Panavision struggling to compete with the RED camera

An article in the L.A. Times yesterday described how Panavision is losing business precipitously. There are two reasons for this: production has declined dramatically, and when something does get made, it tends to be shot with a RED camera rather than on celluloid. This is seriously hurting the business of Panavision, which has been supplying what is arguably the world’s best motion picture film camera for decades.

Production will cease to decline at some point and will gently recover to some sort of “new normal”, although no one truly knows when. But losing market share to the RED camera is inevitable, and it is pure bad luck that it happens to be coinciding with such a serious and protracted downturn.

If you think about it, it is every company’s nightmare scenario: a competitor appears from nowhere who offers essentially the same thing at a tiny fraction of the price. You can only pray that it never happens, but if it does, all bets are off. How can you compete with something that is massively cheaper and 98% as good?

As I recently wrote, film just cannot compete with RED.

Here is what would really freak me out if I were a Panavision stakeholder: due to the appalling costs associated with film stock, processing and telecine, even if Panavision cameras were available completely free of charge, it would still be cheaper to shoot a project with the RED camera instead! Think about that for a minute.

This is all terribly sad, especially for those, like me, who have a soft spot for the look of film. But the reality of the current situation is brutal: shooting on film is simply not economical, to the extent that most projects simply cannot get made unless they are shot digitally. The money simply isn’t there. This is why it is such a huge relief that the RED camera actually produces seriously beautiful footage in the right hands. Before the RED camera was introduced, the options were celluloid or ugliness — there was no third way.

For the few who haven’t noticed yet, the move towards digital is like a ratchet: the process is absolutely unidirectional and irreversible. Unfortunately, unless Kodak and telecine facilities start to subsidize it at a loss — and why would they? — celluloid will become utterly inaccessible to all but the exceptionally wealthy, just like caviar. A sad loss.

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