Film — also called movies, the cinema, the silver screen, moving pictures, motion pictures, photoplays, picture shows, and flicks — is a field that encompasses motion pictures as an art form or as part of the entertainment industry. Because film historically has been the primary medium for displaying moving images, academics often refer to this field as the study of film.
Motion pictures are an art form, a popular form of entertainment, and a business. Film is produced by recording "real" people and objects (including played-out fantasy and fakes) with cameras, and/or by animation.
The word film also often refers to photographic film used to make still photographs, or to the flexible strip of plastic covered in a light-sensitive silver halide solution, also called filmstock, on which motion pictures have historically been made.
The images that make up a motion picture are all individual photographs. But when they appear rapidly in succession, the human eye does not detect that they are separate images. This results from persistence of vision, a phenomenon whereby the eye retains a visual image for a fraction of a second after the source has been removed. Although we do not experience the images as individual photographs, we do notice the differences between them. The brain then perceives these differences as motion.
Today, many motion pictures are still recorded using specially designed cameras that capture the images on rolls of film. After being processed and printed, the film is run through a projector, which shines light through the film so that the images are displayed on a screen. Most movies have accompanying sound. Some films in recent decades have been recorded using analog video technology similar to that used in television production. More recently, many films are being recorded with a digital video camera and later projected using digital projectors and/or transferred to film. One of the major benefits of shooting digitally is that decisions can be made without waiting for the film stock to be processed.
History of cinema
Main article: History of cinema
The earliest use of moving pictures was an outgrowth of magic lanterns and similar optical devices, which could be used to display a sequence of still images in such a way that the eye would perceive the images as being in motion. Naturally, the images used in these devices had to be carefully prepared and selected to achieve the desired effect. By using pictures that were largely similar, but with slight differences, the presenter could communicate the effect of motion to the viewer. The underlying principle remains the basis for animation as a cinematic genre.
With the development of photography, and particularly of celluloid film, it became possible to record moving pictures as well. The use of film also made it more feasible to use a projection system to display images for audiences, when other techniques sometimes required the individual to look into the device to see the pictures.
The cinema was initially purely a visual art, and the moving pictures came to be known colloquially as movies. However, when showing motion pictures to audiences, theater owners typically hired musicians to accompany the presentation. The musician, usually a pianist or organist if the theater had an instrument available, was supposed to play music that would fit the mood of the film at any given moment.
Later technological improvements allowed filmmakers to create soundtracks synchronized with the action on the screen. The soundtrack can be recorded separately from shooting the film, but for live-action pictures many parts of the soundtrack are usually recorded simultaneously. Sound films were initially known as "talking pictures", or talkies. From the beginning, however, they included music as well as speech, and specialist composers of film scores soon emerged.
Development of cinema presentations
The cinema was initially purely a visual art, and the moving pictures came to be known colloquially as movies. See silent film. However, presenters found it useful to provide a commentator who could narrate the action and fill in dialogue between characters. Within a few years, films began to include subtitles that could display dialogue when the actors on screen "spoke." This rendered the function of a commentator largely unnecessary.
Rather than leave the audience in silence, theater owners often replaced the commentator by hiring musicians to accompany the presentation. The most common approach was to hire a pianist or organist if the theater had an instrument available. The music to be played was supposed to fit the mood of the film at any given moment.
Later technological improvements allowed filmmakers to create soundtracks synchronized with the action on the screen. The soundtrack can be recorded separately from shooting the film, but for live-action pictures many parts of the soundtrack are usually recorded simultaneously. Sound films were initially known as "talking pictures", or talkies.
The final major step in the development of cinema was the introduction of color. While the addition of sound to film revolutionized the medium, quickly driving out silent movies and theater musicians, color was adopted more gradually. As color processes improved, more and more movies were filmed in color, and today the use of color is virtually universal. Unlike photography, where black-and-white film is still preferred for some purposes, there is little reason not to use color in movies. In the rare exceptions, such as the Steven Spielberg movie Schindler's List, the choice usually has to do with other artistic reasons.
The motion picture industry
Even before the widespread use of sound and color, simple black-and-white movies quickly gained a hold on the public imagination. The making and showing of motion pictures became a source of potential profit within a few years after the process was invented. In this way, the cinema eventually contributed to the decline of the vaudeville world it came from. Instead, motion pictures became a separate industry, with dedicated theaters and companies formed specifically to produce and distribute films.
The first theater designed exclusively for cinema opened in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1905. Thousands of such theaters were built or converted from existing facilities within a few years. In the United States, these theaters came to be known as nickelodeons, because admission typically cost a nickel (5 cents).
The popularity of the cinema has made motion pictures the largest industry in entertainment. The visual element of cinema needs no translation, giving the motion picture a universal power of communication. As a result, popular movies can become worldwide attractions, especially with the addition of dubbing or translated subtitles to communicate the dialogue. Motion picture actors can become major celebrities and command huge fees for their performances. Already by 1917, Charlie Chaplin had a contract that called for an annual salary of 1 million dollars.
The cost of hiring star performers, along with expenses related to technological advancements, has led cinema production to concentrate under the auspices of movie studios. In the United States, much of the industry is centered around Hollywood. Other regional centers exist in many parts of the world. In addition, advances in affordable film making equipment have led to numerous independent film productions with far lower production costs than previously possible.
With modern technology, digital recording techniques have been applied to both the video and audio aspects of motion pictures. This has begun a gradual movement away from the medium of film.
According to a 2000 study by ABN AMRO, about 26% of Hollywood movie studios' worldwide income came from box office ticket sales; 46% came from VHS and DVD sales to consumers; and 28% came from television (broadcast, cable, and pay-per-view).
When it is initially produced, a film is normally shown to audiences in a movie theater. Typically, one film is the featured presentation. A feature film is sometimes defined as any film more than 60 minutes in length (90-120 minutes is typical, and a few films run up to 4 hours or more). Before showing this film, the theater may have shorter presentations or advertising. Historically, the feature presentation was often preceded by newsreels and short films, especially animation. Today, the bulk of the material shown before the feature film consists of previews for upcoming movies (also known as trailers).
The movie theater pays an average of about 55% of its ticket sales to the movie studio as film rental fees. The actual percentage starts with a number higher than that, and decreases as the duration of a film's showing continues, as an incentive to theaters to keep movies in the theater longer. However, today's barrage of highly marketed movies ensures that most movies are shown in first-run theaters for under 8 weeks. There are a few movies every year that defy this rule, often limited-release movies that start in only a few theaters and actually grow their theater count through good word-of-mouth and reviews.
Originally, all films were made to be shown in movie theaters. The development of television has allowed films to be broadcast to larger audiences, usually after the film is no longer being shown in theaters. Recording technology has also enabled consumers to rent or buy copies of films on video tape or DVD (and the older formats of laserdisc, VCD and SelectaVision—see also videodisc), and Internet downloads may be available and have started to become revenue sources for the film companies. Some films are now made specifically for these other venues, being released as made-for-TV movies or direct-to-video movies. These are often considered to be of inferior quality compared to theatrical releases.
Development of film technology
Film consists of a transparent celluloid, polyester, or other plastic coated with an emulsion containing light-sensitive chemicals. Silver nitrate was the first type of film used to record motion pictures, but due to its flammability was eventually replaced by safer formats.
Originally moving picture film was shot at various speeds using hand-cranked cameras; then the speed for mechanized cameras and projectors was standardized at 16 frames per second, which was faster than much existing hand-cranked footage. A new standard speed, 24 frames per second, came with the introduction of sound. Improvements since the late 1800s include the mechanization of cameras, allowing them to record at a consistent speed, the invention of more sophisticated filmstocks and lenses, allowing directors to film in increasingly dim conditions, and the development of synchronized sound, allowing sound to be recorded at exactly the same speed as its corresponding video.
As a medium, film is not limited to motion pictures, since the technology developed as the basis for photography. It can be used to present a progressive sequence of still images in the form of a slideshow. Film has also been incorporated into multimedia presentations. However, film also creates problems in terms of preservation and storage, and the motion picture industry is exploring digital alternatives to film. Film preservation of decaying film stock is a matter of concern to both film historians and archivists, and to companies interested in preserving their existing products in order to make them available to future generations (and thereby increase revenue).