Preservation of Born-Digital
Commercial Films
More Questions Than Answers
Defining “born-digital” for films is not
clear cut.
The move from film reels to image files,
cinema theatres to desktops a...
In Brief
• Film faces many of the same challenges as
other analog formats when it comes to
preserving digital objects
• In...
Analog era
• In the past a film was shot on 35mm stock.
• An editor took all the raw footage and literally
cut (with razor...
Digital Era
• Digital technology upended film production in
the 1980s with digital audio and non-linear
editing.
• Now all...
Currently
• No Hollywood film released in the last 2
decades has not been created on a computer,
even if the film was shot...
• Films with a lot of
special effects obviously
have many elements
that only exist digitally,
often created by
multiple di...
Hollywood caught on in the 1950s
• Preserving films became a vital business
practice in Hollywood in the 1950s.
• Up until...
$$$
• Important to remember: studios see film
preservation as an economic imperative, not a
cultural heritage one.
• Indep...
Film as object
• A “film” used to be a
35mm print.
• There was a set of
physical objects that
were preserved.
• Preservati...
What is the object now?
• As with all digital
media, the physical
object to preserve has
begun to disappear.
• Now a “film...
Current preservation practice
• “The message is clear: the easiest way to hold
on to all the information locked into the
o...
Image source: AMPAS
Which version?
• There is never one version of a film. You may
have one or all of the following:
– The theatrical release
...
Exponential copies
• A single feature film can take 4 or more
canisters of 35mm film stock to hold it.
• Preservation mast...
It gets worse
• Digital projection and distribution of film
complicates things further
– A film opening on 2,000 screens n...
But film stock may disappear
• Companies like Kodak used to get a lot of film
stock sales for those 2,000 release prints. ...
And finally
• When a BluRay of an old movie comes out, what
is one of the key criteria reviewers use to judge
whether it’s...
Long tail in action
• First with television, then home video, now
DVD and streaming and cable, film is one of
the best exa...
So about that “BluRay” image

Image source: AMPAS
“High definition” has no definition
• 4K is the current high end standard for digital
resolution. It may be roughly the re...
So what do we save?
• Even in the analog era, film studios saved the
theatrical version master, not all the raw
footage.
•...
How do we save it?
• What resolution do we use for digital materials?
Ancillary materials?
• What file formats?
– Remember...
Most crucial questions
• How do we make preservation decisions in an
environment where the technology is never
stable and ...
Progress so far
• AMPAS
– Digital Dilemma 1 and 2
– Case Study

•
•
•
•
•

Digital Cinema Initiatives
Presto Center
NDIIPP...
Academy of Motion Picture Arts &
Sciences
• (AKA “the people who hand out the Oscars”)
• Science and Technology Council is...
AMPAS Case Study
• “Long Term Management and Storage of
Digital Motion Picture Materials: A Digital
Motion Picture Archive...
Image credit: AMPAS
What would a digital film archive look
like?

Image source: AMPAS
Surprises in the Case Study
• Digital film shot in 2004 on a Sony format was
already inaccessible by 2009.
• Much more col...
Workflow just for metadata

Image source: AMPAS
Without metdata
We note that in the digital world, a misplaced
asset is even less likely to be rediscovered than
an analog...
NDIIPP
• National Digital Information Infrastructure and
Preservation Program > National Digital
Stewardship Alliance (NDS...
Achievments
• Everyone is aware that standards are needed.
• The LOC offering is one set of options, but there
likely will...
• Perhaps the biggest achievements in digital
film preservation so far are
1. Raising awareness of the problems.
2. Gettin...
I am kind of wondering if I am the only one
who has noticed the lack of a coherent long
term vision and strategy for film
...
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Preservation of born digital commercial films

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Results of a review of key obstacles for the long-term preservation of born digital materials

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Preservation of born digital commercial films

