SIDE BY SIDE: Part Two — Filmmaker Comments

Two weeks after the release of Chris Kenneally and Keanu Reeves’s HD video documentary Side by Side, Paul Thomas Anderson’s magisterial 70mm feature The Master struck a fortissimo chord for motion picture film amid the cacophony of the ongoing digital babble. Whether this is a resurgent hymn to the vibrancy and primacy of celluloid or its dirge remains to be seen. My local cinema complex, the Lincoln Center AMC 15, is projecting The Master in 70mm and in a DCP. I chose the 9:30 am Sunday film projection—complete with changeover cues. Remember them? The AMPAS member screening in Beverly Hills that same afternoon was also in 70mm. The studios have stated there will be no more film exhibition prints made by them within the next year and Fujifilm announced on the same day as the release of Anderson’s film that it will by this year’s end cease the production of most motion picture film products. So where, exactly, you might ask, do we stand?

Cinema Precision 65 mm

Following discussions with many friends and colleagues about the film Side by Side, I decided to follow up my interview with Chris Kenneally by asking 13 professionals about their thoughts on the film/video dialogue. Most of them are feature, television or documentary cinematographers; some are camera assistants and operators; several are film educators. None are directors or producers and none are featured in the documentary. I was looking for a view from the trenches. I was intrigued as well by the opinions of those who work in both film and digital video media—switch hitters who constitute the front line experience. I asked the same five questions of each colleague. Some respondents are brief; others are expansive. Some are purely professional and technical, and some are highly personal. All of them thoughtfully considered the questions.

This is quite a long article; you may want to sample it or read it in several sittings. But if you have the time to engage it completely, you will find a broad spectrum of opinions.

Technicolor 3-Strip

 

Here are the questions and answers:

 

Caleb Deschanel, ASC is not only a colleague, but a good friend. We were fellow students at USC Cinema in the mid-60s.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?  

Deschanel: I’ve not seen it — but digital vs. film has become like partisan politics — no in between, no compromise. I frankly think there is room for all means of image capture as long as they can hold on from a business point of view. Polaroid died — but was revived by a manufacturer in Scandinavia. The more means to film – the better.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why? 

I think film will last a while longer — and if it continues to have its supporters — could even continue to be a niche of filmmaking for a very long time. We know it will last a long time as an archiving medium — there are still Lumierè Brother’s films intact a hundred and 15 years on.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do you experience digital video? 

I think those of us who have been around a while are nostalgic for film as a medium for recording visual images — but still the pristine projection of digital and the way we can restore damaged old films with digital technology is a wonderful thing. It is getting to the point where I find it difficult to see the difference between digital and film. It does not really matter what I think, or what anyone thinks — digital is the medium of the future. It is a matter of just how long film will hold on? And if it — like opera and other arts of another era — is worth supporting, [we need] to preserve what it is that makes it special. Super 8 film has a niche that will last… and I believe at least for a while, 35mm and 65mm film will have a certain cachet and there will be people who only want to use it. I have gone back and forth and I like the choices I have now.

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology 

Well, they are trying to create digital cameras that have the look of film – adding shutters to the F65 and the Alexa, for instance. So there is for many people the familiarity of 24 fps film as a way of seeing “movies” in theatres. I think we tend to think of digital as the artificially sharpened images that come from television – where everything is in focus and we don’t know where to look. But modern digital cameras — by using a larger chip and not sharpening the image electronically – are coming close to imitating what we are used to seeing on film. Where we go from here depends on how audiences respond to other advances – 48 fps shooting and projecting — as in The Hobbit (something akin to what Doug Trumbull did with Showscan 60 fps projected at 60 fps) I certainly think it is just a matter of time before the quality of digital — in terms of image quality and color depth will supersede film. The problem for me has always been that some of the promoters of digital forced it down our throats before it was even remotely as good as film. I think we may look back on some of those films with regret. Just the way I look back on tapes of my kids and regret the day I abandoned Super 8 film to go to Betamax. In the past, the advances made in technology were to make things better — by that I mean better color – better image quality — better grain structure — but now with many modern technologies, the advances are made toward greater convenience or greater “coolness.” An iPod with 5000 songs that don’t sound very good, beats out great sound on a CD or fine record, or photos that can be emailed beat out fine sharp images. Nonetheless I find myself drawn to some of these attributes.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials? 

I think this is the most serious consideration of the march to digital. We have not solved this problem. Digital preservation has to be constantly renewed every 5 years or so — at this point. No doubt the George Lucases and Jim Camerons who have the resources to constantly upgrade the digital info will do so — it is the lesser films that I worry about — like many made in the teens, 20’s and 30’s — ones that were ignored in their day but later rediscovered and recognized as fine works of art. Many managed to survive only because they were preserved on film — we may lose masterpieces like that — ones that are lost because they were shot digitally and not recognized at first as fine films. Films “ahead of their time” — or films that become a wonderful representation of a lost era – that will never be seen again.

The Sony PMW 200

 

William McDonald is chair of the Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media at UCLA.

Bailey: Do you see a  side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

McDonald: I have to separate my answer into two parts:  artistic and practical.  Artistically, film and digital should always co-exist. Acrylics did not eliminate oils in the world of painting.  Some thought such a thing would happen; after all, why deal with paint thinner and all the difficulties of oil paints when working with acrylics and water was so much easier?  Ease of use seems to be a common thread with changing methods or technologies.  This argument has been applied to the film and digital debate: digital is easier.  But I will touch on this issue in answer to another of your questions.  Digital forms and film offer different filmmaking possibilities [in] the experience of shooting and the look of the visual material itself.  The practical answer is driven by economics. As where the cost of oil paints and acrylic paints may be similar, the upfront cost of film and digital varies greatly.  I say upfront because we know those costs often even out in post-production.  Film requires an extensive infrastructure to manufacture, process, etc.  Is there an economic will and incentive to maintain this infrastructure?  Unfortunately, I have my doubts.  I do believe film will remain as a boutique technology at some point, to some degree.  What that industry/infrastructure looks like I don’t know.

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology?

