Digital Cinema

Like it or not, digital cinema is fast becoming the standard for commercial production and exhibition. While I have a number of reservations about the process, there’s really no way of turning back the tide. The studios are aggressively pushing digital, and exhibitors are climbing on board.

I’m not in the film industry, and I don’t have the technical background to understand all the aspects of the debate. I just like to watch movies. But while studio execs spout hype about digital superiority, it’s important to understand that the conversion is complex and there are still competing technologies. This is the biggest change to hit movies since sound came in. The repercussions are going to be huge.

A still from Timecode, Mike Figgis' groundbreaking movie, shot on digital video in 2000.

A still from Timecode, Mike Figgis’ groundbreaking movie, shot on digital video in 2000.

Certainly, there are advantages to the new technology. I’ve seen a few remarkable films shot in digital, and I realize that the potential for innovation is tremendous. My main complaint is that in the rush to convert, the powers that be seem unconcerned about the possible disadvantages. To my mind the most serious problem is storage. While there are challenges with preserving film, it’s a format that has proved mostly reliable for over a hundred years. We don’t yet know about digital. Already some archives have reported incidents where data has been lost. Also, since the technology is new, there is still no reliable industry standard governing storage. On top of that, digital will certainly continue to evolve, meaning that media will have to be migrated to new formats as they appear.

But like I said, I’m no expert. Rather than rattle off my ideas on the subject, I’d rather steer you toward some people who actually know what they’re talking about. The link below will take you to John Bailey’s blog at the American Society of Cinematographers web site. Bailey asked several people in the industry how they feel about the conversion to digital, and he got some interesting answers.

John Bailey at the American Society of Cinematographers Web Site

The second link is to an article about digital cinema on Wikipedia. I warn you that there’s a lot of information, and it’s not very well organized. But when I scanned the article myself I learned a lot about how complex the issues are. We’ve still got a long way to go.

Article on Digital Cinema at Wikipedia

Those of us who care about movies really need to inform ourselves about what’s at stake here. Digital is going to transform the industry. It’s also going to transform cinema. I have no illusions that getting a few thousand movie lovers to sign a petition is going to make the studio heads hit the brakes. But I do believe that informed, persistent advocacy can make a difference. It’s happened before.

Posted on December 4, 2012, in Digital Cinema, Technology and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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