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      Article 16

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Will Film Stock Survive The Digital Revolution of Indie Films?

Watching an independent film shot with a cheap digital camera is like reading a classic book indoors wearing sunglasses. While your brain will still be taking in the information, your eyes may struggle a bit to deliver it. With the digital revolution now fully entrenched in the indie film industry making it a lot easier, cheaper and more practical to make a movie, the fate of film stock has never been more up in the air.

For the past two decades newer and cheaper ways to commit moving images to viewable mediums have been gaining in popularity amongst indie filmmakers. First it was videotape, then digital videotape and now it is simply digital hard drives that record the footage needed to make an indie film.

When the Eastman Kodak Company filed for chapter eleven bankruptcy on January nineteen, two thousand and twelve many people saw this as a death Nell for film stock in the film industry. Kodak had been sticking their head in the sand for years, ignoring the digital revolution. When they finally pulled it out they realized that the business world around them had changed dramatically. By that time it was too late, and the proverbial waters rushed over them.

The biggest mistake that Kodak made along the way was their unwillingness to accept the digital revolution. They made no inroads to incorporate the new technology into their company.  They should have embraced the new technology making it their own, but instead they shunned it.  Kodak just kept on selling mostly film stock when they should have been creating new digital camera products as well for the film industry. It will be interesting to see what kind of products they will be selling when they emerge from bankruptcy.

The biggest difference between using film stock or a digital realm is the cost.  A one hundred foot roll of thirty five millimeter film costs about one hundred and fifty dollars to purchase. Add to that the cost of processing it at a film lab which is about eighty to one hundred dollars.  For your money you get about three minutes of raw film footage that costs you about two hundred and fifty dollars.

On the other hand, three minutes of footage shot on a digital camera costs almost nothing. There is no film stock needed and no lab processing necessary. Your images go straight to a hard drive inside the camera which was already paid for when you purchased it.

The digital realm is also more practical to use than film. An indie filmmaker can see their footage immediately when they use a digital camera. No trip to the lab necessary and no nerve racking wait to see how the footage turns out. No handling of sensitive film loading it in and out of the camera either.

When video cameras became affordable to indie filmmakers back in the early nineteen nineties it opened the door for extremely low budget filmmakers to participate in the film festival circuit. No longer did they need millions of dollars or the backing of a major film studio to create a movie.  All they needed was a good digital camera and a great story to create an independent film that could be entered in film festivals.

With the invention of videotape and digital mediums, the use of film has declined rapidly amongst independent filmmakers.  To accommodate this change most film festivals have incorporated the use of digital projectors to screen some of their movies.

Even some big players in mainstream Hollywood have turned away from using film stock. To illustrate the point that digital cameras are the future of the film industry George Lucas created his last three Star Wars films entirely in the digital realm. He did not use a single foot of film stock.

The one major down side of shooting an indie film in the digital realm is image quality. Film still looks better than anything shot with a digital camera. The sharpness, clarity and color saturation of film cannot be matched even in this modern age of technology. There are some digital cameras that come close to film quality like the Red One which was invented in nineteen ninety nine. However, ultimately, this camera and any others like it are not on the same level as film when it comes to image quality.

Independent filmmakers choose to use the Red One digital camera for its cost efficiency, not because the images look better than film. The Red Digital Cinema Camera Company, the makers of this camera claim that the images shot with it are lossless. This means there is no image quality loss that is discernible by the human eye between the real image and the recorded image. However, most indie filmmakers and their audiences agree that while this digital camera is very good, it still cannot compare to film and the lossless images that it provides.  Shooting your movie on film stock is still the only way to obtain that true lifelike look on the screen.

With the digital revolution fully entrenched in the film industry the future of film stock seems to be grim. It is hard for an indie filmmaker making an independent film for the film festival circuit to afford using film stock.

Nowadays, digital cinematography is the way to go for most indie filmmakers. However, the only reason they use the digital realm for their movies is because they really have no other choice. Given a choice, meaning a big budget, most independent filmmakers would use film stock.

There is still no comparison to the look of film in terms of quality. It is still the only way to achieve a lossless image quality with stunning sharpness, clarity and color saturation. Until digital images can match film in that department it looks like film stock will survive the digital revolution in the indie film industry.

 

 

 

  2013 Copyright.  Michael P. Connelly

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