Artistic difference?  In so far as the tools you use will influence what those tools produce, yes, there is an artistic difference.  In my world of filmmaking education, I see students approach their work very differently when they work in film and in digital.  I am pleased to find that students are still very excited to work in film.  I believe it comes from their lack of familiarity with the technology.  They have experienced digital video all their lives.  It is common, ubiquitous, and familiar.  The students marvel at the sophistication of the mechanical, analog, nature of film; their work becomes very precise, well considered, and thoughtful.  I train them in a system of shooting and they pay attention because they know they will produce unusable images if they don’t use that system.  In my undergraduate introductory cinematography course, we shoot 16mm film for about 2/3 of the term.  Then I introduce an exercise in which they use digital cameras.  On that day, I witness the students’ grab the cameras and head for the door, assignment in hand.  On each of the previous film shoots, these same students spent 30 plus minutes carefully prepping their cameras, looking at the assignment, considering their choices, given their 100 ft. of film.  With the digital shoot, they didn’t even stop to see if their lenses were clean.  I stop them at the door, point out this discrepancy in preparation, and watch them return to the sound stage, ready to fully prep their digital cameras.  Although this story could be dismissed as simply unimportant among the bigger issues, I think it very much illustrates a profound impact digital is having on cinematography.  I do not see the CRAFT of cinematography being taught the same way with digital as I have seen with film.  And it is that care of CRAFT that profoundly affects the art that that craft produces.  Again, there will be those that dismiss this issue, but to me as a cinematographer and educator, I take pride in the craft of what I do and teach.  And to see a serious decline in that craft among new filmmakers is beyond distressing. I believe such lack of attention to CRAFT ultimately weakens the very foundation of what we do as filmmakers.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials?

This is an excellent generational question that, unfortunately, our industry as a whole tends to ignore.  Archiving, by its very nature, is an enterprise measured in generations. Current business practice comes nowhere close to thinking about long-term issues, much less generational issues. In the current business models, thinking 24 months out is long-term planning. Such thinking does not bode well for the archivist. We already know, with even the best of effort and intention, the fragility of digital media becomes clear after just a few years. How many formats, compression schemes, architectures have changed over the last 10 years?  Try to find a fully functioning 1-inch tape machine. You will find a few, but they disappear quickly when there is no financial incentive to maintain such technology. I tell the following story to my students: my brother-in-law, a man in his mid-50’s, has approximately 20 pictures — paper prints – of his entire college experience.  His four years of life changing times, events, friends, are captured in those 20 pictures and he has them in hand, now, on demand, at the drop of a hat. I challenge my students — who shoot thousands of personal digital images a year — to bring me 20 digital images from their freshman year in high school, a mere 6-7 years ago. I watch the panic on their faces as they realize they have no idea what computer, what hard drive, what phone, what cloud site their images MIGHT reside on. Archiving is such a serious issue that I call these first years of digital image making “the generation of lost images” as the vast majority of people will never be able to find these thousands of images again. Unfortunately, the same is roughly true for our industry. Keeping track of, or constantly migrating, digital files is a time consuming, costly endeavor. Is the economic commitment and technological wherewithal present that will be needed?

Eclair NPR

 

Buddy Squires is an Oscar and multiple Emmy nominated documentary cinematographer who has been Ken Burns’ collaborator since 1985.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?

Squires: While Side by Side tries valiantly to present all sides of the film/digital debate, the production conveys a feeling that the end of film is near. When Keanu Reeves spoke at the Side by Side screening at the ASC in August, it seemed that he considers Side by Side an homage to the magical alchemical world of film in which he was raised. My sense is that some viewers might come away with a feeling that photochemical film is similar to a typewriter and that digital is the hottest new laptop computer.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

Certainly, I will be using both technologies in my documentary work for years to come. Shooting Ken Burns’ National Parks series on anything but Super 16mm film would have been a very different and difficult experience.  That series was built on a tremendous amount of landscape cinematography all across America using a very small crew. Film handled the subtleties and range of natural light beautifully with a wonderfully smooth rendering of highlights and shadows. The process of capturing these images on film is entirely simple and direct.  Shots are composed looking through a high quality optical viewfinder that shows color, contrast and the qualities of light exactly as they exist in nature without any electronic intermediary. There is no monitor to consult, no LUT to consider, just a direct connection between one’s brain and an image coming through the lens, then bouncing off of a mirror and into one’s eye. There are practical considerations as well. Things change very quickly in the natural world. It’s not uncommon to see an image, put a tripod down, mount a camera and begin shooting within 20-30 seconds. Film requires no warm up or boot up time, no need for cables and monitors, no crashes or reboots, one is always ready to shoot. A film equipment package can also be very lightweight and compact. My basic camera package is an Aaton, 2 zoom lenses, 300 mm lens, a couple of superspeeds and 3 batteries. My assistant and I carried all of this on our backs for a week while backpacking through Kings Canyon.  Power consumption and batteries are another issue.  For 10 days of filming on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon I carried 5 on-board Aaton batteries and had plenty of power for the entire shoot without ever having to charge a battery or figure out how to get power at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Many of my projects currently use film and digital side by side with film for landscapes and impressionistic imagery while the digital is used for interviews and verity sequences.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do you experience digital video compared to film?

I try to use whatever medium is best for the job. On a verity project, digital’s ability to instantly change ASA and color temperature makes it ideal for following action across a broad range of lighting situations. Digital’s longer run time between reloads is helpful in both verity and interview situations. However, being able to shoot 30-60 minutes without stopping is a mixed blessing for interviews. When shooting film on 11-minute loads, the limited time and expense of each roll brings an intensity and discipline to the interview that is lacking on digital shoots. Often when shooting digital formats the interviewer feels that it is fine to “chat” and let people ramble. I often find that lack of discipline yields less dynamic and less interesting footage.

It is disheartening that our professional world seems to be increasingly dominated by trends and fads.  In the all-film era our cameras were beautifully made, thoughtfully engineered machines designed to run film through a gate. They were extremely reliable and did their jobs very well. With a couple of notable exceptions (Alexa and F65) the current crop of cameras is dominated by a Frankenstein collection of sensors connected to computers mounted on makeshift rigs with woefully deficient viewfinders. Very little is designed as an integrated camera system built to work and last for years.

