Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Film Fading to Black

By Debra Kaufman

While the debate has raged over whether or not film is dead, ARRI, Panavision and Aaton have quietly ceased production of film cameras within the last year to focus exclusively on design and manufacture of digital cameras. That's right: someone, somewhere in the world is now holding the last film camera ever to roll off the line.

"The demand for film cameras on a global basis has all but disappeared," says ARRI VP of Cameras, Bill Russell, who notes that the company has only built film cameras on demand since 2009. "There are still some markets--not in the U.S.--where film cameras are still sold, but those numbers are far fewer than they used to be. If you talk to the people in camera rentals, the amount of film camera utilization in the overall schedule is probably between 30 to 40 percent."

At New York City rental house AbelCine, Director of Business Development/Strategic Relationships Moe Shore says the company rents mostly digital cameras at this point. "Film isn't dead, but it's becoming less of a choice," he says. "It's a number of factors all moving in one direction, an inexorable march of digital progress that may be driven more by cell phones and consumer cameras than the motion picture industry."

Aaton founder Jean-Pierre Beauviala notes why. "Almost nobody is buying new film cameras. Why buy a new one when there are so many used cameras around the world?" he says. "We wouldn't survive in the film industry if we were not designing a digital camera."

Beauviala believes that that stereoscopic 3D has "accelerated the demise of film." He says, "It's a nightmare to synchronize two film cameras." Three years ago, Aaton introduced a new 35mm film camera, Penelope, but sold only 50 to 60 of them. As a result, Beauviala turned to creating a digital Penelope, which will be on the market by NAB 2012. "It's a 4K camera and very, very quiet," he tells us. "We tried to give a digital camera the same ease of handling as the film camera."

Panavision is also hard at work on a new digital camera, says Phil Radin, Executive VP, Worldwide Marketing, who notes that Panavision built its last 35mm Millennium XL camera in the winter of 2009, although the company continues an "active program of upgrading and retrofitting of our 35mm camera fleet on a ongoing basis."

"I would have to say that the pulse [of film] was weakened and it's an appropriate time," Radin remarks. "We are not making film cameras." He notes that the creative industry is reveling in the choices available. "I believe people in the industry love the idea of having all these various formats available to them," he says. "We have shows shooting with RED Epics, ARRI Alexas, Panavision Genesis and even the older Sony F-900 cameras. We also have shows shooting 35mm and a combination of 35mm and 65mm. It's a potpourri of imaging tools now available that have never existed before, and an exciting time for cinematographers who like the idea of having a lot of tools at their disposal to create different tools and looks."

Do camera manufacturers believe film will disappear? "Eventually it will," says ARRI's Russell. "In two or three years, it could be 85 percent digital and 15 percent film. But the date of the complete disappearance of film? No one knows."

From Radin's point of view, the question of when film will die, "Can only be answered by Kodak and Fuji. Film will be around as long as Kodak and Fuji believe they can make money at it," he says.


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