Fade-to-black for movie film? Not quite so fast …

movie filmJust last week, I blogged about how print magazines are hanging in there, even in the face of relentless competition from “free and easy” digital media, with more new print magazines launching so far this year than folding.

And now come reports of renewed life in another reputed “dinosaur” medium in the communications arena:  movie film.

Journalist Ben Fritz reported in The Wall Street Journal that Eastman Kodak Company is close to inking an agreement with the top Hollywood movie studios to supply a set quantity of film over the next several years.

This, despite the fact that most motion pictures and TV shows are shot these days using digital video.

Because of the steep decline in film sales – Kodak’s movie-film sales are reportedly off by a whopping 96% compared to just 8 years ago, and are projected to amount to less than 450 million linear feet of output this year – Kodak had been mulling the possibility of closing down its film manufacturing capabilities.

If that were to happen, the last of the major movie film manufacturers would have exited the market.  (Fuji, the other major supplier, stopped producing movie film in 2013.)

As it turns out, however, there are a number of “name” film directors who remain quite keen on using film – among them J.J. Abrams, Judd Apatow, Christopher Noland, Lasse Hallström and Quentin Tarantino.

These and other movie directors lobbied the heads of the major film studios to commit to purchasing film in sufficient quantities to allow Kodak’s Rochester film manufacturing facility to remain open.

And now the major studios have reportedly decided to do just that – even though they don’t actually know how many movies will be shot using film versus the digital medium.

About the pending deal, Bob Weinstein, co-chairman of Weinstein Company said this:  “It’s a financial commitment, no doubt about it.  But I don’t think we could look some of our filmmakers in the eyes if we didn’t do it.”

The big challenge for movies shot on film is that very few younger film directors have any experience working in the medium.  That sort of filmmaking is hardly even taught in cinematic arts classes anymore.

Besides, post-production work is much easier and faster with digital.

Still, just like audiophiles are convinced of the superiority of analog recordings over those recorded digitally, some movie directors swear by film.  “I’m a huge fan of film, but it’s so much more convenient digitally,” film director Ian Bryce told reporter Ben Fritz.

Judd Apatow is another director who loves the film medium.  While he also recognizes the benefits of digital, “it would be a tragedy if suddenly directors didn’t have the opportunity to shoot on film,” he says.  “There’s a magic to the grain and the color quality that you get with film.”

By the way, Mr. Apatow is shooting his latest movie – Trainwreck – using film.  And the Lasse Hallström film The Hundred-Foot Journey, which just opened in theatres, was shot on film as well.

hundred food journey movie“Digital cameras are not able to capture all the subtleties of the forest,” Mr. Hallström reported.  His goal was to capture the lush landscape and greenery in the scenes of mushroom and wild berry picking that helps make The Hundred-Foot Journey such a feast for the eyes.

“We compared film and video, and the video simplified all the greens.  On film, you could see the nuances of all the shades,” Hallstrom emphasized.

With all the conflicting factors, what is the prognosis for the film medium?

Well, we now know that Kodak will continue to manufacture it for the next few years at least.  With set purchase commitments comes the ability to plan for operational efficiencies.

We also know that film remains the “medium of choice” for long-term preservation of all types of movies – including those shot digitally.

But practically all movie theatres have switched over to digital projection by now, whereas projection film used to represent a far bigger portion of product sales than preservation film.

So I think we can safely say that short-term, the prognosis is good.

Medium-term is iffy … and long-haul, it’s likely that the term “film” to describe “movies” will be accurate only from a historical perspective.

Do you feel differently?  If so, share your thoughts with other readers here.

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