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Andrew Reid

Kodak celluloid film saved by studios - oh and by the way - what's the point?

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I started on film ages ago. The last time I shot it was three years ago (See: "Besides Still Waters" in last month's American Cinematographer). We had issues that I rather not revisit. For one, shooting on a remote location, our dailies were not daily. So dirty gate and static issues reared their ugly heads. Also, focus. Today's younger AC's are brought up more with focusing off monitor instead of tape. Problem is, with film camera monitors it's hard to judge critical focus. The more experienced AC's with a film background are older and hence much harder to afford for low budget indies. Should I ever shoot an indie again on film, I'll ask that the focus puller's scale be doubled.

In short, I don't miss medium, but I do miss the efficiency. Andrew, you talk about how shooting on digital is faster and more spontaneous. Perhaps for the lone indie as yourself shooting off the cuff. Unfortunately, that's not the look everyone's looking to pay for in the theaters or watch on TV most the time. Professional shoots are still a multi headed beast. Perhaps the biggest complaint those of us who started in film and now shoot digital have is the endless rolling rehearsals, re-sets and innumerable takes plus the amount of playback that we never experienced with film. It's worse now with commercials as the video village has now become a small country of too many cooks. I defy anyone who works on features, commercials or episodic to say digital  has made work days shorter or more efficient. And now that everyone thinks they need a DIT it's done nothing for labour costs. Then with the amount of footage that now has to be reviewed, transcribed, and noted, compared to film, I wonder if the difference between film / video production is that huge.

The best part of digital has not been with the way I make a living (episodic / commercials) but mostly for my personal projects. For people who already know how to make a film, they know if they literally can grab and go and then make a film for next to nothing. There are a few directors who've taken the immediacy of digital and exploited it. Fincher comes to mind. Several of my colleagues work on House of Cards. It's mostly available light, they work very fast, and have no DIT. I wish everyone else would catch on.

As far as IQ goes, for nights I much prefer digital. For days its a toss up. As a DP for work, the best part I like is being able to see a close to finished image on set. You actually take greater risks when you can see your mediums threshold right there on set instead of waiting for it to return from the lab. 

Regarding storage, anyone with anything worth storing will back up to new digital storage tech as the need comes. I still have scripts that were originated on floppy but living now on SSD. And when you die, it won't matter. You're dead.

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EOSHD Pro Color for Sony cameras EOSHD Pro LOG for Sony CamerasEOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs

​What shonky productions have you worked on where the youngest, or any inexperienced person was allowed to play with cameras or computers unsupervised? And you are aware that files can be recovered simply and easily since about 1995, unless the same morons who let the teaboy play quake on the production computers also let him take a used card and put it back into a camera and start recording with it.

If your production has the budget to shoot film, then your production has the money to not have the most inexperienced wally on set touching things with delete buttons and the budget to have undelete software, raid harddrives and a full days worth of cards, with a box to put the used cards in that's locked.

​Well, i have worked on a fairly large tv show set (french scale) where a young intern was there to just take the cards from the camera operator and bring them to the ingest operator (who was litteraly 30m away, on set), then taking discharged cards back to the camera operator. Not going into details, he mixed up one card which was then formated without being ingested. It was an SxS card used on Pro Sony camera. Formated only one time, believe it or not, even Sony couldn't get the footage back.

So i don't know what productions you have worked, but sometimes shit happens mate... 

At some point you have to have interns and let them do things... Otherwise there's just no point in learning anything.

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​Exactly. In 20ys you probably won't be able to watch your nowadays footage. How can we know that future players will support todays codecs? And I'm talking about the case when you make your footage survive these long 20ys.

​I know this is definitely an issue, but it seems like it won't be so bad as long as you are aware of it and take the effort to update your files as the years go by.

It's definitely not a set-and-forget type of thing like a film master.

That said, I dunno about the rest of you but I've been making random stuff on digital for officially 15 years now. I still have my old master files from 1999-2000 that I can play today. Mjpeg was the codec back in those days. Some have been updated to different master codecs since then, but I've been able to maintain files for 15 years with little effort. 

I think it's definitely an issue that most be given attention, but as long as you do... it's not as complicated as it's made out to be. 

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​Exactly. In 20ys you probably won't be able to watch your nowadays footage. How can we know that future players will support todays codecs? And I'm talking about the case when you make your footage survive these long 20ys.

