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In Features, Issues

CONTINUING DILEMMA

By Jason Guerrasio

If you’ve decided to take on the arduous task of releasing your film through a DIY model you’ve probably already read in the pages of Filmmaker within the last year what lies ahead. But your work doesn’t end after a theatrical release, television sales, or even after the DVD hits Netflix. If you truly care about your work, you have to figure out how to archive it.

Since heading a report on how digital works are being preserved at the studio level in 2007 for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences called The Digital Dilemma, Milt Shefter has been on a quest to bring awareness to the whole film community, including independents, about digital archiving. “Everybody is concerned about [how their movie will be archived] when it’s brought up,” he says, “but nobody so far has an answer.”

Following publication of The Digital Dilemma, Shefter, who runs the company Miljoy Enterprises, Inc., which deals with media asset preservation, was asked this past year to head a follow-up report, this time teamed by The Library of Congress and AMPAS. The new report would focus on how independent filmmakers are archiving their films. “Thus far what we’ve found is the majority of the independent filmmakers are much more concerned with getting to the point of first exhibition than anything else,” Shefter says. “The question I ask [filmmakers] is if they go back 10 to 25 years and try to find footage they shot that has historical significance and that was put on a digital format that no longer exists, what are they going to do? And there’s one huge blank stare.”

Currently Shefter says the most popular method of digital archiving is migrating to newer formats and dispersing copies geographically. This is expensive, time consuming and he says has a lifespan of an average of three to five years before a current format becomes obsolete. Shefter hopes that the report, which will be released sometime in 2010 through the AMPAS, will spark a discussion between independent filmmakers and archivists to create a de facto industry standard on how to archive. It’s also hoped that the report will impress upon filmmakers their need to take archiving seriously. Too many filmmakers assume distributors or labs will be responsible for archiving material. Others simply ignore the reality that digital media can be lost as formats change.

Filmmaker conducted a survey on our Web site for the report and the results show that 81 percent of filmmakers store their digital media content on a hard drive and only 8 percent make a point of updating their elements to newer formats (you can see the full list of results on our blog). Tom Quinn, who wrote, directed and produced his debut feature, The New Year Parade, for around $7,000 shooting on standard def, admits that a horrible experience on a film previous to The New Year Parade made him more aware about the issues involved with archiving. “I shot a film that took seven years and screened it once for family and friends,” he says. “A week after the screening my hard drive crashed so the only complete copy I ever made was a highly compressed DVD.”

For The New Year Parade Quinn says he’s upconverted the film to HDCam at 23.98, which will also be the tape master (he’s also made two Blu-ray copies of the upconvert). He’s planning to use Final Cut Pro’s Media Manager to put the film and DVD bonus features on two hard drives (one for himself, one for his producer), and he will export the same elements to an uncompressed QuickTime file. Because he doesn’t have the budget to keep the raw footage in a safe deposit box and it may get too hot in a fireproof safe, he plans to put the tapes in a Tupperware container in a closet in his house that has the most consistent room temperature. Quinn says archiving his film to two hard drives will cost him just over $1,600 and the Blu-ray copy was $2,800. He hopes this will keep him above the technology curve for 10 to 15 years.

Quinn admits that archiving is not a topic that comes up often when filmmakers trade war stories. “I realize how little I know [about archiving],” he confesses. “It would be great to get an overview at different budget levels: what can we do on a microbudget and what can we do during production that will help with archiving.” Shefter, in fact, has been imploring film festivals, labs and markets to put digital-archiving awareness in their programming. “That’s the whole reason behind archiving,” he says. “We have an obligation to future generations to let them see what we consider as being important commentary.” Quinn echoes the same sentiment when thinking about Philadelphia’s New Year’s Day Mummers Parade that he features in his film. “I’ve talked to some of the mummers about how in 50 or 100 years my tiny little lo-fi film could actually mean something totally different to their great-grandkids in South Philly. That’s crazy to think, but a neat thought.”

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