Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Fall of a 122 year-old Medium

Technology, according to the World English Dictionary, is the application of practical sciences to industry or commerce. Over the past decade, society has had to acclimate to many of the changes that technology has to offer. The film industry has had to adapt as well, and such changes have been received with mixed feelings.

Over the past decade, industry workers and viewers have seen the rise of digital over film increase at skyrocket levels. The 122 year-old medium of 35 mm film is on the verge of extinction in both the way films are made and projected.

Digital cameras are more portable, easier to obtain, and evolving so rapidly to the point that filmmakers who once swore never to switch or who campaign for the use and restoration of film are now transitioning.

Martin Scorsese released Hugo, his first 3D movie last year, and will no longer shoot film. “It is impossible to fight,” the Academy Award winning filmmaker says about shooting digital. His latest project, The Wolf of Wall Street, is currently in production and scheduled for a 2013 release. It is being shot digitally by Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC. Another example is Toby Phillips, my boss, who is a director/DP. He is considering selling all of his film cameras and equipment because he hasn’t used them in years. He’s had to start reading manuals for the fist time in a very long time. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s long-time editor says the shift to digital has been “very quick,” and it doesn’t take much to realize it. Movie theaters have spent large sums of money updating to digital projectors. Film projectors were in more than 99% of theaters as recently as 2004 and rose to 85% in 2009. It is expected that only 17% of movie theaters will screen in film by 2015 according to David Goldman whose article “Digital movie projectors end Hollywood’s film era” came out on CNN Money approximately ten months ago.

Personally, I prefer film for various reasons. First of all, the look is more natural and organic. I agree that in some cases, it is a wiser choice to shoot digital to fit the demands and overall look of a story, such as The Amazing Spider-Man, which was shot on the Red Epic. I’ve had the pleasure of working with film three times. Once as a 2nd A.C. and I absolutely love the process. It gives you more of an appreciation for the medium and it’s a shame that younger generations won’t even have the opportunity to work with it. (You can see the project here:  Also, digital is not necessarily cheaper. Many things are now being done in post, which ads time and money to the process. Another reality that is concerning is that the preservation of this art form is at stake, since digital is perishable unlike film. “If you don’t preserve these things every five years digitally, they’re going to vanish. And who’s going to have the money to do that?” says Schoonmaker.

There is an upcoming documentary that I am eager to see titled Side By Side. Produced by Keanu Reeves (The Matrix Trilogy), the documentary gathers many directors, which include Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez, David Fincher, James Cameron, among others, to discuss the process and workflow of both mediums and compare them.

It is interesting to see where technology will take the industry in years to come, and to see how the workflow will be affected, both positively and negatively. 


  1. Digital storage is soon to become a non-issue. The problem that has been faced in the past is that mechanical hard drives must be spun up on regular intervals in order to avoid file corruption. Solid state memory keeps digital files safely stored without requiring any additional form of archival maintenance.

    Side By Side is also supposed to be on Amazon right now for digital rental/purchase.

  2. First of all, thanks for taking your time to read my post. Your point on digital storage is interesting. Like I mentioned, I can't wait to see what the future holds for the industry. This past decade was only the beginning and the possibilities are mind-blowing.
    I'll have to check it out on Amazon. Have you seen it?