​I know this is definitely an issue, but it seems like it won't be so bad as long as you are aware of it and take the effort to update your files as the years go by.

It's definitely not a set-and-forget type of thing like a film master.

That said, I dunno about the rest of you but I've been making random stuff on digital for officially 15 years now. I still have my old master files from 1999-2000 that I can play today. Mjpeg was the codec back in those days. Some have been updated to different master codecs since then, but I've been able to maintain files for 15 years with little effort. 

I think it's definitely an issue that most be given attention, but as long as you do... it's not as complicated as it's made out to be. 

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Even if you can't make it exactly the same in digital, and most of us would accept that, the gap is becoming extremely small, and won't be there soon.

One great benefit is like that of recording audio to tape: the capture medium imparts a certain quality and leaves you with less to do. Digital media are usually dead flat and make you choose everything in post, that's a lot of responsibility... Analogue media give you a bit of help by giving you a look or sound, if you treat them with care.

That said, I've never shot motion picture film, only stills ;) just too inconvenient

For archival though i thinks it's amazing. At least a vinyl record or a film strip is a real physical thing! How wonderful!

It means after the apocalypse all the insect people can be really confused by our 5000 year old meme reels on glorious celluloid, played back at the wrong speed.

Insect men aside, perhaps the future is to capture digitally and archive to good old analogue ;)

 

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I started on film ages ago. The last time I shot it was three years ago (See: "Besides Still Waters" in last month's American Cinematographer). We had issues that I rather not revisit. For one, shooting on a remote location, our dailies were not daily. So dirty gate and static issues reared their ugly heads. Also, focus. Today's younger AC's are brought up more with focusing off monitor instead of tape. Problem is, with film camera monitors it's hard to judge critical focus. The more experienced AC's with a film background are older and hence much harder to afford for low budget indies. Should I ever shoot an indie again on film, I'll ask that the focus puller's scale be doubled.

In short, I don't miss medium, but I do miss the efficiency. Andrew, you talk about how shooting on digital is faster and more spontaneous. Perhaps for the lone indie as yourself shooting off the cuff. Unfortunately, that's not the look everyone's looking to pay for in the theaters or watch on TV most the time. Professional shoots are still a multi headed beast. Perhaps the biggest complaint those of us who started in film and now shoot digital have is the endless rolling rehearsals, re-sets and innumerable takes plus the amount of playback that we never experienced with film. It's worse now with commercials as the video village has now become a small country of too many cooks. I defy anyone who works on features, commercials or episodic to say digital  has made work days shorter or more efficient. And now that everyone thinks they need a DIT it's done nothing for labour costs. Then with the amount of footage that now has to be reviewed, transcribed, and noted, compared to film, I wonder if the difference between film / video production is that huge.

The best part of digital has not been with the way I make a living (episodic / commercials) but mostly for my personal projects. For people who already know how to make a film, they know if they literally can grab and go and then make a film for next to nothing. There are a few directors who've taken the immediacy of digital and exploited it. Fincher comes to mind. Several of my colleagues work on House of Cards. It's mostly available light, they work very fast, and have no DIT. I wish everyone else would catch on.

As far as IQ goes, for nights I much prefer digital. For days its a toss up. As a DP for work, the best part I like is being able to see a close to finished image on set. You actually take greater risks when you can see your mediums threshold right there on set instead of waiting for it to return from the lab. 

Regarding storage, anyone with anything worth storing will back up to new digital storage tech as the need comes. I still have scripts that were originated on floppy but living now on SSD. And when you die, it won't matter. You're dead.

​This is what we call a *mic drop.

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This is what I propose - when you shoot digital, treat the set like it is film. The director should follow these rules:

1. Do not roll on rehearsals

2. Only allowed 10 takes max per day

3.  Have camera reloads and breaks every 15 minutes

4.  Keep shooting ratio down.

Following the principles of film can be followed in digital.  I think you need to request that if you are a DP on set, also, if you don't like rolling on rehersals.  

I personally don't either.  I like shooting something then thinking, then shooting again.  Not doing 100's of takes.

But also Fincher likes digital more than film.  He likes doing hundreds of takes.  To break down the actors.  So go figure.