While all of this attention has been placed on large sensor cameras, there has been almost no progress in the world of 2/3” cameras, the digital equivalent of Super 16mm film.

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the look of images shot on film, or is it just a matter of still developing technology? 

I do think that film has a distinctive feel and texture. The very analog nature of a negative means that many of its qualities are solidified in the emulsion at the moment of exposure (and processing). In digital, there really is no equivalent  “master,” the original file is just a starting point for later manipulation.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials.

While one can argue about the relative merits of film vs. digital capture, there is no question that film is a superior archival media. There is a reasonable chance that film I shot 25 years ago will be usable 100 years from now.  It is highly unlikely that most of the digital material shot by me over the last 5 years will exist in 50 years. Since I often work on films that make extensive use of archival motion picture material, I am keenly aware that the visual history of our time may be lost as hard drive after hard drive becomes useless after sitting in storage for a few years. Even if the studios find a way to preserve their precious commercial digital property, much of the visual documentary evidence of our existence is likely to be lost. I think of everything from glass plate photographs of the Civil War to the now famous but once unknown work of New Orleans photographer EJ Bellocq.  We have these iconic images today because they were created using a stable photochemical process that allowed them to suffer decades of physical neglect without disappearing.

RED Epic

 

Stephen Lighthill, ASC is President of the American Society of Cinematographers and Senior Filmmaker In Residence of the cinematography program at the American Film Institute. He speaks as a filmmaker, not as the ASC President.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?

Lighthill: In my opinion, the film is journalistically  “balanced,” I suppose, but the film fails to recognize the enormous tragedy of cinematographers losing the highly portable film camera, and of losing the lovely skin tones of film and the lovely rendering of images film provides. In addition, the documentary does not, in my opinion, address adequately the destruction of traditional set procedure and set craft that seems to come with digital.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why? 

I do see the two media continuing to co-exist. There is currently a budgetary sweet spot for “low budget production” where digital is too expensive but 16mm film is affordable. Also there is no realistic digital competitor to 65mm film and currently several productions are using 65 mm for all or part of production.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do you experience digital video? 

I have used film and video side by side for 35 years. I have no problem moving from one to another. The confounding issue for the filmmakers of Side By Side is the debate that involves the near hysterical faddism of  [digital] filmmakers — whether producers, directors, or others — who seem to treat each new camera introduction as the coming of… something nearing perfection when all it is, is incremental improvement with… tradeoffs! Tradeoffs of all kinds, whether ergonomic, workflow, etc., etc.

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology?

Yes, there is a fundamental difference: film moves by the aperture and each resulting frame is unique; in digital cameras “the frame” is the sensor and it never moves…so, focus pulling is different, out of focus roll off is different. Set procedures are different: In digital, too much is shot and there is too much caucusing on set about images. Digital introduces a fear of trusting each other on set because it is so easy to second-guess your collaborators.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials?

The Side by Side film did not adequately suggest the huge challenge to archiving digital video. In brief, there is NO real solution other than film itself or a constantly updating library run by robots.

Canon EOS 5D

 

Jozo Zovko is a camera assistant who loves the history of art cinema and its uncompromising filmmakers like Tarr and Tarkovsky. He is also tech-savvy with current digital cameras and has recently worked on the first feature photographed with the Sony F65.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?

Zovko: I didn’t feel that it was balanced at all. Near the end, I almost felt like it was set up from the beginning to end on the “hallelujah” of digital. I would have liked to hear from more old time directors and cameramen, as well as doctors/neurologists or scientists who have possibly done studies on the senses of motion and perception (since to me one of the major failings of digital is in the simple act of looking at it and its odd feeling in motion.) I wasn’t against the “findings” of the film, as long as it is clear and honest that it wasn’t so much about any sort of side-by-side, but more of a history lesson and the birth of our digital future.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

No. Simply because some really big people will abort it. But I do believe there will be a small batch of art filmmakers in NY who will be able to get by for decades on freezer cans and clippings from the estates sales of old dead cameramen in LA.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do you experience digital video?

I just think of it as different colors and textures. I really do wish we can just keep the old tools, as well as the new ones and live happily ever after. I would have hated to have taken away the egg tempera from Andrew Wyeth and being the one to tell him that, “folks round here ain’t using dat paint no mo, now take this copy of Adobe Photoshop and this Wacom tablet and git” (emphasis on the stereotypical portrayal of an ignorant redneck).

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the look of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology?

I can’t see into the future, but everyone assumes that the feeling of film can be replicated. But talk to any HiFi tube amp audio guy (I’ve recently become one) and they will tell you that digital and solid state sound is in no way similar to analog, even after all these years. They are still recording quite a bit of music on tape and selling those recordings on vinyl these days. Why is that?

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials.

Never mind that. The future will take care of it. Hmmm. now that I think of it… (Note to self. Make sure you have your brain parked next to Walt Disney’s when you die. Those future people will know what to do with it.)

Bolex H16

 

Fred Goodich, ASC is Secretary of the ASC; he has conducted in-depth side-by-side tests of high-end digital video cameras.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? 

Goodich: Yes, with the exception of the archiving issues, which I thought a bit inadequate.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

I wish it could be so. But home video doesn’t require it and as more theatrical venues worldwide switch to digital projection, the need for film prints disappears. Film labs have always depended on release print orders as their main source of revenue, and looked on the processing of negative and dailies as a loss leader.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do you experience digital video?

I recently completed a short film shot with the F65. We graded at 2K, the norm these days; we saw rich blacks, natural skin tones and colors true to the original production design during digital projection.  But when the final piece was projected at 4K on the same 18-foot screen, all the blacks were lifted and milky. I sat stunned and somewhat panicked through the entire screening. When the lights came up, I was told this is pretty much the norm with current 4K projectors, the exception being Sony’s. The trade-off is that the SONY has a lesser color palette than those others. When I suggested we go out to a film print where the blacks would remain no matter the projector, the people in the room seemed stupefied. “Fred, nobody projects film anymore!”

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology?

