Replay: The technological revolution has created great opportunities for new film-makers everywhere, but has in its wake created a new challenge: where are we going to put all this stuff? Peter J Haas investigates An Affordable Middle Ground To Preserving Your Film’s Digital Assets.
We’re not talking about just making backups of your data here. Backing up implies a live / active copy of your materials to use just in case something happens with the copy you’re working on. What we’re going to discuss here is archiving, the long term storage of our materials.
We all know that digital archiving is a problem. Mediums tend to be unstable over time, formats evolve and change (ask anyone who has a pile of floppy or zip discs sitting around) and, some software manufacturers will go out of business (I still miss WordStar) and others will end of life your documents and project files (I’m looking at you Apple).
Complicating the situation is the exponential increase in the amount of data we are creating, particularly in digital cinema. We’ve gone from the days of DVCAM where 13GB would hold somewhere around an hour, to formats such as CinemaDNG where around three minutes would occupy roughly the same amount of space.
This is not to complain about these formats. Implementing cameras like the Black Magic Pocket, Cinema Camera and Digital Bolex has allowed small companies and truly independent film-makers (like the company I work for, Left Turn Productions) to produce works on par with that of much larger, fully funded studios. Yet, even with advances in digital cinema and computer technology, the bigger, less glamorous question still remains: “what do I do with my materials once I’m finished with my film?”
There is no simple magic bullet for solving the digital dilemma. In their aptly titled reports The Digital Dilemma Parts I and II the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences outlines the fact that even large Hollywood Productions are hitting a wall when trying to solve the same problems as the little guys. Even masters of the digital film domain such as George Lucas (who is arguably most responsible for pushing the industry towards digital for the last thirty or so years) has claimed on multiple occasions that the solutions aren’t there yet, but the issues of digital archiving will be solved by “the market” at “some point” in the future.
More importantly, as the Digital Dilemma points out, most film-makers are not technology people and are more concerned with “moving onto the next project,” than trying to find a complicated solution to seemingly overwhelming problem. This is worrisome, as there is an entire generation of digital media that is in severe danger of being lost.
This raises the next questions: “Why bother archiving?”, “Is there any reason to save our master materials beyond the final product?”, “As media creators, what are our obligations to the materials we are creating?”, and “Who am I even archiving this for anyway?”
It’s impossible to predict the cultural significance of the work that we are doing while we are working on it. Every recording that you make is a slice of history. Regardless of the content, be it documentary or fiction, the work that you are doing is representative of something at a particular period in time.
Outside the scope of greater society, you’re spending a great deal of time, and of course money, on creating something. At the very least, you should be concerned enough to preserve these materials for yourself! We want to treat our projects the best we can. We go through great effort to make them look great, and we want to maintain that throughout the process. Yet, after doing some extensive research, I’ve found that doing right by your film doesn’t always come down to strictly maintaining the highest numbers.