'Archiving' focuses on lack of long-term plan

Just as Hollywood is preoccupied with keeping its content machine running, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has weighed in on the problems of preserving existing digital content — and it’s not a pretty picture.

In its long-awaited white paper on the biz’s digital future, the Academy’s Science and Technology Council describes an industry embracing digital filmmaking without any proven way to store digital information for the long term or retrieve it for later use.

The 74-page paper, titled “The Digital Dilemma: Strategic Issues in Archiving and Accessing Digital Motion Picture Materials,” spotlights the risks of embracing digital without a long-term plan.

“Upper-level decisionmakers have to understand that there is a problem, shared by other business sectors and industries, and there is no solution currently,” said Milt Shefter, leader of the Council’s Digital Motion Picture Archival Project. “We’re not saying not to (go digital). We’re saying understand when you commit to digital, that’s what you’re getting into.”

The document, distributed to a variety of filmmakers and decisionmakers with a letter from Academy prexy Sid Ganis, calls for industrywide cooperation in creating storage and archiving systems that are even better than film, and in establishing unified standards for what is archived and how.

Among many facts likely to give decisionmakers pause, the paper notes that the current 2K digital cinema standard is inferior to the quality of 35mm film and that digital storage media have a much shorter lifespan than film. The yearly cost of archiving a higher-quality 4K master is $104.28 per running minute as compared to $8.83 per running minute for film.

Furthermore, since digital cameras don’t require reloading the way film cameras do, directors are shooting much more footage and there is more material than ever to be cataloged and stored.

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