Film and video are different technologies. Additionally, manufacturers within each category provide unique styles of imaging. As artists, we learn to use the specific tool to create the look(s) we require. One film stock generates a certain look. One digital camera produces an image different from another. Side by Side did a great job of examining how people will use the different technologies. Film seems expensive when we’re shooting, so let’s do action specific takes that run to specific lengths. Digital seems cheaper when we’re shooting, so let’s let the camera run, let the action be more improvisational, let the actor repeat the actions and not cut the camera. Let’s shoot everything that happens and sort it out in post! These shooting styles will produce wholly different aesthetics.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials?

One wonders whether the filmmakers of Side by Side (shot digitally) have considered how long their original master will remain playable in 20 years.

Sony F65

 

Frank Prinzi, ASC is a New York based cinematographer of features, television and documentaries

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?

Prinzi: The film Side by Side appears somewhat unbalanced in its view (mainly pro digital.) It may be that it’s only a reflection of the popular thought these days. The filmmakers may have come to feel that way from all the interviews they conducted. From my perspective, the digital revolution has taken hold and is rapidly becoming dominant (especially in TV). The documentary reinforces that idea. …I wonder how many pro vs. con interviews there were in the finished film? I did not take a count. Of the total number of people they interviewed, before editing, what were the percentages?

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

I am now in a place where I feel that both film and digital capture should co-exist but I don’t believe they will for long. As with everything, it has to do with economics. There is too much money to be made with video’s dominance. There seem to be unending financial gains related to all that is digital.  (The fact that there has been an end to film camera production, along with the gradual demise of Kodak, reinforces evidence of its decline.) For a while the tide of digital was held back due to its obvious inferiority to film acquisition, but as we all know, it has become incredibly workable, with many wonderful options. It is now a great way (with limitations) to acquire images and tell stories. Another big reason for the future end of film is that the education of the new generation of filmmakers is now dominated by digital. The easy financial accessibility to young students, independents and no/low budget is a major factor in the digital revolution. Most people can now afford to make something they call a movie, working on their SLR’s and home computers (though distribution is still a challenge). It is the “Art of the Masses” more than ever.  The politics of filmmaking has changed with the digital world now becoming the party of choice. Much like the political climate today, money and powerful companies rule. With all the R&D focused on digital, I don’t see film existing side-by-side with digital too much longer. I hope I am wrong.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do you experience digital video?

I love the Movies. I love the process of making movies with film. I need the discipline that using film requires. The focus and thought process that is needed to shoot a “film” movie has been the standard for a hundred years. It is how I was brought up in the film business. Whatever the means of acquisition today, I will create images with the same discipline that I always have. Process and emotional results are my priority. Though I have my preferences, I will use any device that is available to tell the story. I am open to new ideas, possibilities and adventures as long as care and respect for the art and craft is present.

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology? 

There has always been a marriage of art and technology in film. We know they go hand in hand. There will always be people whose strengths and focus favor one or the other. Because the technology today is so new and constantly changing, many people spend much time and effort on the technological side to keep up. That creates the appearance of it being artistically different. In the end, all the tools serve the story (same as it always did.) No, I don’t think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and digital images.  It is technical, attitude and process.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials.

Again, it’s about economics and attitude. As with much in our society today, we are concerned with the here and now and less and less with the future. It’s an attitude of instant gratification, do it quick, make money, move on, and we’ll fix it later. It’s a pity that the digital revolution/dilemma has coincided with a time where this attitude prevails. Until the dilemma is solved and attitude changed, existing side-by-side seems like a good temporary solution. Film (information) preservation is not negotiable. If a shortsighted attitude based on economics creates neglect, we better all have good memories… Let’s hope much money can be made with film preservation; we can then be assured it will be around and protected for a long time.

Panavision Panaflex

 

Howard Rodman is Vice President of WGAW, Professor, School of Cinematic Arts, USC, and on the Executive Committee, Writers Branch, AMPAS.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?

Rodman: I have not yet seen the film.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

I hope that there’s a side-by-side existence for film and digital — otherwise, film is dead.  But I fear that film, with all its riches, and its unique ability to haunt, will be relegated to archives, basements, and the furtive gatherings of the faithful.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do experience digital video?

Regardless of how it was “captured,” I have never seen a film projected in digital video that spoke to my heart, or moved me in the deepest way.  Less a question of pixel density, or contrast ratio, than the fact that digital projection doesn’t allow one to enter into the dream.  One is always outside, viewing clear images — not what one wants from one’s time in the big dark room.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials?

Transferring to digital is not archiving.

B&H Filmo DR-70

 

Curtis Clark, ASC has conducted in depth tests of various digital cameras, most recently of the Sony F65 in the short film The Arrival. He has been a leader in developing the AMPAS ACES workflow system.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?

Clark: I have not yet seen Side by Side.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

There are, of course, two components to your question: image origination and theatrical distribution.  Since 2009, there has been an increasing momentum shift toward shooting with digital cameras, starting with prime time TV series, and more recently, feature films intended for theatrical release.   Recent advances in digital motion picture camera technology, in conjunction with more sophisticated color management, i.e., ACES (Academy Color Encoding System), have enabled some advanced digital motion picture cameras to move beyond the constraints of video broadcast imaging parameters, toward emulating a more filmic look (wider dynamic range; greater color bit-depth rendered in ACES, along with spatial resolution beyond sub 2K HD1920x1080 to 4K: 4096×2160).

Parallel with the emergence of the non-video digital motion picture camera has been the steady expansion of digital cinema distribution, which is near the critical inflection point of 50% installation of digital projection in US theaters, now migrating from 2K to 4K. Also, 4K digital TV is on the horizon, which will incorporate expanded color gamut reproduction (closer to digital cinema P3) beyond the current Rec 709 HD TV.

The inexorable transition toward an end-to-end digital imaging system is well underway but this does not mean that we must surrender our traditional photographic image qualities. Digital, especially with ACES, has the power to retain traditional photographic image qualities. Filmmakers need to understand how to achieve results within new digital imaging workflow that best serve their creative requirements.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do experience digital video?

