Going Out Backwards
Film labs used to be a bit bullying in the market place. If you have a film shooting and there’s only one lab, the lab gets name its price and you cough up your cash hard to shoot anything. Making any film from 16mm, Super16mm, up to 35mm, all had the cost hurdle of the lab which often turned out to be far more inflexible than the price of the film itself. You could get deals here and there so I don’t want this to be like a blanket bash of labs, but when you had a budget, the portion that went to the lab for any film was pretty big. Pretty much during the 90’s you could get the 400′ of film for about $120-140 but lab costs for processing and work print could send everything north of $400 for the roll of shot stock.
I don’t know how I feel in hindsight about this, but even making a 3minute film was a haphazard venture. A 10minute film was a major financial commitment, just on lab costs. All the while, anything and everything shot on video – for better or worse – didn’t count. Now we’re finding labs are closing everywhere. With the number of productions dwindling in Australia, it’s not surprising labs are calling it quits.
Tracks, the opening film of the Adelaide Film Festival, was the last film to go through the lab at Deluxe Studios to be shot on actual film.
In a session at the Adelaide festival today, producer Emile Sherman from See Saw films revealed that the project, funded with the assistance of the festival, Screen Australia, Screen NSW and Screenwest, was shot on 35mm anamorphic film at the insistence of the film’s cinematographer Mandy Walker.
While director John Curran said the production team was “all striving for the same film”, Sherman joked: “When John says we were all making the same version of the film, his version cost a lot more than mine.”
Sherman said: “John and Mandy sat me down and said ‘I really think we need to shoot on film’. So we priced it up. That was an early decision that would prove to have some strong consequences financially.”
The bottom line is that labs couldn’t cut costs and so the fixed costs that always hogged a portion of the budget remained. The advent of digital technologies has punctured that cost structure so in some ways the demise of the labs was inevitable in this country. When you consider the fact that even Kodak went bankrupt, the era of the sprocketted stuff is coming to a close, even in Hollywood. It’s only a matter of time. You sort of wonder what’s going to happen to the preservation of films when the expertise dies out.
I’ve long been of the opinion that you have to jump ahead to where the technology is going, but even I feel sorry that film itself has to go the way of the dodo.
All that being said, the future is… bright and high-resolutioned. We’re on the verge of an era when domestic households are about to get 4k resolution UltraHD TVs. These things are stunning. If the move from Standard definition to HD 1080p was substantial, then this is twice the quantum leap in terms of resolution The picture quality of the Sony 4k Bravia TV set is gobsmacking. Now, some traditional film people would argue that this 4k is not as god as film or that it’s not offering some analogue intangible that film possesses in spades. However from what I’ve seen 4k delivers more detail than film.
Way back when in the days of Flaming Horses I went to see a 4k projection of ‘Blade Runner’.
The Sony 4k projection system was astounding. I have seen this film so often with scratches and missing frames I’m used to seeing it through a green-scratch glaze. When the DVD came out I was delighted to see the thing without scratches, but then it was beset by the compression artefacts instead and I was never a great fan of the Director’s Cut. I think I’ve watched my DVD through thrice at the most.
By contrast, the 4k projection was pristine as any film could ever be projected as well as being absolutely free of blemishes. It was a surreal experience in of itself to be able to discern so much detail in the dark shadows that were obscured in other versions, both film and video. It’s a blast to see such a perfect representation of any film. This 4k system will signal the death-knell of projected films. There may never be a technical specification reason to print another projection print – from now on, people will do so “for the look” i.e. artistic reasons. Print is dead, and last night’s screening of ‘Blade Runner’ was there to announce it – It’s that good.
Yep, print really is dead, and that was 2007. There are now pro-sumer cameras allowing people to shoot varieties of 4k. Once 4k becomes the domestic standard, nobody is going to really think that highly of film and its quaint analogue limitations.