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Format Wars

Sep 9, 2009 12:00 PM, By Michael Goldman

The end of film for TV production?


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The team for Leverage uses a Red Digital Cinema Red One camera system recording to hard drives. The show uses an all-digital production and postproduction workflow under one roof at Executive Producer Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment in Los Angeles.

The team for Leverage uses a Red Digital Cinema Red One camera system recording to hard drives. The show uses an all-digital production and postproduction workflow under one roof at Executive Producer Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment in Los Angeles.
Photo: Erik Heinila

Since high-end digital camera packages are mostly more expensive than film packages and have other costs associated with wrangling data, is there any way to quantify or illustrate the cost savings over traditional 35mm projects?

Devlin: Think of it this way, in terms of making dailies. If you shoot film, you transfer them, get them onto DVD, store them, get them ready for editorial, and that can add up to roughly $20,000 or $30,000 a day. If you want to do a digital interpositive on a 2-hour movie, that can cost you roughly $250,000. We save on all that, plus less manpower trying to get data from one place to another, and we’ve brought the whole post chain inhouse, so there are obviously big cost reductions. We had a movie of the week originally budgeted for $7.5 million, and we made it for $1.4 million. Our regular TV episodes cost roughly $1.8 million per episode, and I would argue that doing the same show traditionally for a network would come in around $3 million an episode.

Tilson: [Shooting digital] can definitely be less expensive if you know what you are doing simply because it is less expensive to shoot and process. It could be more expensive if you go hog wild and shoot way more footage than you need, increasing man hours in post to cull through dailies and cut the show down. But we went and saw the setup Dean Devlin has [for Leverage], and I do have to say, I think studios are probably eyeing that as a model—to essentially have an all-in-one post house and do everything in one place, largely because they view it as a way to be more cost-efficient, especially now that the cost of hardware is coming down to make it viable. They have their own mix stage, too. We haven’t gone that far, largely because we have such an excellent audio facility here at Universal, but obviously, they are showing that it can be done relatively inexpensively. So as we move toward digital capture and these new models, I’d expect the implications for the postproduction industry could be huge—assembling everything right on the stage, automating more steps. I think that is probably the direction the industry will move in.

But what about the issue of archiving data and future-proofing it? Many film advocates say film remains the best available archival medium, especially for television. Doesn’t it remain risky to leave all those shows on tape or in the digital realm indefinitely?

Devlin: Try to find a good print of Jaws. We did things forever on film, and film fades. Basically, digital material will be as good, and live as long as people who are managing that data are careful. If you are reckless, or careless, then yes, it can easily be destroyed. But if you follow normal precautions with data, as they do in other businesses, like the banking industry, you can maintain it. It is really about how diligent you are in protecting your digital assets.

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