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How Digital Cinema Works


Production Benefits

Apart from image quality, there are two huge differences between film and digital video: cost and flexibility.

Cost

Film is hundreds of times more expensive than digital video. The raw video alone is extremely cheap, and there is virtually no processing involved before the editing stage. Filmmakers on a real shoe-string budget can even re-use the tape multiple times. By Hollywood standards, digital video costs nearly nothing.

The "Star Wars" crew can definitely back this up. In an interview with Cinematographer.com, Rick McCallum, one of the producers on "Attack of the Clones," said they spent $16,000 on 220 hours of digital tape, and they would have spent about $1.8 million on 220 hours of film.

Flexibility

For the filmmaker, the most exciting element of digital technology is how easy it is to use. Most filmmakers have already switched to digital editing systems because they make it so much simpler to put a movie together. In the current process, filmmakers actually convert the film footage to a digital format for post-production and then back to film again for its theatrical release. The conversion process is costly, it ends up degrading the image quality somewhat, and it takes time.

Digital video doesn't have to go through this conversion process. As soon as they shoot digital footage, filmmakers can immediately play it back and start editing it. With film, they have to send the footage off for processing before they know what they have. A director might spend all day shooting only to discover the lighting was off and the footage is totally unusable. On the "Attack of the Clones" set, the crew could review the footage after every shot. They could shoot a scene in the morning and start editing it that afternoon.

Additionally, the crew doesn't have to get extensive coverage (repeated takes) in case something looks wrong. They know right away if there were any problems.