As a filmmaker I’ve always been interested in how imaging technologies, both photochemical and digital, impact the creative potential of the cinematographic art form. Film established our cinematographic aesthetic foundation which digital needs to protect and further expand using its greatly enhanced imaging capabilities. Kodak initiated the digital imaging revolution with Cineon which was a hybrid film-digital system designed to protect and replicate photographic film imaging parameters within non-video digital intermediate image processing.  The latest generation of digital motion picture cameras that go beyond HD video imaging parameters (wider dynamic range; greater color bit-depth rendered in ACES, along with spatial resolution beyond 1920×1080, e.g., 4K) provide a robust photographic foundation that, if understood and used properly, can protect current film look parameters and provide a scalable platform for further development. For me as a filmmaker, this offers new creative opportunities that not only retain the best of film, but also have the potential to go beyond its photochemical limitations, especially regarding sensitivity to low light levels with an expanded dynamic range of scene tones that can be cleanly reproduced without the threat of film grain or digital camera noise.

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology?

As I mentioned above, the latest non-video-based digital imaging technologies (digital camera(s) and ACES color management) are capable of reducing and/or eliminating differences compared to film. Future digital imaging technology developments will further reinforce this new reality, which is, indeed, fortunate timing since the availability of film as a routine option for both image recording and theatrical exhibition may not be guaranteed going forward.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials?

This is still a work in-progress which poses technological challenges for long-term fail-safe reliable and cost efficient solutions that are still not yet available. Robust solutions for long term storage and archiving will emerge, but they are lagging the advances currently being deployed in image capture, look management and data management through post finishing and distribution.

Arri Alexa

 

Ethan Borsuk is a NYC based camera assistant, well versed in film and digital technologies.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?

Borsuk: Side By Side shows the film community at large coming to embrace digital filmmaking. Leading Hollywood filmmakers as well as Indie darlings express their love of digital as a new tool in their belt, the medium that opens up the craft as art, and, in some cases, the wings to truly give their stories unfettered flight. While a few argue that film still holds fast for them, allowing them to work best within their own realm, the skew is towards an impassioned move to 1s and 0s.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why? 

For the immediate future, filmmakers who desire to shoot on film will have the opportunity. And as long as film stock is still being manufactured there will be those who make it their medium. Oil is still the choice for some, but fewer and fewer painters see it on their palette.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do experience digital video?

As a technician, digital filmmaking has changed the tools by which I apply my trade. In the past 10 years, I have seen 15 or 20 different cameras and formats come and go. At the dawn of digital video, for me, HD cameras were nearly identical to the SD versions already in use, with improved guts for better resolution. Lenses were built for news crews. The rental houses who had these cameras were not equipped with film gear-matte boxes, follow focuses and gear heads. They were set up for ENG and event shoots. Only once did I have a DP say he was excited to be shooting in HD. These cameras were work around to fit into budget requirements. As tools, they had not yet matured. Now, with Panavision and Arri embracing the digital format, we are seeing cameras that give traditional feel back to the technicians.

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology?

Filmmaking as an art is beautiful in its form as collaboration, each craftsman adding up to bring about one singular piece. This is the artistry of filmmaking, the skills and vision brought together. Both film and digital provide the opportunity for this. Each allows for different techniques to be applied, with both resulting in merging of craft. As for look, no longer is digital beholden to a “video” aesthetic. Alexa gives DP’s 13 stops of latitude with a filmic shutter. And while film still has texture and a more pleasing image quality, it is only a matter of time before digital cameras are adapted to this or the public no longer needs them.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials?

For nearly a century, reels of films were set to languish on shelves in storerooms. Why? At the time, no one was concerned with archiving the material. Eventually, these prints began to degrade or worse, and archivists set out to restore and preserve them. While no great archival method has yet been found for digital with its ever-changing formats, the unreliability of storage media, and the need for continual re-mastering, perhaps one of the last holdouts for film will be in archival. A 100-year shelf life is hard to argue against.

Panavision PSR

 

Rob Hummel is President of Group 47, currently developing the DOTS archiving system from Kodak patents they acquired. He is an expert on film formats. Rob also has a killer radio voice.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary  Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?

Hummel: I think it presents as balanced a perspective as can be hoped for.  At the ASC meeting where the film was presented, Bob Primes, ASC said, “Everything said in your film is true,” the point being that everyone that spoke in the film believed what he or she was saying, whether precisely accurate or not.

What it didn’t represent properly was the ridiculous notion that film was a “mystique” and that cinematographers didn’t know what they were going to achieve.  I offer a unique perspective of a handful of people still alive today that viewed film dailies at a film laboratory, and was the first person to see the 35mm prints after the negative was processed.

Have there been incompetent cinematographers?  Absolutely, and they were the bane of my existence in my years at Technicolor.  However, they were few and far between.  The norm was the cinematographer getting precisely what he expected.  His or her greatest concern was did the negative make it through the “soup” okay, not whether the image was what they expected.

The myth presented in the film from directors about cinematographers being un-truthful about what the director should expect to see in dailies, means they should have hired better cinematographers.

The other issue I think in the documentary that is wrongly presented is that all the cinematographer does is set lights and set the exposure.  An experienced cinematographer brings so much more to the table than that, and I could tell volumes of stories of the ingenuity that cinematographers have brought to films that saved money or empowered a director to get precisely the vision he was seeking due to the breadth of experience brought to the set by the DP.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

In 1998, when negotiating the DreamWorks/Kodak film deal, I asked Kodak’s Jack Tehan to tell me how much of Kodak’s business was motion pictures.  He found out, and told me in 1998, motion pictures made up 6% of volume, and 7% of revenues.  The vase majority of the balance of their business then was “snapshots.”

So you can see that in film’s heyday, the motion picture business was just so much extra capacity for Kodak, and supported by the massive size of their consumer business. Now Motion Pictures make up easily 95% of their total film business, yet motion pictures haven’t grown at all; the snapshot business has decreased to nothing, and as a result we’ve become a bigger portion of what’s left of their business. There won’t be any side by side in the future because, unfortunately, there won’t be any film.  We aren’t a big enough market to support Fujifilm and Kodak to continue to manufacture it.