The look of film can be replicated digitally.  Have you guys seen Birdman?  Or the Age of Adeline's trailer?   Or American Sniper?  Or Whiplash?  How many people go away from that knowing that they were shot digitally?

 

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This is what I propose - when you shoot digital, treat the set like it is film. The director should follow these rules:

1. Do not roll on rehearsals

2. Only allowed 10 takes max per day

3.  Have camera reloads and breaks every 15 minutes

4.  Keep shooting ratio down.

Following the principles of film can be followed in digital.  I think you need to request that if you are a DP on set, also, if you don't like rolling on rehersals.  

I personally don't either.  I like shooting something then thinking, then shooting again.  Not doing 100's of takes.

But also Fincher likes digital more than film.  He likes doing hundreds of takes.  To break down the actors.  So go figure.

The look of film can be replicated digitally.  Have you guys seen Birdman?  Or the Age of Adeline's trailer?   Or American Sniper?  Or Whiplash?  How many people go away from that knowing that they were shot digitally?

 

​Agree on most points except the rolling rehearsals. Nothing worse than saying, "it looked better in rehearsal." If the set is lit, AC has marks, blocking roughed in, etc. Why not roll? Just don't call it a rehearsal I guess.

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Was the making of 'The tree of life' or 'The new world' all planned by Lubezki and Malick? Was the butterfly landing on Jessica Chastaing's hand planned? Does the Joker really looks like a guy with a plan? Was '2001' emotionaly warm or scientificaly and cold as space movie. Are the actual movies (Avengers like..) artistic and unplanned like 'Dancer In the dark' thanks to digital? Nolan is known to keep the filming way all within the budget, with a relatively small crew, and 'Interstellar' was finished weeks before the original schedule, thanks to Nolan organisation. I was deep into that one and the only question that comes to my mind was that i liked watching it, and luckly on Imax screen, thanks to the 4K digital projector next to my home. You make the point for a lot of things in your article, but for the cold vs warm(?) - plan vs unplanned - superior vs inferior - more dynamique range vs less parts, this was an heartbreaking article i've just read.

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Zero benefit of film?  Not sure I buy that.  Just the way moving images are captured of film is unique and worthwhile for certain things.  

And let's be honest, you can't beat highlight roll off in film.  Light is captured in an analog process.  Just the flawed nature of that particular process is important.  Tiny flicks of particulate on the image, the imperceptible shift of the film spooling through the gate.  Even when minimized as much as technically possible it does matters and is quantifiable. 

After all, we ourselves experience light in a flawed biologically analog way, don't we?  

Oh man, I feel like a Silver Lake hipster demanding that vinyl is superior to digital!  I should be having this conversation while wearing an ironic beard and waiting in line for a $15 coffee at Inteligentsia.

Anyway... 

Analog film does look awesome, and not even in a conscious way.  Even for an ignorant viewer I believe this quality appeals on a fundamental, subconscious, and basic level.  I don't think I'm  being terribly esoteric when I say it's a "gut level" reaction to the images. 

I mean, I still shoot film stills for a reason.  And it's not because it's practical.

So this isn't a great analogy, but it's sort of akin to walking into a room full of tungsten light and one lit by fluorescence.  There's a comfort level from experiencing light from a familiar source.  Tungsten filaments burn very similar to carbon.  Fluorescent illumination by exciting chemical compounds that include magnesium and calcium?  Hmm, not so much. 

Ultimately, is shooting on film a huge factor when it comes to IQ?  Honestly, I agree with the owner of this website, I personally would't put it up there on the priority list, but I shoot in the no/low budget range of motion picture production.  For those artists that are attempting to capture some of film's particular quality, are looking to elevate their storytelling by every means possible, and money isn't really a limiting factor, why not?  Indeed, exploit that opportunity.

I wouldn't bother doing it, but I understand why someone would make the effort to do so.

And, as mentioned in earlier posts, the work flow of film shooting creates a different on set atmosphere.  This environment might be a good decision for certain productions.

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And, as mentioned in earlier posts, the work flow of film shooting creates a different on set atmosphere.  This environment might be a good decision for certain productions.

​This is a good point, but like the image film gives this too can be simulated with digital by placing artificial constraints on the amount of media available and how long it takes to load it.

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this too can be simulated with digital by placing artificial constraints

​No doubt.  But like any obstructions, actual ones are harder to overcome than the virtual ones.  You always have that safety net of knowing you can ignore a self-imposed constraint.

