Others Demand Proof: Proof I Once Handled "Real" Film

Evidence that I once actually handled "real" film.

That line of purple dots? That's a soundtrack. Those two squiggly white lines? Also a soundtrack. Oh, and see those grey spots between the sprocket holes? ALSO a soundtrack.

Even though I call myself a "filmmaker" I've never actually worked with film. At least, I've never worked with motion picture film- I took a film photography class back when I was in High school which was in the last millennium so I'm not sure that counts. I'm not alone in this: the industry has pretty much moved entirely over to digital media since it is so much cheaper to work with and now, thanks to HD, it looks just as good (to most audiences- lets be fair there will always be purists who can tell the difference) on the Big Screen.

A week or so ago one of my professors brought "gifts" to the class giving us each a four-frame segment of 35mm film both as an example of how much information was encoded on actual film before the digital revolution took over and as a token of a quickly fading era of cinema history. The film clips were cut down from a trailer for a commercial film (I don't remember the title, unfortunately) and the frames I received showed only a title reading "Others Demand Proof". This seemed appropriate somehow.

Four frames of 35 mm film is about two fingers wide and four fingers long. The amount of information encoded on that little strip of film is remarkable: picture clear enough to read by holding it up to the light AND clear enough to be projected on a forty foot theatre screen, and three separate soundtracks, encoded for three different systems, to be used as backups in case the digital soundtrack fails.

Although it may not seem like much, "real" film has one significant advantage over digital film: it is actually Real. It actually physically exists in a permanent, physical form and can be viewed just by holding it up to the light. Digital media is much cheaper to produce, but exists only in the ethereal, virtual world of hard drives and computers and can only be played with the right programs and devices. Figuring out how to archive digitally produced films in a format that will last as long as "real" film will is one of the yet unsolved dilemmas of the digital filmmaker.

So while this four frame clip of film may be the only actual motion picture film that I ever handle, I have to say that I respect it a great deal.


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