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.

Remembering Mitch Miller (1911-2010)

Mitch Miller: oboist extraordinaire.A "Sing Along with Mitch" best-seller.This past week the music industry lost an interesting personality when Mitch Miller died at age 99. While not well-known to today’s audiences, to people “of a certain age” (myself included), Mitch Miller was a pretty major figure in the world of music. He led a very interesting life that reflected the very best tradition of “making it” in the industry from the ground up.

Mitch Miller’s musical journey, like so many others of his generation, started with the obligatory piano lessons – that familiar trapping of middle-class upbringing for youngsters in the early years of the 20th century. In Miller’s case, a few lessons taught by a piano instructor with a horrific case of chronic bad breath was all it took to inspire the young man to look for another alternative – any alternative.

Upon learning that George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company and a major figure in arts philanthropy (he provided the seed money to found the famed Eastman School of Music, now part of the University of Rochester) was donating a vast collection of musical instruments to be used by schoolchildren, Miller took quick advantage of the opportunity. But instead of being able to select a shiny trumpet or trombone as he had hoped, he discovered that the only instruments left to choose from were the lowly woodwinds.

Deciding on the oboe was a critical event in Miller’s musical development. It turned out that he excelled in playing the instrument, subsequently earning enrollment in the Eastman School in his hometown of Rochester, NY. A singular talent, he graduated from Eastman to perform in symphony orchestras under legendary conductors like Arturo Toscanini, Sir Thomas Beecham and Artur Rodzinski.

Miller also moonlighted by playing in the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in New York City – a studio ensemble – where he caught the eye of several CBS producers who commissioned Miller to compose arrangements of popular songs. Thus began Miller’s transition from classical to pop music.

Miller’s fame grew exponentially when he began a series of albums featuring an all-male chorus titled Sing Along with Mitch. The first album was released in 1958 and went on to sell more than 8 million copies. The series would eventually total some 19 LP recordings.

A companion television program broadcast between 1961 and 1966 became popular with millions of viewers across the country – that’s where the famous “follow the bouncing ball” originated. Critics may have sniffed at Miller’s saccharine or schlocky arrangements of the Great American Songbook, but the record-buying public loved them.

In addition to his highly successful career as a performing artist, Mitch Miller also worked behind the scenes, helping to produce the record albums of famous pop artists. One such artist was Rosemary Clooney … another was Jimmy Boyd (whose song I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus sold over 2 million copies) … and Miller also produced the first record album for Aretha Franklin, effectively launching her star career.

Another famous singer Miller worked with was Johnny Mathis, whose albums he produced for many years. One time, Miller and Mathis discovered they needed to fulfill a recording contract by producing “one more” album – only to realize that they had precious little new material to record.

In yet another move that turned out to be fortuitous, Miller came up with the idea of releasing a Mathis “greatest hits” album consisting of nothing but already-released material. This album sold millions of copies, and sparked a whole new genre of “greatest hits” releases that would become a common practice for all the other popular artists of the day.

It’s no wonder the singer Tony Bennett has called Mitch Miller “perhaps the single most influential producer in the history of recording.” The music industry agreed, honoring him with a Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2000.

With Mitch Miller’s passing, there are few performers left from the golden age of American popular music in the “easy listening” genre. A few artists such as K.D. Lang and Harry Connick, Jr. are carrying on the tradition, but it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll never again see the likes of a Mitch Miller.