Why else would Kodak ask the bankruptcy court to allow them to add a clause to all their studio contracts that they can exit the film business with 180 days notice?

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do experience digital video?

I am disappointed that cinematographers haven’t held digital to the same metric that film is held to.  Wally Pfister and Christopher Nolan are correct that film is superior to digital capture.  However, what we’ve witnessed is that it doesn’t matter to most filmmakers and many high profile directors.

Consider one of the opening shots of Side By Side, where the camera looks through the slits of a Zoetrope.   The slits are tilted at almost a 50º angle in the digital photography, even though they should be vertical.  This artifact of the camera’s rolling shutter is just accepted, rather than filmmakers demanding that it’s unacceptable.

My position is that we should be holding digital camera manufacturers’ feet to the fire so that they are delivering imagery that is superior to film, as flexible in it’s application, ability to capture acute light rays without chromatic artifacts, and as robust in it’s long term storage characteristics. Arri is thinking out of the box by giving a 1.33 sensor and allowing the use of anamorphic lenses, vs. everyone else’s slavish adherence to the broadcast 16×9 aspect ratio of the sensors (though Sony’s F-65 is actually a 1.9:1 aspect ratio. Wherever the heck that aspect ratio came from).

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology? 

It’s a matter of still developing technologies. For example, some camera manufacturers are finally realizing that a mechanical shutter is not actually a bad thing, especially if it can eliminate rolling shutter artifacts that used to be the domain of slow focal plane shutters forty five years ago.

Current top of the line digital still cameras can exceed the photographic quality of film, and are able to do so because of the amount of time allowed them to apply image processing to the image after it’s captured; sometimes as much as a quarter of a second.

Motion Picture cameras don’t come close to a Nikon camera or Canon 5D or 7D in still mode, because they can’t afford a ¼ of a second of image processing when shooting at 24fps.  The DALSA 4K camera created remarkable images, but was burdened by post processing of the images that today’s instant gratification filmmakers couldn’t wait for.

As processors increase in power, and software is written more efficiently, we will, at some point, have motion picture cameras shooting at normal and very high frame rates at image qualities rivaling their still camera cousins.

It should be mentioned that when the SLRs like the Canon and Nikon still cameras shoot in video mode, they throw all that image processing out the window, as they can’t apply the same image processing at 24 or 30 fps.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sic-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials?

This is where I think Side by Side really stands out when it points out the fragile nature of digital storage.

I’ve spoken to a major postproduction company in Hollywood that has been discovering loss of data on their data tape backups of films, on the order of 1500 missing consecutive frames, and discovering this in less than three years after making the tape. Fortunately, this data loss they have uncovered so far has been on motion pictures originated on film, so they still have the film to go back to a recover the data.  They are very concerned about films that have originated digitally.

This same “less than three year” data loss on magnetic tape has been verified to me by two other major archive storage companies. As to the “digital dilemma” reports by the Academy, they state a clear problem that is staring us in the face.

You know, John, what I am up to with DOTS [Digital Optical Tape System], and what’s great about DOTS data storage is it embraces all of the qualities that make film a reliable storage medium.

Suffice it to say, kudos to the Side by Side filmmakers for covering this disturbing part of digital filmmaking. When Chris Kenneally was asked at the ASC evening how he was going to Archive Side by Side, he said he hoped they’d get sufficient funding to record it out to 35mm film.

Panavision Genesis

 

Steven Cueva is a camera assistant who has come through the ranks, beginning as a camera loader in 1999.

Bailey: Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

Cueva: I feel film and digital can co-exist.  There are a few examples of movies using both mediums. Currently I am aware of The Lone Ranger doing just that. I worked on a movie a few years back called State of Play that did that as well. There are creative as well as practical reasons to using both film and digital.  It certainly depends on the material as well as an artistic perspective.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do you experience digital video? 

As a matter of personal preference I would prefer film to digital.  I like to feel the film in my hands, the hum of the camera as the film goes through; I like the discipline required to shoot film rather than to continuously roll on digital.

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology?

As digital technology continues to evolve, I feel it may be a matter of time before even the most trained eye won’t know with certainty whether something was filmed using film or digital.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials?

I have not read the reports, but I feel people will think of it as other people’s problems.  Another cost to incur, while taking from the profits.  Sadly, movies are not being made with archiving as part of the budget.

iPhone 5

 

Matt Moriarty is an “A” camera/ steadicam operator. I have worked with him for 15 years, since he interned on As Good As It Gets.

Bailey: Do you think the documentary Side by Side reflects a balanced view of the film/digital discussion? If not, in what way?

Moriarty: Aside from the fact that the sections dealing with image resolution were those pertaining solely to digital, I found the film rather impartial on the whole issue. It does give you the sense that “Yes, film is the superior format, but…” So the point of Side by Side — and certainly the only point left to consider as I see it — is that the ship has sailed. The time to warn of some impending cultural crisis — and many did warn — has passed. Now we’re basically left with the admission that “this thing happened” and “what does it mean?” and “how shall we proceed?” That is my impression of what Kenneally was trying to do with his documentary and I think he succeeded in asking the right questions.

Do you see a side-by-side existence of film and digital in the future? If not, why?

For the next three or four years, sure.  There are plenty of directors who want that color in their paint box and a few heavy-hitters like Chris Nolan will have the influence to make it happen. I used a film camera as recently as two weeks ago so, sure, film is still being shot and it’s still the ultimate storytelling canvas and it still feels like home. But in the long run, sadly, I don’t see film surviving. Let’s face it; we are where we are because of financial considerations. Lucas himself says he went to digital because he could “save a tremendous amount of money” avoiding telecine. Chris Nolan and Wally Pfister say in the film that they’re constantly asked to justify the use of film and yet no such requirement applies to the choice of digital.  Anyone surprised by that?  I’m not.

There will be a point in the next five or ten years where there simply is no fiscal model that can pay to heat the negative bath, much less sustain the whole film workflow. Some company might make film negative, another company might develop it, a third company might have the capacity to transfer it — but the economic reality is that the chance of all three being in business at the same time five or ten years from now gets slimmer and slimmer. Some enterprising person or perhaps each studio will have an in-house boutique operation doing all three elements for the strict purpose of archiving. But the large-scale process will most likely become unsustainable.

