add. He just felt that the Academy awarded films. And he wanted to acknowledge those that were shot on film.

With that, my jaw nearly dropped to the floor and one of my row-mates asked if I wanted to stand up and kick some butt.  Well, I did want to do that, though it was not the forum for that. So I kept my seat, and put my jaw back in its proper place.

You see, it seems to me that what we really do in the Academy is honor good stories, well told (THE ARTIST notwithstanding). It doesn’t matter if they’re captured on a Flip Cam (well, not anymore, I guess) or 70mm. Entrancing, captivating stories know no format.

This was borne out by a survey that Harry Miller helps to conduct every year among members of A.C.E. who are editing movies and television. Since 2004 he has asked a number of questions. One of them is what format (“camera original” in his survey) the editors’ projects were captured on. Back in 2004, the breakdown went something like this:

16mm film 7.5%
35mm film 72.6%
70mm 0%
DV-HD 0%
HD (24p) 10%
Digital (Drive/Tape/etc.) 0%

Now, let’s jump ahead a mere seven years to last year – 2011.

16mm film 2.48%
35mm film 15.53%
70mm 0.62%
DV-HD 15.53%
Digital (Drive/Tape/etc.) (includes 24p) 62.11%
Other 4.35%

If my math is correct (and I was pretty damned good at simple math back in high school) that is a six-fold increase in Digital acquisition, while 35mm film fell to one-fourth of its 2004 percentage.

Now Harry would be the first to confess that this survey was completely non-scientific. It includes pretty much whoever wanted to respond and doesn’t include anyone who either forgot or didn’t want to respond. But the trend is completely obvious. Kodak isn’t just in bankruptcy, its film side is dead, dead, dead. Labs may be making some decent money making prints worldwide, but more than 50% of U.S. theaters are digital now and the world is fast catching up. Those cinematographers who are still developing film negative are looking at a future in which it will get increasingly more difficult (and, hence, more expensive) to process film neg. Which means that fewer and fewer productions will shoot film. Which means that lab work will get even more expensive.

Which means that film will pretty much die. No, let me take that back.  It won’t “pretty much die,” it will totally absolutely die.

Since all of our theaters will eventually be digital projection (and nearly 100% of our films will go through a digital finish anyway), I defy anyone’s mother or non-industry friend to tell the difference between a digital capture film like THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO or the upcoming SPIDERMAN 3, and a film capture. Either subconsciously or consciously.

Wishing that film would come back seems about as pointless to me as pining after those really great lemon cookies that Keebler used to make that I loved so much.  That now are dead, dead, dead.

I think it’s time to reward “good stories, well told” and forget how they were shot. Or, let’s bring those Keebler Lemon Cookies back.



Do We Really Want To OWN Our Media?

7 04 2012
I spent some time, this morning, at the TRANSMEDIA:HOLLYWOOD conference, which is a joint conference between USC and UCLA now in its third year.

Transmedia (which you can read about on Henry Jenkins’ blog or on Wikipedia — since Jenkins is the man who came up with the term you might want to start there) is basically the idea that you can create a world with many different stories coming from it — and that those stories can exist in all sorts of media.  Films and television are only two of them, but if you think about having the characters in those works also tweeting as if they were real, or exploring other characters from those worlds in a graphic novel or short story, or any of a dozen other forms of media (think songs, think fan fiction, and then keep thinking).  I have been telling anyone who will listen that transmedia storytelling is the way that we’re going to survive in the future media/content creation world.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could present ourselves, not as editors of films, but as editors of the XYZ franchise?  Yep, I know the world and the characters in XYZ world so well, that you want to hire me for all of the manifestations of that world.  The same with writers, directors, actors, etc.

So the conference was interesting. But something that one of the participants said really piqued my interest. Jennifer Holt, who was the sole academic on the panel and who runs the Media Industries Project at UC Santa Barbara, said the following fascinating thing. “People don’t want to own media anymore.” People, she said, want to view (and, I assume, rent), not own.

This flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom of only two years ago, which said that people wanted to hold onto their media, that they would rather download music and films than stream them. But that is clearly no longer the case.  I prefer to listen to music on Spotify, rather than download it to my iTunes library. I prefer to watch movies on Netflix rather than buy the DVD or download. So it’s not only physical media that is dying, but bits and bytes on my drives.  Yeah, I like to download things on occasion, or for my classroom use, but I confess that I’m an outlier. The DVD of Matrix that I lent my daughter is still sitting in her internal DVD drive.  Not only does that mean that I don’t need it to watch, but it also means that she doesn’t have the need of her DVD drive. Mix CDs are gone.  Playlists are in.

And, old industry distribution models — buh bye.