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  • Death of film for TV is greatly exaggerrated

    Posted on November 25th, 2009 Mike No comments

    If you ask the average person – in or out of the television industry – whether film is still being used for television series in the U.S., the answer would probably be no. The prevailing wisdom (especially in Europe, for some reason) seems to be that film for television production is basically dead, that all television series have moved to digital formats for production. Prevailing wisdom perhaps, except that it’s just not true. Film production is still very much a part of the picture for US television, both in dramas and comedies. If you look at the current prime time schedule, and add up the totals, you would find that out of 71 shows – including all current prime time dramas and sitcoms on both the major broadcast networks and the major cable networks – 43 are on shot on various digital cameras, and 28 are shot on film (both 35mm and 16mm). Now, if you eliminate the sitcoms – which have been shot almost exclusively on video since the mid 1990’s – and just look at dramas, out of  57 shows, 33 are on digital, and 24 are on film. So for dramas, that means that 42% are still shot on film. That’s clearly a much lower number than in the past, but it’s still quite significant. Now, if you look at shows that are new (i.e., in their first season) out of 10 shows, 9 of them are digital. One might look at this as a trend, and one would probably be correct. Clearly there is a movement towards digital that can’t be ignored. But once again, if you dig a bit deeper, the pilot season that produced those 10 new shows was severely affected by the failure of the Screen Actors Guild – which has exclusive jurisdiction over television shows that are shot on film – to sign a new contract. This in turn led the studios to shoot nearly all pilots this year under a contract with AFTRA, the “other” performers’ union that has shared jurisdiction with SAG for any program that is shot on any medium other than film, in order to ensure that the pilots could be completed without the threat of an actors’ strike. Would any of these pilots have gone to film in a “normal” year? Who knows? But it would not be unreasonable to conclude that at least some of them might have.

    In any case, and contrary to popular belief, film production is still alive and well for US television, although it is clearly no longer the dominant medium, even for prime time dramas. To see the complete list, go here.