This is reply arouse out of a debate that was started o nthe Martic BBS, in
Toronto, Canada. The BBS is an artist-run BBS, so we have film-makers as well
as video and mulitmedia artists as members. The debate started when a video-
wrote an essay entitled, "Why Film Will Be Extinct"
WHY FILM WILL BE EXTINCT: NOT!
Film will indeed be around for at least the next twenty years. The
definition of 35mm Colour motion-picture film is better than any electronic
format that currently exists: outside of a laboratory that is. In terms of
sheer portablity and on location ruggedness, Motion-picture cameras will still
be the production medium of choice, well into the first quarter of the next
century. In terms of compatibility, 35mm will have higher resolution than any
high definition broadcast television system in existence or even proposed,
therefore something shot in film, can easily be transferred to any High
Definition T.V. format and still look great. I will now elaborate further on
My first point indicated that 35mm motion picture stock has higher
resolving power than any electronic format currently commercially available,
since it can resolve over 5000 lines per square inch. Current NTSC
television systems can resolve approximately 290 lines per square inch (don't
confuse resolveing power with scan lines, NTSC has 483 picture scan lines and
42 information or blanking scanlines). High Definition television with
approximately 1200 scanlines resolves approximately 560 lines per square inch.
There is one digital Hi-Def. t.v. system that I heard of that has over 2300
scanlines, still not even one fifth the resolving power of a 35mm
motion-picture stock like Eastman Kodak's 5245 EXR colour negative stock (over
5000 lines per square inch resolving power).
Kodak has in its labs a new digital optical printer device that comes
close to having the same resolving power as 5245, with over 24 million
possible colour combinations as well. It is still in the lab and requires
three seconds to scan one 35mm colour negative frame: way to slow to use for
shooting something in "real" time. Kodak insists that this kind of technology
will eventually replace photo-chemical timing of release prints in the next
five to ten years, thus eliminating one laboratory step.
Since I just demonstrated that there is one post-production system in the
+ test-lab stage that almost equals the resolving power of 5245, I will now
+ explain my second point;
why film will remain a production medium for at least the next 25 years.
Nothing with the the resolution of 35mm film is currently portable. Even
today's Hi-def. tv. systems are not as portable as 35mm. Because, 35mm
cameras like the ARRIFLEX 535 are very small and are even used as hand-held
cameras. Directors of Photography will continue to use Arri's "in the field".
The only use of electronic Hi.def. tv. systems in the next five to ten years
will be in studio-style shoots. i.e. sporting events, television studio shows
like Late Night with David Letterman etc... Nothing, and I repeat NOTHING
available today or even on the drawing boards can match the flexibility of
film as a production medium.
My third point, about compatibilitywith the different Hi-Def. t.v.
systems, seems more and more like another reason why film as a production tool
is not going to disappear anytime soon. Since the 35mm format has higher
resolution than the Hi Def. tv systems, it means something shot today ~\ or in
the 1960's for that matter (Star Trek; the Prisoner; etc...) ~\ will be easily
transferred to any system that happens to come into existence, be it the
analogue European HD-MAC system, the analogue Japanese NHK system, or one of
the many Digital systems being developed in the U.S.A. such as the Hewlett
Pacard-Zenith system, the Texas Instruments System or the RCA Sarnoff Labs
system. The fact that these shows weren't shot on NTSC, PAL or SECAM means
that they will still look great when shown on a Hi Def. system. One minor
drawback for T.V. shows shot on film is that they aren't in a wide screen
aspect ratio, which all the high definition systems will be, anywhere from
1.66 to 1 ratio, to 1.85 to 1 ratio. However this is not a problem for
theatrical movies/films since most films from the 1950's onwards have been
shot in some sort of widescreen process ~\ another bonus for film. To some-up
the compatibility arguement, 35mm film is downward compatible with any
electronic motion-picture media.
What will the future bring? I can say from lots of experience that the
future will be slow. Look at High Definition television. I first heard of
the NHK system
when I was thirteen, back in 1981. It still hasn't become a commercial system
(although NHK now broadcasts five hours a day in High definition). Also look
how long it took to implement colour in North America. NTSC was approved in
early 1954. NBC became the first broadcaster to broadcast a colour, with a
movie in the fall of 1954. It wasn't until 13 years later that all the networks
in the U.S. were broadcasting all their shows in colour. Furthermore, it
wasn't until 1973 that more than half of all U.S. households had a colour T.V.
set. Think about it, almost twenty years passed by since the introduction of
colour television before it became a commonplace technology.
Keeping in mind the history lesson, take a look at what is on the
commerically available technological horizon: Digital High Definition
T.V.(within the next 2-5 years); Three Dimensional Television-Holographic
(Within the next 20-40 years); Tapeless videorecorders(within the next 5-20
years); and Digital Televison with Resolving power greater than the Human Eye
(Within 15-30 years). As I pointed out earlier, film is still going to be
around with us for the next 25 years or so, but only as a production medium
and maybe as a projection medium.
However, even as we speak, electronic media are in the process of
taking over the post-production stage of film-making. Electronic media,
especially digital media, can more easily manipulate images than the
photo-optical systems in use since the days of the Lumiare Brothers (1895).
Film will be extinct from the post-production realm within the next five to
ten years, once the prices come down so that indepentent film-makers ~\ like
myself ~\ can afford the latest computerised non-linear editing system and
Eventually, with the use of a new technology referred to as "
or vacuum tubes printed on a microchip, the ability for electronic media to
out perform good old 35mm , even our own eyes, is likely to occur very soon.
However, with all new major technological advances, two factors will
ultimately slow its introduction and acceptence into the mainstream (read this
to mean commercially available):
(1) Fear of new technology that is demonstratably better than
the one it
(2) Prophitablity, will it make sense to change to the new
format or will
the costs incurred in refurbishing outway any
So I hope I cleared up some conceptions on why film-makers think that film
will be around for the next quarter century or so.
Be Seeing you!
Joey Schwartz: Film-maker, Film Programmer, Projectionist and PRISONER fan.
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