Though the rise of digital photography only began a little over a decade ago, the switch to digital has been on an exponential rise in the past few years, which has seen traditional film violently sidelined. One might think it’d be beneficial to all to have a choice between shooting on digital or on film, and it is, but the final say really comes down to a business decision on the studio’s part. Shooting digitally is now far cheaper than shooting on film, not only because you’re not paying for film prints, but because shooting digitally actually makes the production move at a faster pace. However, there are a few highly regarded filmmakers who have been lobbying hard to keep film alive, and it appears that their activism has led to a serious deal between studios and Kodak that will keep the film company (the last of its kind) from going out of business.
Hit the jump for more on this deal, which was championed by the likes of Christopher Nolan and J.J. Abrams.
You may be asking just how dire a situation Kodak—the only major company left producing motion-picture film—is in. Well, their film sales have fallen an astounding 96% since 2006. In that year, they were pulling in $12.4 billion. This year, they’re estimated to make a mere $449.3 million, which just isn’t enough to justify staying in business. Subsequently, Kodak reached out to the major studios to see about striking a deal, initially asking for investments in their manufacturing plant. That offer was rejected, but their next proposal involved soliciting long-term film stock orders, and it began to gain traction when some notable filmmakers became involved in the cause.
These negotiations have been secret until now, but the WSJ reports that Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, and Judd Apatow lobbied the heads of studios to find a solution to film going extinct, which has now led to a potential deal. If these negotiations pan out like they’re expected to, the movie studios will agree to buy a set quantity of film from Kodak over the next several years without knowing how many of their productions will actually be shot on film. This keeps Kodak afloat, and allows filmmakers like Nolan, Abrams, and Co. the choice of shooting on film or digital.
No one here is saying that digital is evil or that it’s a far inferior way to produce films, but to lose the choice over which medium you’d like to use to bring your story to fruition is a depressing prospect. Despite its sci-fi setting and heavy reliance on digital effects, Abrams is currently shooting Star Wars: Episode VII on film, and even though digital would allow him to shoot as many alternate takes as he wants without changing magazines, Apatow is filming his new comedy Trainwreck on film as well. It’s a matter of taste and choice and what’s right for the film, and to deny filmmakers all of this is to lessen the filmmaking community as a whole.
Speaking with the WSJ, The Weinstein Company co-chairman Bob Weinstein—who also said Tarantino lobbied him personally—admitted that digital is financially preferable, but they’re making this deal with Kodak because of the filmmakers:
“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.”
Abrams, meanwhile, tells the WSJ in a separate interview that keeping film alive is an issue of quality control:
“I’m actually a huge fan of digital as well. I appreciate how that technology opens the doors for filmmakers who never had access to that level of quality before. However, I do think film itself sets the standard for quality. You can talk about range, light, sensitive, resolution — there’s something about film that is undeniably beautiful, undeniably organic and natural and real.
I would argue film sets the standard and once it’s no longer available, the ability to shoot the benchmark goes away. Suddenly you’re left with what is, in many cases, perfectly good but not necessarily the best, the warmest, the most rich and detailed images.”
He went on to talk about how film grounds movies that are digital effects-heavy:
“Especially on movies like Star Trek and Star Wars, you have so much that will be created or extended digitally, and it’s a slippery slope where you can get lost in a world of synthetic. You really have to keep away from that, especially with Star Wars, which I wanted very much to feel like it is part of another era.”
As someone who loves digital when done right (David Fincher is a genius in this regard) but was dreading the death of film, I’m highly relieved to hear that a deal is being struck to keep the choice alive.
If you’d like to learn more about the film vs. digital debate and what filmmakers themselves have to say about the issue, I highly recommend the documentary Side by Side, which is currently available on Netflix.