Do I like it? Nope. The changeover has diminished all of our crafts. Five years ago, over a few drinks, you probably could have gotten me to cry about it. But as someone who’s watching this changeover happen smack in the middle of his career, I don’t have the luxury of moping. I don’t allow myself regret or guilt as this whole issue is so utterly out of my control.

As a filmmaker, how do you see your own position in this ongoing discourse and how do experience digital video?

As a camera operator who does steadicam, I find myself rather embarrassingly untouched by the whole affair — aside from the fact that I’m constantly buying new cables and brackets to make the new gear fly and the fact that I have to watch the cinematographer’s authority and prestige continually eroded. That is certainly depressing and for that I blame the atmosphere of too many cooks in the kitchen, too many opinions and not enough protocol as to who is allowed to offer an opinion. There are also now about four billion DPs who represent probably the most diluted talent pool below the line in our industry, resulting in a high degree of leverage on the part of producers. I used to want to be a cinematographer. Not anymore.

My professional satisfaction comes from executing the shot that tells the story and I can do that with whatever camera they hand me. For me, the “shot, ” (whether it’s big or small, lasts four minutes or four seconds) exists in a glorious, eternal and absolute vacuum — independent from the format it’s viewed on, unsullied by the number of pixels devoted to it, wholly devoid of anything related to how it was achieved, only that it was achieved.

For example: there’s a single-take steadicam sequence in the Thai action film, The Protector, (Tom Yum Goong) operated by Somsak Srisawat, that I’ve never seen on anything bigger than an iPad (even though it was shot on 35mm film) and I can tell you, unequivocally, it’s probably the most logistically impressive single take in the history of cinema. Forget Touch of Evil and Russian Ark and Rope and Atonement and Children of Men and Untouchables and Goodfellas. The levels of imagination, planning, athleticism and the courage required to pull that shot off are, literally, superhuman. Would it be nice to see it on a big screen in a show print from the original 35mm neg? Sure! But can I infer the ultimate impact of that sequence from the 3″ screen I first saw it on? Of course I can. And does that little screen diminish in any way the amount of skill and effort that went into realizing it? Absolutely not.  How was the lighting? I have no idea. Will let you know when they re-run it at Mann’s Chinese.

DPs on the other hand are stuck in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome affair with technology.  They know they’re being held hostage and they might not survive but at the same time they kind of like it: “Those ten people at the HD monitor sure are annoying when they tell you they ‘can’t see their eyes’ but look at what I just did with the gamma curve in the LUT! It’s two full minutes of lighting I didn’t have to do!

I have great empathy for all the amazing cameramen I’ve worked for who are now just praying to make it to retirement. And yet I’ll probably spend the next half of my career working for guys who think cinematography is about fiddling with their LUTs. Little by little, I’m figuring out how to handle it.

Do you think there is a fundamental artistic difference inherent in the recording of film and video images, or is it just a matter of still developing technology?

If the question really is: “Can the origination format make or break a film?” I’d have to say the capture medium is way down the list of “reasons why a filmmaker connected so well with his audience.” Successful filmmaking is the result of good choices in the prep, on the set and in editing. It’s the skill behind those choices, the skill behind the writing, the acting, the pacing, the editing, and the top-to-bottom emotional value of the piece as a whole.  Could film emulsion add a certain subtlety or nuance to an otherwise good film? Sure. Can high-end digital like Alexa or Epic ruin an otherwise good film? Nope. Sometime in the last year or two we reached the point where good films cannot be ruined by the best digital cameras and I consider it quite a milestone.

If the question is actually about the level of artistry possible in either format, I’d say this: The “democratization” of the medium has elevated to positions of creative influence a huge number of people who don’t know anything, while old-school film capture tends to attract those who are skilled and experienced and disciplined. We as an industry should be a lot more worried about the skill of our filmmakers than about the number of pixels we send out into Middle America.

What about the two “digital dilemma” reports by the AMPAS Sci-Tech Council concerning the archiving problems of digital materials?

The guy in the film says it:  “We’re screwed!”

It’s true, not necessarily because of the technology being employed in the movie business right now, but rather because history is just a completely lost concept nowadays. To your average twenty-something, history is the period between MTV and the iPhone 4s. It’s not an issue that’s unique to the movie business. It’s cultural (although I’ll admit our industry is certainly complicit in shortening the attention spans of Americans — a topic for an entirely separate discussion).

Maybe that’s the reason my wife and I are raising our children on a small farm in the wine country of Oregon. When my 9 year old decides she wants to play the saxophone, we make her listen to John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon. When my 7 year old wants apple juice, we make cider from the apples on our tree. When they want to watch a Blu-Ray, I put in Wizard of Oz. Those are things I can control.  Those are concrete ways in which I can keep history alive, even if only with my wife and two children. But the movie business? The formats and cameras we shoot on? So utterly beyond my control that I just try to stay ahead and buy the right gear and rent it back to maintain a standard of living that is under constant assault from “democratization.”

As far as archiving goes, the studios are either going to learn that this rush to digital will rob them of future revenue (and rob, in the process, generations of entire swaths of their history) or they won’t. George Lucas says, “they’ll find ways around the archiving problem” just like they found ways around all the other problems of digital. Who the hell am I to disagree with the man who basically holds the patent on every single aspect of modern workflow?

Billy Bitzer Bioscop

NEXT: A silent film photographed by a Hollywood legend.

6 Responses to “SIDE BY SIDE: Part Two — Filmmaker Comments”

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  • Great post John – I think this is the best summation of the film/digital issue I’ve seen in print. Bravo!

