In 2007, AMPAS (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and bestower of the Academy awards), published “The Digital Dilemma” about the preservation of studio-made motion pictures. With “The Digital Dilemma 2” a three-year study released in 2011, AMPAS teamed with NDIIPP (the Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program) to probe the preservation situation for independent filmmakers (including documentarians) and non-profit audiovisual archives.
Fact: Indies account for 75% of exhibited features and include such recent Best Picture Oscar winners as Slumdog Millionaire, The Hurt Locker, and The King’s Speech.
While this short blog cannot possible do justice to this 135-page report, I will try to hit the major points of interest.
- Most indie filmmakers are occupied with selling their films and moving on to the next project and pay scant attention to archiving.
- If an indie film doesn’t secure major studio distribution, its preservation is uncertain and content loss is most likely.
- Consensus among users is that recorded digital data will not last 30 years. No archivists surveyed by AMPAS trusted storing digital data tapes for that long because data storage hardware and software become obsolete in five to seven years.
Preservation of moving images and recorded audio takes place at the hundreds of archives, libraries, universities, studios, TV stations, and homes around the U.S.
How are these images and sounds being preserved?
- On film:
The major studios are creating film separation masters which employ the OCN (original camera negative) to generate three B & W (black and white) copies, filtering each one for one of the RGB spectrums. After development, these copies are inert and deemed the most stable for long-term archival, preservation, and restoration purposes. They are vaulted in climate controlled rooms with passive deterioration detectors and straightforward inspection protocols. For indies, this route is financially prohibitive. Also, as digital cinema and cinematography increases, there will be more .DPX and .CIN files to contend with and less photochemical film.
- On analog tape:
If stored properly in a cool room, this material is relatively simple to preserve and will last for decades, as long as the necessary recording and playback systems are retained.
- On digital tape:
Similar method and longevity to analog material.
- As digital data on digital storage media
As editors well know, much digital tape, film, and analog tape are being converted to digital data in the post process. So dealing with digital data presents a huge challenge. This is due to digital data’s many potential failure points (computer, disk or hard drive, network, software, the actual media itself, etc.) and its short cycle of technical obsolescence (file formats, drive, data readers, etc.).
Digital storage systems range from off shelf, portable hard drives overseen by the filmmaker to complex data centers maintained by archival institutions’ IT departments. Both systems are typically accessed by a desktop computer and necessitate records keeping and tracking via a database software which can be as basic as FileMakerPro or complex as a DAMS (digital asset management system).
Cold storage isn’t enough for digital data which includes files, hard disk drives, DVD, etc. Digital data demands active management on a continuing basis to ensure access to the data. Active data management includes backing up the data to several drives in several locations, routinely verifying (inspecting) the data to make sure it’s pristine, and transcoding it to new formats and drives as they appear to have some staying power.
The AMPAS report states:
There is no escaping the fact that digital technologies enable independent filmmakers to explore and extend the art form in ways that are simply not possible with motion picture film. The price to be paid for these new capabilities, however, is either the loss of content to digital decay, or accepting the responsibility of working with technology providers to articulate and satisfy industry requirements for the long-term preservation of digital data, achieve satisfactory backwards compatibility and implement standards.
The next post will look at what indie filmmakers say about preservation and give the report’s findings for the future.
History/research, Technical & process