Surprise, surprise! Now after the shift to digital filmmaking is almost complete, we discover that archiving film for the future is more expensive than expected.

It used to be that when a motion picture studio was ready to archive a film, they packed the film, trailers, and assorted takes and shipped them off to a salt mine in Kansas or a limestone mine in Pennsylvania. It was a file-and-forget system that cost about $1,059 for the film’s master.

But then came digital, and everything changed. What’s astonishing is that the problem didn’t become public until recently when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the results of a yearlong study of digital archiving called “The Digital Dilemma.”

To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year—more than 12 times the cost of the film master. But, what’s worse is that to keep everything associated with making the film in the digital domain soars to $208,569 a year.

That’s vastly higher than the $486 it costs store the equivalent camera negatives, audio recordings, on-set photographs, and annotated scripts of an all film production into the cold-storage vault.

If you think this is doesn’t make sense—well, it doesn’t. Producing a film digitally was supposed to make it more accessible and less costly. But ubiquity, it turns out, is not the same as permanence.

Milton Shefter, a longtime film preservationist who helped prepare the academy’s report, told the New York Times that the problems associated with digital movie storage, if not addressed, could point the industry “back to the early days, when they showed a picture for a week or two, and it was thrown away.”



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