one fax sent is one fax too many
‘It costs about $1,500 to print one copy of a movie on 35 mm film and ship it to theaters in its heavy metal canister. Multiply that by 4,000 copies — one for each movie on each screen in each multiplex around the country — and the numbers start to get ugly. By comparison, putting out a digital copy costs a mere $150.
The new format is called a DCP, or Digital Cinema Package. It is a virtual format, a collection of files stored on a hard drive. Roughly the size of a paperback novel, the hard drive is mailed in a lightweight, foam-lined plastic case to the theater, where it’s inserted (or, in the lingo, “ingested”) into a server that runs the digital projector. DCPs won’t run on traditional film projectors, however. So if they want to play the new format, theater owners must update their equipment.
If the past is prologue, film preservation hasn’t exactly been a priority with studios. Today, studios store their prints in caves deep within the earth — high-security vaults hundreds of feet underground. Abandoned salt or iron ore mines, the facilities are known colloquially as “the salt mines.” Supposedly they are able to withstand the blast of a nuclear bomb. But not too long ago, studios simply threw films away. Paramount planned to burn its old nitrate. MGM was set to dump its original negatives — including those for Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz — into the ocean. What did they need those for, they figured? They’d made copies. Luckily for the studios, archivists at UCLA and Eastman House took the prints instead. Because, years later, MGM wanted to digitize its old movies and needed the originals back. The copies they’d made, on Kodak stock, had faded.
And even after the films are converted to digital, Jan-Christopher Horak, director of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, calls the challenges of preserving them “monumental.” Digital is lousy for long-term storage. The main problem is format obsolescence. File formats can go obsolete in a matter of months. On this subject, Horak’s every sentence requires an exclamation mark. “In the last 10 years of digitality, we’ve gone through 20 formats!” he says. “Every 18 months we’re getting a new format!” So every two years, data must be transferred, or “migrated,” to a new device. If that doesn’t happen, the data may never being accessible again. Technology can advance too far ahead.’