Will Film Stock Survive The Digital Revolution of Indie Films?
Watching an independent film shot with a cheap digital
camera is like reading a classic book indoors wearing sunglasses. While your
brain will still be taking in the information, your eyes may struggle a bit to
deliver it. With the digital revolution now fully entrenched in the indie film
industry making it a lot easier, cheaper and more practical to make a movie, the
fate of film stock has never been more up in the air.
For the past two decades newer and cheaper ways to commit
moving images to viewable mediums have been gaining in popularity amongst indie
filmmakers. First it was videotape, then digital videotape and now it is simply
digital hard drives that record the footage needed to make an indie film.
When the Eastman Kodak Company filed for chapter eleven
bankruptcy on January nineteen, two thousand and twelve many people saw this as
a death Nell for film stock in the film industry. Kodak had been sticking their
head in the sand for years, ignoring the digital revolution. When they finally
pulled it out they realized that the business world around them had changed
dramatically. By that time it was too late, and the proverbial waters rushed
The biggest mistake that Kodak made along the way was their
unwillingness to accept the digital revolution. They made no inroads to
incorporate the new technology into their company.
They should have embraced the new
technology making it their own, but instead they shunned it.
Kodak just kept on selling mostly film stock when they should have been
creating new digital camera products as well for the film industry. It will be
interesting to see what kind of products they will be selling when they emerge
The biggest difference between using film stock or a
digital realm is the cost. A one
hundred foot roll of thirty five millimeter film costs about one hundred and
fifty dollars to purchase. Add to that the cost of processing it at a film lab
which is about eighty to one hundred dollars. For
your money you get about three minutes of raw film footage that costs you about
two hundred and fifty dollars.
On the other hand, three minutes of footage shot on a
digital camera costs almost nothing. There is no film stock needed and no lab
processing necessary. Your images go straight to a hard drive inside the camera
which was already paid for when you purchased it.
The digital realm is also more practical to use than film.
An indie filmmaker can see their footage immediately when they use a digital
camera. No trip to the lab necessary and no nerve racking wait to see how the
footage turns out. No handling of sensitive film loading it in and out of the
When video cameras became affordable to indie filmmakers
back in the early nineteen nineties it opened the door for extremely low budget
filmmakers to participate in the film festival circuit. No longer did they need
millions of dollars or the backing of a major film studio to create a movie.
All they needed was a good digital camera and a great story to create an
independent film that could be entered in film festivals.
With the invention of videotape and digital mediums, the
use of film has declined rapidly amongst independent filmmakers.
To accommodate this change most film
festivals have incorporated the use of digital projectors to screen some of
Even some big players in mainstream Hollywood have turned
away from using film stock. To illustrate the point that digital cameras are the
future of the film industry George Lucas created his last three Star Wars films
entirely in the digital realm. He did not use a single foot of film stock.
The one major down side of shooting an indie film in the
digital realm is image quality. Film still looks better than anything shot with
a digital camera. The sharpness, clarity and color saturation of film cannot be
matched even in this modern age of technology. There are some digital cameras
that come close to film quality like the Red One which was invented in nineteen
ninety nine. However, ultimately, this camera and any others like it are not on
the same level as film when it comes to image quality.
Independent filmmakers choose to use the Red One digital
camera for its cost efficiency, not because the images look better than film.
The Red Digital Cinema Camera Company, the makers of this camera claim that the
images shot with it are lossless. This means there is no image quality loss that
is discernible by the human eye between the real image and the recorded image.
However, most indie filmmakers and their audiences agree that while this digital
camera is very good, it still cannot compare to film and the lossless images
that it provides. Shooting your
movie on film stock is still the only way to obtain that true lifelike look on
With the digital revolution fully entrenched in the film
industry the future of film stock seems to be grim. It is hard for an indie
filmmaker making an independent film for the film festival circuit to afford
using film stock.
Nowadays, digital cinematography is the way to go for most
indie filmmakers. However, the only reason they use the digital realm for their
movies is because they really have no other choice. Given a choice, meaning a
big budget, most independent filmmakers would use film stock.
There is still no comparison to the look of film in terms
of quality. It is still the only way to achieve a lossless image quality with
stunning sharpness, clarity and color saturation. Until digital images can match
film in that department it looks like film stock will survive the digital
revolution in the indie film industry.
Michael P. Connelly
For more information on the topic of this article