  • John, My position with respect to the film vs. digital debate is ever evolving: pro and con film (in the digital age), pro and con digital (from the perspective of a film guy). A few weeks ago, I conducted a Master Class in the Czech Republic as a guest of the Kamera Oko Cinematography Festival in the city of Ostrava, some 3 hours by train from Prague. In attendance were Walter Lassally BSC, Jaromir Sofr ACK, Martin Preiss ACK, Louis-Phillipe Capelle SBC and Willi Kurant ASC AFC. For his lecture, Mr. Kurant intended to screen a 35mm print of “Masculin Feminin” that the Festival had obtained. The print’s provenance was questionable: who knows how old and what generation removed from the Master? The projected image was soft and had no proper contrast. The projector and its lens were set for 1:78 and the screen shaped to accept that format. But the film is 1:33 and portions of the image exceeded the Festival’s screen! On top of which, the first reel tore twice in the projector’s gate. In frustration, Mr. Kurant called a halt to the screening. His lecture was to include discussion of his working experience with Godard and personal notes on shooting and processing B&W. At first, it seemed the Festival audience was to be robbed of the pleasure of seeing the film and hearing Mr. Kurant’s lecture. Many had never seen “Masculin Feminin” before. But while Mr. Kurant and the audience bemoaned the situation, it occurred to me I had a DVD of the film back at my hotel room, which I’d intended to view as a refresher prior to Mr. Kurant’s lecture (I’d seen the film at least 3 times before). And if people didn’t mind the delay, I could bring it and my laptop (to play it on) back to the screening room within the half-hour. Which is what happened. Mr. Kurant hoped the DVD was from the Criterion collection, for which he’d recently digitally re-mastered the film. Indeed it was; the DVD we viewed was sharp, of excellent contrast, with no scratches, in short, pristine. It was formatted to fit 4×3 within 16×9. Thus no part of the image was lost on the Festival screen. In comparison to the unfortunate B&W print, Mr. Kurant seemed pleased with the blacks, whites and mid-tones of the DVD. (Note: Back in the 1950’s, before working as a Cinematographer, Mr. Kurant worked at a film lab, processing B&W. He’s quite familiar with the relationship of exposure to processing. He’s currently set to shoot a feature on Kodak’s Double-X B&W — in Anamorphic — using some of the lab/exposure techniques he’d applied when shooting “Masculin Feminin”). For me personally, the kafuffle at the screening of the film print and the use of a DVD to address the problem seemed a proper introduction to my Master Class, “Let The Light In”, set to take place the following day. My subject was quality of Light with respect to different generations of Lenses, Film and Digital sensors. It would include reference to generational loss of detail that occurs when our work is ‘saved’ to a newer format. My screening of a commercial I’d shot in 35mm back in 1989 (the only master copy I have is mini-dv) illustrated that point perfectly – unfortunately! In the case of “Masculin Feminin” at Kamera Oko, it would appear that a newer generation saved the day. Yet during my Master Class the next day, the color space and saturation of a 4K DCP and the color space and saturation of images from my MacBook Pro differed significantly. One source was a Power Point containing video clips, stills and text, and the other source a short film — “Kick Start Theft”, an F65 project I’d made recently in collaboration with Vilmos Zsigmond ASC. One source was Rec 709, the other P3. We couldn’t get a proper color balance on the 2K Christie projector between the two. Not unexpected, but frustrating. To paraphrase Randy Newman, the singer-songwriter, “It is indeed a jumble out there!”

    JOHN’S REPLY: Thanks, Fred, for such a detailed presentation of the perils and pitfalls we encounter in trying to show older work. The problems were severe enough in the photochemical analog era– but now we are experiencing the illusory promises of perfect projection in the digital era as well. I fear we have yet to encounter the worst problems– far worse than bad dupes and low contrast film prints. When digital fails us it doesn’t degrade– it simply disappears. God help us in the future.

  • Nice article, with lots of viewpoints articulated.

    One critical issue which is only touched upon briefly, is the Projection issue. Quite frankly, no matter what the source material is – shot on film or digital – Digital Projection right now looks pretty horrid. As Fred Goodich says, blacks look “milky”. And, I would add that shadows look like fog or mist with Digital projection.

    Finally, I have come up with this very simple question for all Digital advocates:

    IF the costs were reversed – that is, film was much cheaper to shoot, edit and project than digital – would the supposed technological advantages of digital be enough to force the changeover from Film to Digital?

  • John,

    Thank you for your recent essays on the digital / film debate – which, I note, is often framed as a digital verses film debate, which I think suggests an unnecessary either-or, in an ideal world I think that both digital and film would have roles to play in future filmmaking. But no matter how the debate is framed, I have found your writing to be the most insightful I have come across in thinking about the role of film and digital in the process of telling human stories (which, in the end, is what it is all about).

    ‘Side by Side’ hasn’t come out here in Ireland yet, but it has been helpful to me to read your thoughts about it, as well as the fascinating responses of all the people who answered your questions in this blog post. I would have also really liked to have read both your, and also Carol’s, answers to the questions (especially the middle three questions).

    Finally, I do find it sad that it seems that the option of shooting on film may not really be viable for too much longer. That does seem like a significant loss to me. Thank you again for the humanity of your work – both as a cinematographer (on either film or digital), and through the illuminating and thought provoking essays on this blog.

  • Now I am going to wax on about the old days. We the filmmakers used to get together and talk about this picture or that picture. Who shot it. Who gaffed it. How the director behaved. What the actors did. Who shot it and not more than ten years ago we knew everyone shooting. Now we get together and all we talk about is what device we captured the image on. What LED lights we used. On the Red? Sony? Alexa? Lets get back to talking about Motion pictures and not what piece of electronics is going to capture the future. Really who cares?..

    JOHN’S REPLY: Amen to all that, Michael. I just returned from the annual meeting of the National Film Preservation Board considering the list of films of all genres and periods to place on this year’s National Film Registry. It was so invigorating to listen to so many gifted experts on film history, criticism, aesthetics and theory discuss the movies from the perspective of their value in the culture of the United States– not on what their merely technical merits were, or on their box office success. I fear one of the reasons for this slow demise of real movie discussions is that we have virtually eliminated the collective experience of watching dailies together after wrap, and the toll that has taken on our sense of discourse.

  • John,
    thank you very much for this excellent article. And I would like to thank the commentators as well. Together, your insights offer a comprehensive overview of the film-digital divide that I find very engaging and educational!

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