  1. 1. Preservation of Born-Digital Commercial Films More Questions Than Answers
  2. 2. Defining “born-digital” for films is not clear cut. The move from film reels to image files, cinema theatres to desktops and light to algorithms supports a general cultural trend where future technology allows content to exist without artifact. --Dylan Cave (4)
  3. 3. In Brief • Film faces many of the same challenges as other analog formats when it comes to preserving digital objects • Industry is aware the problems exist • Several efforts are underway to find solutions • Not much in the way of definitive results as of yet
  4. 4. Analog era • In the past a film was shot on 35mm stock. • An editor took all the raw footage and literally cut (with razor blades) together the chosen pieces into the master. • That was “the film.”
  5. 5. Digital Era • Digital technology upended film production in the 1980s with digital audio and non-linear editing. • Now all footage is scanned into a computer. Editors use a software program like Final Cut Pro to select scenes and assemble the edit. • “The film” is a set of digital files.
  6. 6. Currently • No Hollywood film released in the last 2 decades has not been created on a computer, even if the film was shot on analog film stock. • The edited film comes into being through computer software. • Some films are shot entirely digitally with no analog stock used at all.
  7. 7. • Films with a lot of special effects obviously have many elements that only exist digitally, often created by multiple different companies. (Look at the credits of any major blockbuster.) • Computer-generated animated films also have no analog components. Image credit: fanpop.com
  8. 8. Hollywood caught on in the 1950s • Preserving films became a vital business practice in Hollywood in the 1950s. • Up until then only scattershot efforts to save films. Majority of pre-1950 film has been lost. – Also the film stock was dangerous to keep. • 1950s brought television, a secondary market, creating an economic incentive to preserve your studio’s library.
  9. 9. $$$ • Important to remember: studios see film preservation as an economic imperative, not a cultural heritage one. • Independent producers, documentarians, etc. who do not have massive corporations behind them lack the resources to do what the studios do.
  10. 10. Film as object • A “film” used to be a 35mm print. • There was a set of physical objects that were preserved. • Preservation of analog film, while imperfect, has procedures and practices that are widely adopted and work well. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
  11. 11. What is the object now? • As with all digital media, the physical object to preserve has begun to disappear. • Now a “film” is a set of files that exists on a drive somewhere. • Including mine. • The imperative to preserve remains. Image source: howstuffworks.com
  12. 12. Current preservation practice • “The message is clear: the easiest way to hold on to all the information locked into the original film is to hold on to the film.” -- David Walsh (2). • Right now studios create physical prints even of purely born-digital films to put into their archives. This is the safest and cheapest way to store a film for a long period.
  13. 13. Image source: AMPAS
  14. 14. Which version? • There is never one version of a film. You may have one or all of the following: – The theatrical release – A director’s cut/extended edition – A version for television – A version for airlines – A version for foreign markets (Iron Man 3) – A video edition for WalMart, etc.
  15. 15. Exponential copies • A single feature film can take 4 or more canisters of 35mm film stock to hold it. • Preservation masters for analog film are “YCM separations” plus the interpositive print (akin to an “access copy”). • That’s 4 copies of a single version of the film for one set of masters.
  16. 16. It gets worse • Digital projection and distribution of film complicates things further – A film opening on 2,000 screens needed 2,000 physical copies to be made and shipped. – Theaters with digital projectors can just download a Digital Cinema Package (DCP). – Right now we’ve got a mix of digital and analog projection still, so analog copies still need to be made.
  17. 17. But film stock may disappear • Companies like Kodak used to get a lot of film stock sales for those 2,000 release prints. That business has vanished. • Producing film stock only for archival purposes may become too costly for companies. • If 35mm film stock is no longer produced, you have no choice but to preserve film masters digitally. • This has not happened yet, but it’s a concern.
  18. 18. And finally • When a BluRay of an old movie comes out, what is one of the key criteria reviewers use to judge whether it’s worth buying? • The extras. The interviews, behind the scenes pieces, etc. You’re reselling a movie to the same people, you need to add something new. • Some of that material isn’t even filmed until nearly at the release date. It’s not kept with the feature film itself, even digitally.
