How Hollywood Just Saved Motion Picture Film From Death

Illustration for article titled How Hollywood Just Saved Motion Picture Film From Death

These days, almost everything you watch on TV and in theaters is shot digitally. But because Hollywood still needs film sometimes, the the biggest motion picture companies in the world are banding together to keep the lights on in Kodak's Rochester motion picture film plant.

The WSJ reports the pending deal between the world's biggest movie studios and Kodak. The details are still being finalized, but basically, the studios, including Warner, Universal, and Disney, will agree to buy a certain quantity of the film every year, regardless of whether or not they're going to use it. That seems like a pretty desperate measure, but Hollywood didn't have another option since Fujifilm stopped producing motion picture film last year. Kodak is their last resort.

Illustration for article titled How Hollywood Just Saved Motion Picture Film From Death

Indeed, letting film production stop really isn't possible yet. According to the Journal, some of the biggest directors personally lobbied their financiers to come to save Kodak:

Among the big name directors who lobbied the heads of studios to help find a solution were Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Judd Apatow, and J.J. Abrams, who is currently shooting "Star Wars Episode VII" on film.

Kodak has been in serious trouble since the advent of digital imaging. In 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy, laying off nearly 50,000 employees and closing 13 manufacturing plants and 130 processing labs. According to the WSJ, the company's motion picture film sales have plummeted 96 percent in 10 years, from 12.4 billion feet to just 449 million feet.

It's amazing to see some of the biggest and most powerful media corporations come together to save something like film. The nostalgia of it! Yes, film has a grain and color profile you're just not going to get from digital. But it's also a painfully slow medium to work with, and one you can bet some executives wish they could just be done with already. We'll probably never know how close we were to losing film forever—or at least, not until the next such deal needs to be negotiated in a few years. [WSJ]


Top image via Benjamin Golub/ Flickr. Second image via Paulo José Silva Ferraz/Flickr

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The one thing that film is still tops at is preservation. Digital hard drives are fallible, as are discs and other hard media, but film is so flexible and can withstand all sorts of brutality in comparison. When it's placed in the right conditions it can last a really really long time.

As a bonus, if somehow civilization collapses and aliens or new humans discover all our film vaults, they'll be able to see the images and extract them from the film fairly easily, as the image is clearly visible on the strip and the mechanics of accessing it are pretty clear. You could theoretically reverse-engineer a projector, given a film strip. If they stumble on a hard drive with a bunch of uncompressed data, they may not have a compatible player/viewer, etc. and it's not as easy to build one, especially if the codecs are proprietary.

This is actually something that's happened before:… - BBC made these expensively terrible laserdiscs that could only be played on special players. Within less than ten years all the players were gone/broken/replaced and now no one can read their fancy expensive discs anymore.

So even if no one shoots on film anymore, there's a good interest for film companies to buy a specific amount of film if only to effectively preserve backup copies of all their work.