There's still money to be made in film; it's knowing where
Watching the decline and fall of film has a certain something of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire about it. It's a peculiar analogy, I know, and one that isn't perfect–but then how many analogies are–so indulge me, would you?
For those of you who didn't get a kick out of Diocletian's Edict on Maximum Prices when they were at university, I'll give you a super-brief explanation and hope that Edward Gibbon doesn't come back to haunt me. By 285 the Roman Empire was monstrously large and without the benefit of telegraph cables or the intergoogles, far too unwieldy to control from one seat of government. There had long been a system of provincial rule with Rome at its heart, but in his wisdom Diocletian decided that the solution was to split the empire into two: a western half and an eastern half, to be ruled from two centres of power with two (or sometimes more) emperors.
There were periods when the two halves were reunited under one ruler, but it was really the beginning of the end for the feted glory of Rome. The Western Empire was ruled from Milan or Ravenna, and sustained attack after attack from external enemies such as the Goths and Visigoths, eventually crumbling and making way for the Dark Ages or early mediaeval period in the 400s. The Eastern Empire's capital came to settle in Byzantium (which then became Constantinople and is now Istanbul), and continued in some form or another for centuries, becoming increasingly unrecognisable from the Rome from which it had sprung.
Now that I've subjected you to a grossly incomplete history of the fall of Rome, you're wondering just how it relates to film. Okay: the Western Empire is like the traditional use of film; it can't withstand the assault from digital technology and is disintegrating before our eyes. It is holding out in pockets, but the end is inevitable. The Eastern Empire, on the other hand, is like the novelty use of film; it's drifting further and further away from the principles that brought it to be, but it's holding on in some kind of adulterated form, becoming gradually smaller in influence.
And now of course you're wondering just what on earth spurred me to equate film to the Roman Empire.
Well, this week Fujifilm announced that it is ceasing production of films used for motion picture shooting. The shift towards digital production has made it unsustainable, so the company will now focus on supporting that, with lens production, colour management systems, and archiving services. This of course follows the announcement earlier in the year that it is ceasing production of some of its stills films, as well as the development of in-camera film-like image reproduction.
Meanwhile, Fujifilm has also introduced the Instax mini 8: a camera that can create credit-card sized instant prints. The camera comes in white, black, pale pink, baby blue, and pastel yellow. It's an upgrade on the Instax mini 7S, being smaller and lighter, with an improved view-finder and the addition of a high-key mode. It's being aimed very squarely at women in the late teens and 20s who want something fun and frivolous.
There's clearly still a market for certain types of film out there, and Fujifilm knows this. It's just a case of recognising which ones need to be cut loose, so those areas where digital is more effective, more economical, and more universally employed, and which it should continue to support–fun, frolicsome, and not altogether serious.
It's film, Marcus, but not as Augustus knew it.