  19. 19. Long tail in action • First with television, then home video, now DVD and streaming and cable, film is one of the best examples of a long tail of value. • That long tail depends on the extras as much as the quality of the film image. • But those extras exist only in digital format. They are not preserved with the analog film masters.
  20. 20. So about that “BluRay” image Image source: AMPAS
  21. 21. “High definition” has no definition • 4K is the current high end standard for digital resolution. It may be roughly the resolution of analog 35mm film stock (no one is sure). • Imagine you shot a film digitally only at 2K resolution. You can’t upgrade. You’re already behind the curve. • If you have the analog masters, though, you can go back and rescan at higher resolution. • Economic incentive to have analog masters(?)
  22. 22. So what do we save? • Even in the analog era, film studios saved the theatrical version master, not all the raw footage. • The theatrical version is obviously a priority, but do we save every version? If not, which ones are most important? • Do we save ancillary materials? How? • What about digital effects files?
  23. 23. How do we save it? • What resolution do we use for digital materials? Ancillary materials? • What file formats? – Remember this is an industry that’s dealt with both Betamax and LaserDisc failures. No one wants to pick the wrong technology. • A feature film can be upwards of 2 petabytes of data just for the film itself. How do we cope with file sizes this large? Tape, disc, cloud storage?
  24. 24. Most crucial questions • How do we make preservation decisions in an environment where the technology is never stable and is designed and developed to become obsolete? • How do we preserve the potential future profits from these films?
  25. 25. Progress so far • AMPAS – Digital Dilemma 1 and 2 – Case Study • • • • • Digital Cinema Initiatives Presto Center NDIIPP USC InterPARES
  26. 26. Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences • (AKA “the people who hand out the Oscars”) • Science and Technology Council is working hard on digital challenges • Two major publications: Digital Dilemma 1 (2007) and 2 (2012). – Digital Dilemma was an alarm being sounded to the industry that these problems needed to be addressed.
  27. 27. AMPAS Case Study • “Long Term Management and Storage of Digital Motion Picture Materials: A Digital Motion Picture Archive Framework Project Case Study” 2010 • Attempt to use a small film project to see what would be involved in creating a digital archive for films. • Helped identify the challenges
  28. 28. Image credit: AMPAS
  29. 29. What would a digital film archive look like? Image source: AMPAS
  30. 30. Surprises in the Case Study • Digital film shot in 2004 on a Sony format was already inaccessible by 2009. • Much more collaboration needed with IT professionals. • “Job descriptions and educational requirements for digital motion picture archive professionals do not exist.” (57) • Metadata is going to be an enormously vital component.
  31. 31. Workflow just for metadata Image source: AMPAS
  32. 32. Without metdata We note that in the digital world, a misplaced asset is even less likely to be rediscovered than an analogue asset, since there is nothing physical to look through in order to try and find it. --Randal Luckow and James M. Turner, 170
  33. 33. NDIIPP • National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program > National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) • Partnership includes AMPAS, major studios, archives and more. • Library of Congress formats – Special section for professional film (shows influence of studios and AMPAS on the work).
  34. 34. Achievments • Everyone is aware that standards are needed. • The LOC offering is one set of options, but there likely will never be a single default format. It will be a group of formats, wrappers, codecs, etc. • Metadata standards are the next big obstacle. • Commercial developers don’t see film preservation as a key market for digital asset management, so alternatives will need to be created.
  35. 35. • Perhaps the biggest achievements in digital film preservation so far are 1. Raising awareness of the problems. 2. Getting the industry to grasp the size of the problems. 3. Prompting studios who are normally bitter rivals to work together to solve the problems.
  36. 36. I am kind of wondering if I am the only one who has noticed the lack of a coherent long term vision and strategy for film preservation or perhaps better said for the content on film. I don't see it. A cold vault is not a preservation strategy for film, it has become a procrastination strategy for the preservation of film content. --Jim Lindner, CEO at Media Matters LLC, 2/17/13

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