Monday, April 9, 2007

To Be or Not To Be

Is film dead? That is the question.

I had lunch the other day with a former student. And when he is not being a tennis official, he works often in the Chicago film business. He told me that in the last year the only film (35mm) shoots he has worked on have been either $500,000+ TV commercials with celebrity talent, or big feature films. Everything else has been HD or some digital format.

More and more feature films, such as Zodiac, are shooting on a non-film format. Movie Theaters are converting to digital projection and soon there will be no film prints everything will be beamed in via satellite.

I have been trading e-mails with an Irish filmmaker who is about to make a film about backpacking through Australia. He has some corporate sponsorship- and is trying to get Canon to sign on as well- but he is shooting with a small HD camera, taking two laptops to do the edit and shipping his masters out of Australia. I think this model is the future.

So, again, the question: Why film?



Donnacha said...

I don't think film is going away completely. People who work in movies believe in aesthetics, and the look of film has not so far been duplicated by digital. Probably never will, not really.

However, I think it's not the cost of filming that's the question - as far as I can see, it takes as much for a digital movie to look well-shot as it does for a genuine film. Unlesss you're trying to make it look deliberately non-film, like 28 DAYS LATER.

I think it's the efficiency. With films these days a lot of cumbersome film is shot, made into a print, scanned at super-high resolution and edited on a computer. With digital, one can shoot, transfer, and edit the same day if need be. Not nearly as much stuff to manage or wait around for.

It's for those reasons that I think digital will take over soon enough. Couple that with the burgeoning 3-D cinema idea that guys like James Cameron are pushing like it's chocolate crack. It'll be much easier to shoot 3-D and test to see if it's right with the speed and efficiency of digital shooting.

Film will survive, more probably as a niche item; "70-year-old Sir Edgar Wright presents his new film, in glorious 35mm".

But TV, mainstream releasing and so on? Probably all shot with a digital camera not much bigger than a hairdryer, edited on a laptop, uploaded to some YouTube clone that day.

I think Columbia had better rethink the way they train new students. Sure, making Production I on reversal film that they can edit by hand makes them appreciate film - but what good does that do them when no-one in the commercial market appreciates it anymore?

- Donnacha

(NOT sent in a handwritten letter to a printed columnist)

mrliteral said...

I recall reading an interview with Sofia Coppola, regarding Lost In Translation, in which she talks about the efforts of her executive producer/father Francis to convince her to shoot digital. She told him "Film is more romantic," and did shoot on 35mm. Meanwhile, he shot his latest movie on a Sony HDC-F950, according to IMDb.

So, if the old school is going digital, and a younger generation is shooting old school...I think this supports Donnacha's point about aesthetics. There will always be filmmakers who appreciate the difference.

Mmmmm, chocolate crack...

PeterH said...


A very interesting discussion. What about this- with HD the aesthetics are there. What do you gain by shooting film? Also, if not now, soon it will be caught up- see my Cell phone blog about the speed of change.

Yes, I think film schools need to and are changing how they teach. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Peter et al

Shooting digital might be easier, cheaper, and of comparable quality to shooting film, but it lacks the process of making “films.” Still the question is asked, why shoot film when you can do basically the same thing on video? What’s the difference? It’s the same difference between pitching your tent at the summit and parking your RV at the closest KOA. It’s the difference between spending years perfecting the art of fly fishing and spending a few minutes in front of the sonar display on your speedboat. There is a place for digital moviemaking, just like there are places for MIDI music sequencing and Adobe Creative Suite III. But, I still want to attend symphonies and read hand drawn comics in the newspaper. Letting film (production and exhibition) become a novelty would be a massive societal brain fart.

Elliot D.

angelica said...

i too think that film will survive as a niche thing, and i am sure you can do some stuff with film in the imagery (i am NOT a filmmaker) that you can't with digital.
the problem is not so much film or digital, the problem is content.
when i saw the first sentence "is film dead" i immediately thought "yes", because every visit to the video store sees me leaving with either a movie i already saw several times or some old movie i had missed or a foreign one.
when was the last time this country produced a good, let alone excellent movie???
i pose this question in the hopes of creating a list for my next video store visit, of course....

PeterH said...


Thanks for reading. If you go to my post called Under the Radar, I gave a list of films released since 2004 worth seeing.