It’s been kind of a tough week for film. Yep, film. That physical media and photo-chemical process that had been the staple of both cinema and photography until digital acquisition came along. Digital is driving film to its grave. There have of course been many telltale signs of this over the past few years but I saw some more last week.
The first came when a new issue of Creative COW magazine arrived in the mail the other day with the title Film Fading to Black. The subtitle: “Within the last year, ARRI, Panavision and Aaton have all ceased production of their film cameras to focus exclusively on the design and manufacture of digital cameras.” (
I’d link to the article, but it hasn’t been posted online yet UPDATE: that article is now online). I was surprised to read that, according to an ARRI VP, the company has only built film cameras on demand since 2009. A Panavision VP added that his company “built its last 35mm Millennium XL camera in the winter of 2009.”
The second confirmation about the death of film came from a Reel Chicago article titled With FilmCraft’s closing, Astro is Midwest’s sole lab. FilmCraft was a film processing lab in Detroit, Michigan that is closing its doors to film processing after “90 years of motion picture film processing in Detroit.” It’s a short article and interestingly, it suggests a contributing factor to the lab’s closing was not just the onslaught of digital acquisition but also the “killing of Michigan’s top-rated film incentives.” That leaves Filmworkers’ AstroLab as the only film processing facility in the entire Midwest. There’s also Atlanta’s CineFilm that has some proximity for those who aren’t on, or don’t want to send their film to, the coast.
Then there’s the demise of Kodak, which has been covered in the popular and business press and online. CNN Money reports that Kodak shares have dropped 54% on bankruptcy rumors and the BBC points out that Kodak has publicly denied plans to file for bankruptcy protection. I’m mostly all-digital now, but it’s hard for me to imagine a world without Kodak in it. My first still camera was a Kodak that shot to disc film! But there is an entire generation of filmmakers growing up now to whom a name like Kodak means nothing. This current generation of digital filmmakers invest names like RED, Canon and Apple with much more meaning than Kodak, Fuji or Polaroid. Kodak hasn’t been able to reinvent itself for the digital age, despite attempts at online photosharing. Just browse through the Kodak store and you’ll see what I mean. There are very few products in there that I recognize.
I moved to Nashville in 1997 for the sole purpose of learning actual film production at Watkins Film School. I loaded, AC’d and DP’d many a film using only Kodak stock and ARRI SR-II. I didn’t necessarily know what the hell I was doing when I was DP-ing; I wanted to be an editor. But working with film and cinema film cameras was a lot of fun and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. There was a valuable discipline that comes when shooting on an expensive medium like film. It’s a different mindset when you are “rolling” digital … which is to say, there is often no mindset at all. Directors these days, much to an editor’s dismay, just let the camera roll and roll and roll. If you’re a director of photography and you’ve never blindly loaded motion picture film in a bag or a tent, then you’ve missed out on a part of filmmaking that was both scary and fun, all at the same time. You just don’t get that same feeling when backing up digital media.
But time marches on and it was inevitable that digital technology would eventually replace film. There will still be a handful of purists who prefer shooting and cutting on film. I hope, for their sake, film will still be around until the end of their careers. Good luck Fuji; I’m sure there’s still a few in Hollywood who are counting on you. Now I just need to shoot those short ends I’ve got in the back of my refrigerator while it’s still possible to process and telecine them.
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