If you're on a diet, you tend not to put a box of doughnuts on your dining room table after all.  

Discipline to not to break the easily avoided virtual obstruction is great --if you can control that discipline!  Most of us would reach for the doughnut when things get difficult.  

Then again, if there's no way to avoid an obstruction you're forced unconditionally to figure out a way around it.

For sure I'm getting esoteric now!  Philosophical reductionist navel gazing.  But I do believe all this digital production is a double edged sword.  Weirdly, the ease of digital production can potentially diminish the quality of a film.  If for no other reason than it requires less production effort to attain similar IQ and less concentration/skill from the crew.  (normally - most of the time - that's freakin' awesome, actually; more for less)  

Surely making things harder to do would seem counter intuitive, but depending on one's creative desires... well, it just might not be.  

I haven't shot a production on film for at least 3 years, but my colleague and I are doing s16 for a new documentary with various mixed media.  Why?  For all of the reasons listed in this thread.

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And let's be honest, you can't beat highlight roll off in film.  Light is captured in an analog process.  Just the flawed nature of that particular process is important.  Tiny flicks of particulate on the image, the imperceptible shift of the film spooling through the gate.  Even when minimized as much as technically possible it does matters and is quantifiable. 

​Digital just can't handle highlights. Another thing closely related to this is that high contrast scenes look great on film, but on digital they look like shit. I still have to see a digital workflow that gives natural looking hdr scenes, on the still films I've used it just looks natural (expose for the shadows, scan for the highlights, apply basic curve -> high contrast scene turns out to look natural as seen with your eyes), Flat profiles don't even come close.

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​Digital just can't handle highlights. 

​It is amazing how wonderful the chemical process handles this.  I'm sure in a handful of years we'll all be arguing which camera's new fangled quantum organic flux capacitor digital sensor handles highlights in a way superior to film, but at the moment silver halide crystals still kick butt.

Now, is it WORTH the extra hassle and expense for creamier highlight roll off...?  Debatable.

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 I personally work better under limitations, shooting raw on the BMPCC with 20 mins per card kinda' reminds of film so it makes me work more carefully.

​This. My work quality has gone up since I started shooting raw with the 5d. And it's mostly because of the limitation of time, not the image quality per se. That makes me think more and it has - surprising myself - had the effect of making everything more thoughtful.

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Let's remember all the wonderful things about celluloid:

1. The lovely "bob and weave" in the image, as each frame never lands exactly in the same place as the previous one as it goes through the camera or projector gate.

2. All the sparkling dust and dirt in the image which gives it that nice "real world" feel.

3. The fine lines of scratches that appear if you dare to run your film through a projector more than once.

4. The fun of having no idea how your shots came out until a day or two later when your film comes back from the lab.

5. The marvelous megatons of toxic waste generated by photochemical processing.

6. The joy of your footage turning yellow or pink if you store it in a hot place. The fun of having to store film stock in refrigerators to stop it from going bad.

7.   The ecstasy of spending about what a Canon 5D costs to buy thirty minutes of film stock and get it processed (workprint or video transfer not included).

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3. The fine lines of scratches that appear if you dare to run your film through a projector more than once.

​When I was a projectionist, I basically ruined one film by misaligning one of the heads so the film got a good 15 minutes of huge scratches before I realized it. During the next screening I was like "Please be no scratches!" to no avail, haha.

One other beautiful mishap was when I was rolling a film back into reels for shipping and that whole effing film (two hours of 35mm) dropped to the ground (I forgot to put a blocker during rolling). Called my boss 10pm "Hey man, what's up? I just have this film and it's lying on the ground in a mess, what to do?". It took us something like five hours to fix it which was surprisingly fast I thought.

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had to create an account to chime in.. also kind of shocked at some of the points you've raised about digital being superior to film. nonetheless, i dont think its a matter of which is superior. both mediums should be available so one can choose which medium they'd like to use. 

 

imagine if everyone was using acrylic paint for years and oil paint came along and was deemed superior..does that mean i should stop using acrylic paint? no..it simply means i have more choices in terms of how i'd like to present my art. 

there is however an argument that can be had, i think, on the fact that it may be hard to maintain the production of film. (thanks few elite rich people who care about film) 

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