Digital preservation in a paper-free world

How will today's digital content be preserved for posterity?

Early risers with a keen interest in technology may want to fire up their computers this morning for a webcast from Washington: “A National Conversation on the Economic Sustainability of Digital Information.”

It’s not as exciting a title as “Clash of the Titans,” but it deals with a critical issue facing the entire movie and TV business: How will today’s digital content be preserved for posterity?

There’s no reliable way to preserve digital data long-term, be it movie footage or text, and that’s a growing problem that extends beyond entertainment to health care, oil & gas exploration, legal and financial services and many other industries.

Storage media, like hard disks, tapes and DVDs, don’t have the long shelf-life of film. Hardware and operating systems for reading them go obsolete quickly. And worse, the data itself inevitably deteriorates, losing a few bits here, a few bits there, until the file is corrupt and unreadable. Also, many records are contained in e-mails and instant messages that are seldom preserved in any manner.

So today high-level delegation from Hollywood will sit down with reps from a wide range of industries as part of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access. That’s BRTF-SDPA for short, Washington being Washington.

“We’re in this period people call ‘digital nitrate,'” says technologist Ray Feeney, referring to the unstable film on which many now-lost early movies were shot and released.

Feeney, co-chair of the Academy’s Science and Technology Council, is trekking to Washington along with Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, a BRTF task force member and a member of the Sci-Tech Council; “Avatar” producer Jon Landau; Chuck Dages, exec VP Emerging Technology, Warner Home Entertainment; Andrea Kalas, VP of Archives, Paramount Pictures, and Bob Lambert, Disney’s senior VP Worldwide Technology Strategy and Development.

“People who can watch it, should,” says Cohen of the webcast.

Hollywood is positioned to play a central role in the quest for digital archiving.

Because digital files for movies are so big (“More than a petabyte in size,” says Cohen. “That’s on par with Pentagon storage.”) while the lifespan of a production is relatively short — just a few years — the movie industry is an ideal place to test archiving solutions.

And that goes beyond footage, says Feeney.

“I tell people we very much miss a mechanism where digital material is born archival. People say ‘You mean we need an equivalent of polyester film.’ I’m talking about paper.”

The creative decisions and history of moviemaking up to a few years ago, he notes, were on paper. Now it’s IMs between the director and colorist, or emails from the producer, which aren’t likely to be preserved.

“There’ll be a lot of information about the 60s and 70s,” he says, “and some day when this problem is solved, maybe 2035, there’ll be a lot of information from then forward. But we’re in a situation where a lot of what we’re doing today is at best at risk, and in some cases it won’t be cost effective to save anything other than the finished product.”

You can find the webcast starting at 9 a.m. Eastern/6 a.m. Pacific, on


Tohokushinsha to make 3D “Garo”

Tokyo: Tohokushinsha, a major distrib and producer of pics and TV programs, is gearing up to make a 3D feature version of “Garo,” a hit tokusatsu (special effects) live-action series broadcast on TV Tokyo.

3D is still rare in the Japanese biz, including makers of toons and live-action pics.

Titled “Garo — Red Requiem,” the pic is skedded for a fall 2010 bow with TV series helmer Keita Amemiya and star Ryosei Konishi contributing their talents.

TV Tokyo broadcast the show in 2005. Konishi starred as the leader of a band of knights who battle demonic creatures called “Horrors.”

In the pic, Mary Matsuyama stars as a new character — a priestess who goes off to battle the Horrors on her own.

Tohokushinsha is teaming with effects house Omnibus Japan, which also worked on the original show, to make the 3D pic. Tohokushinsha will also release this fall together with distrib Go Cinema.

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