An often good idea is examine other industries and see how technological
progress affected them.

Around the 70s and 80s there was widespread belief robots/automation would
replace human workers and there would be widespread unemployment. In a sense
it did (except they're now more commonly referred to as computers) but it
also created an even bigger industry to manufacture and maintain these
beasts, constant updates, upgrades, staff to transfer data to new
technologies and so on... Ultimately it costs us, and companies, more to
keep up with this progress but we do it anyway. Especially in North America.
It's a strange obsession. You can see on a smaller scale. In the 90s I saw
people spend thousands building vhs collections. A few hardy souls spend
even more on lasers. Now people are chucking these collections in favor of
dvd. And when HD DVD arrives (or some variation thereof) they'll reach into
their wallets and do it again.

As for the effect on the film industry, I think it's quite likely we'll see
a conversion to video projection despite the costs, maintenance and
sometimes inferior picture quality. Especially in spite of picture quality.
Why? Because it happened before when the industry switched from nitrate film
stock. Anyone who has seen original nitrate knows how vibrant it was.
Pictures came alive. It was simply marvelous. But the complaints of its
flammable nature (mostly an overreaction generated by poor handling) forced
its obsolescence.

As for production, I think it's far less likely you'll see a conversion. As
many filmmakers have pointed out, there's a look to film -- the chemical
nature of its process -- that simply can't be duplicated electronically. But
only those who can afford to stick with film will do so. Namely Hollywood.
The cost difference is a mere fraction of what it costs to hire stars,
support the fees of producers and so forth. True there will be some
filmmakers such as Lucas who will stand by the new technology, but there
will always be filmmakers who insist on a particular look that can only be
generated on film. They'll even resort to 16mm and 8mm if the look demands
it (i.e. Oliver Stone's use of the various formats in Natural Born Killers).

In the music industry there was quite a surge of electronically produced
music. Rock musicians had synthesizers that could generate almost any kind
of sound. But nowadays you see a larger return to the basics of guitars and
drums. It's a sound -- a human feeling if you will -- that simply can't be
duplicated by computer. But we certainly see a welcome embrace of electronic
distribution through cds. In short, production will stick with the basics
that work, but distribution will fully embrace new technology.

Getting back to film, it'll be the independents who'll both benefit and
suffer from digital.

Nowadays you can get a camera for about $5000, tape is about $30 for 40
minutes, and with a Mac and Final Cut Pro you can have edit facilities. The
downside is a growing avalanche of amateur productions. Most of it will be
inferior and forgettable, and it'll become even more difficult for shiny new
talent to stand out from the crowd. The challenge will be the smaller
studios that can help secure distribution, but they'll be spending most of
their time screening thousands of hours of digitally-shot film, searching
for those few gems. They already do that when reading scripts. But at least
now they have a finished project to help make their judgments. Perhaps
they'll even expect a finished project instead of a script?

With all that said, there is still a challenge. We are fast approaching a
time when anyone can affordable make there own digital film. But making a
"film" is not just about tools and technology. "Narrative film" still needs
a narrative; stories people will enjoy, and want to see. Vibrant characters,
suspense, comedy, drama, whatever -- no computer or digital process can
generate that. Only a talented mind can. But hopefully, will more accessible
tools, those talented enough will still be able to shine.


Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite