The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or AMPAS (Oscar academy) has just announced this year’s 19 scientific and technical achievement awards, who unlike the Best Film, Best Actor, etc are named and honoured prior to Oscar night, mainly to allow for more telecast time for the Angelinas of the red carpet business. These are typically individuals, often working for a specific company, whose technology has made a significant difference to the film industry, be it a new Kodak film stock, an Arri camera, a Dolby sound processor or a technical development like the Lowry film restoration process. They typically get a plaque or a medal, rather than an Oscar statuette, but it is no less of a recognition for those honoured. This year the Scientific and Technical Awards presentation ceremony on Saturday 15 February will be special in that it could see the stage swamped with hundreds of un-employed or soon-to-be unemployed film lab technicians getting a recognition for their work, just as their industry is about to die.
The list of 19 awards is a good illustration of how the motion picture (not ‘film’) industry has shifted. Two individuals, VFX supervisor and DoP Peter W. Anderson and post-production veteran Tad Marburg, are singled out for a special gong each. No less than 15 of the 19 recognition go to computer and software-related tools and developments, be it VFX, animation, rendering, color correction, digital modeling, or the likes. Two award go for separate helicopter camera systems and one of the 19 goes to the three people that designed ‘the Pneumatic Car Flipper’ that can send stunt cars flying through the air. So the scorecard is Digital: 15, Analogue: 3.
But the 19th award seeks to redress the digital-analogue imbalance by recognising an entire industry that is about to be no more: analogue film labs. Here is the commendation is full:
ACADEMY AWARD® OF MERIT (OSCAR STATUETTE)
To all those who built and operated film laboratories, for over a century of service to the motion picture industry.
Lab employees have contributed extraordinary efforts to achieve filmmakers’ artistic expectations for special film processing and the production of billions of feet of release prints per year. This work has allowed an expanded motion picture audience and unequaled worldwide cinema experience.
With all the lab employees out of work with the shutting of the film labs of Deluxe, Technicolor and others around the world, it could thus get crowded on stage. However, it is a worthy and dignified tribute to the countless of unsung heroes whose work over the last century with lights and chemicals is what produced that thin strip of film that was the only thing that both separated and connected audiences and film makers. In my view, everyone who ever worked for a film lab should get to keep the Oscar statuette for one day before passing it along to a colleague.