Hollywood is in the midst of a titanic technological shift as it moves from shooting and distributing its movies on film, long the raw material of the movie business, to digital formats. While some are prospering as cinema goes digital, others are casualties of the change. There are small armies of people who once worked in Hollywood’s enormous film processing labs. These were the places, owned and operated by companies like Deluxe and Technicolor, that produced thousands of film prints to send out to movie theaters across the country and around the world. However, with the embrace of digital technology, these “film factories” are closing, and people are losing their jobs.
Since the birth of the movie industry single framed images placed sequentially on celluloid-based stock has been the raw material of Hollywood. As Hollywood moves to both shooting and distributing its movies on digital formats, film is vanishing and taking jobs with it. That’s especially the case in the once ubiquitous film processing labs once operated by companies like Technicolor and Deluxe. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
The Vineland Drive-In is one of the last surviving drive-in movie theaters in Southern California. It has a retro, well-worn feel to it, but the Vineland’s converted to projecting its movies digitally instead of on film. “We were forced to transition to the digital system because they are going to stop making 35 millimeter print, so either you change, or you won’t get any movies, says Juan Gonzalez, the Vineland’s general manager. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Instead of receiving big heavy film reels with thousands of feet of spooled film, increasingly theaters now get their movies on small computer hard drives. The studios like the change because it massively reduces their reproduction and distribution costs for movies its shipping out. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Until he was let go, Sandy Munro worked at Deluxe’s Hollywood film processing lab for more than a decade. In its heyday, he says the lab would bustle with activity as workers produced thousands of film prints to ship out to theaters across the country. Like factory jobs during the golden age of American industry, Munro says the film labs allowed small armies of skilled, blue collars workers to make a solid middle-class living in Hollywood. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Joanne Webb is with The Actors Fund, a non-profit organization that provides social services and job training to people in the entertainment industry. With the layoffs of Hollywood’s film processors, the Fund, in cooperation with organized labor and Deluxe, has started programs to help the workers find other employment. “These were people who were going in and felt very purposeful, but all of a sudden it’s not important anymore because we are moving on to digital,” says Webb. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Jan-Christopher Horack runs the UCLA Film and Television Archive, the second largest moving image archive in the United States after the Library of Congress. The staff works to painstakingly restore and preserve films so that the moving images of the past will be safeguarded. Horack worries that as it transitions to shooting and distributing its movies digitally, Hollywood may be using technologies that don’t match film’s durability when it comes to preserving them for future generations. “The old fashioned film reel, if I put it in a cold and dry vault, will last many many decades longer than the digital file,” says Horack. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Below the projection room, the Vineland Drive-In has kept one of its old film projectors…as a kind of museum piece near the concessions’ stand. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)