The Good News In the Bad News About Kodak

It was not unexpected, but a growing fear among filmmakers spiked on the news of Kodak’s bankruptcy. Cinematography message boards bloated with questions from anxious dp’s wondering if Kodak would stop producing motion picture film. Would they soon lose the opportunity to shoot on raw film stock forever?

Well, those concerned should have thought about it before they picked up a RED camera. But despite the dire financial news surrounding Kodak, the news is good for the short term future of motion picture film. Here are some reasons those dreaming of shooting on celluloid can sleep at night.

  • 1. Kodak is still manufacturing film stock and has no plans to stop. Kodak has secured a $950 million line of credit to take them through the next 18 months of reorganization.
  • 2. There is still a good demand for Kodak film stock. 7 of the top 10 highest grossing independent movies from 2011 were shot on film. Potential Academy Awards contenders were shot on film including “The Tree of Life” and “The Descendants”. We get film inventories from major features at Comtel Pro Media on a daily basis.
  • 3. There is still ongoing R&D on motion picture film. Kodak just introduced another stock in their Vision 3 line of motion picture films. Malcolm Spaull, chair of Rochester Institute Technology’s School of Film and Animation noted that Kodak continues research and development in motion picture film and there is sustained demand. It will eventually suffer the same fate as the still camera, but not for another decade.
  • 4. Motion picture film is still the best and cheapest medium for archiving films. The Academy of Arts and Sciences just released “The Digital Dilemma 2”. It’s the follow up to their 2007 study that showed motion picture film can last for over a century, but digital masters can quickly become unwatchable due to equipment failures and incompatibility with new formats. In the first study, they determined that to store a feature on film cost around $1,000 a year. To store a digital master costs from $12,000 to over $200,000 a year. 5 years later and the situation has not improved.
  • 5. Full digital distribution for all films is still years away. Malcolm Spaull also points out that the number of screens in the world projecting movies with film projectors is roughly 80 percent and 20 percent digital. Major issues still to be resolved include digital piracy and the expense to convert each 16 screen multiplex to digital. That means film print stock is still needed. Figure on 3,000 prints domestically per each major release. If the demand for motion picture print stock is still there, Kodak will keep making film.

So don’t worry about missing out on shooting on film. Besides, as long as there is film anywhere, we will buy back the film stock. This means that there will still be a source of inexpensive 35mm recans and short ends for independent productions. This will allow even the lowest budged filmmakers to experience film, learn to love it, and keep it alive for generations to come.