The Fate of Film: Could It Be Like Vinyl?
Vinyl. Audiophiles all over the world claim that vinyl records have a superior sound: richer, fuller, and warmer. Vinyl was the medium of sound for decades. From the birth of recorded music up until magnetic tape was invented. Even after the invention of tape vinyl records still held strong for many years. It outlived the poorly conceived 8-track, held on through the years of the cassette tape, and finally was put to rest with CD’s and buried with digital download music. But then, like the biblical Lazarus, vinyl records resurfaced. Stores selling vinyl records starting cropping up in “hip” neighborhoods and then more stores started carrying them; the trend came back.Vinyl record sales have never reached the levels of the 1970’s, but they have hit sales numbers challenging those of the early 90’s; impressive given the plethora of alternative (and less bulky) formats.
The story of film is very similar. There are “film-o-philes” the world over that claim film provides a superior picture: richer, more dynamic, and warmer. Film has been the medium of choice since the invention of photography over a century ago. It has outlasted VHS, Betamax (which was used in the professional industry, and still is occasionally), miniDV and HDV. So will film suffer the same fate as vinyl? Will it fade completely into oblivion? Will it come back someday as a niche product?
Film survived against alternate formats for so long because of it’s resolving power and detail. Until HDV, hard drive capture, or solid state capture, no format could come close to films resolution, let alone the other aspects of film.
Film is still the choice of several directors in Hollywood and around the world. Some of our favorite TV shows are shot on film: Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Mad Men, Glee, and American Horror Story to name a few. And many feature films are still shot on film as well: Edge of Tomorrow, Star Trek (2011), Star Trek Into Darkness, The Dark Knight Rises, Don Jon, and many more.
Perhaps one of the most ironic instances of a movie shot on film is J.J. Abram’s Star Wars 7. George Lucas, according to the documentary Side By Side, famously called in several directors from Hollywood in the early 2000’s to declare that “Film is dead.” Mr. Lucas then went on to shoot Star Wars 2 & 3 in an all digital format (1080p at the time). However, J.J. Abrams seems to be a fan of film, and he is not alone. Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and others will only shoot on film.
One hit to film was in the projector room. While a production may use thousands or millions of feet of film to capture the movie, distribution of the finished movie on film was one of the crutches of companies like Kodak and Fujifilm. Recently, production companies have done away with 35mm film distribution and use a digital distribution instead, taking the crutch out from under film companies and processing houses. Many have closed, including Fujifilm’s movie film stock division. Less recently, but still a hit to the use of film, advertising companies moved away from using film, opting instead for lower quality formats such as Betamax and miniDV.
So, as digital increases it’s quality to compete with film, will it replace film completely? Like vinyl, film offers us a respite from an ever evolving age. It offers a unique feel, which like a CD vs. a record, will never be completely replicated by a digital capture format. Directors, both established and those waiting for their moment, still choose film as their medium, much like consumers still choose vinyl. Because of these directors, and the minor real-world production differences between digital capture and film capture, I foresee film settling into a niche (albeit a sizable one) and leveling off, while the battle between digital formats continues.