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Choosing Super 16mm over Digital and the Cinematography of 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

It seems like there have been tons of posts about this movie, but The Creators Project has been slowly releasing their exclusive Behind the Scenes videos over the course of the last few months. We’ve taken a look at the score and other aspects, but now we’ve got a video with Director of Photography Ben Richardson talking about the aesthetic of the film and their choice to shoot on celluloid as opposed to digital.

The possible spoilers near the end don’t really give away any major plot details:

I never got the opportunity to use a Super 16mm camera as nice as the 416, but I have used the Arri SR2 and SR3, and I’ve even flown the SR3 on a Steadicam. The conversation that Ben is having in the video will probably not be a discussion that most people will be having in the future, because economics will dictate that film is too costly for many lower-budget productions (if it exists at all), especially when you consider how cheaply you can shoot on many compressed formats. I’ve read that they shot a tremendous amount of film on the project, and the way that Ben talks about the style of shooting, that doesn’t surprise me.

We’ve talked about Beasts of the Southern Wild quite a bit, but really you should check it out if you haven’t seen it, if only because this kind of idea and the execution at this budget level — on film no less — is an absolute miracle. The way the budget came together, and the way that the film utilized real locations, it really makes you hopeful that independent filmmaking can continue to make inventive and original projects that push the boundaries of the form.

Link: Breaking Down The Cinematography of Beasts Of The Southern Wild – The Creators Project


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  • Can never hear enough about beasts of the southern wild, not only was it a wonderful film but it serves as a great example of the kind of drive that people need to get films made. Zeitlin and his court 13 crew is a force, obviously he/they are hugely talented but that is no where near enough. He was always gonna get films made no matter what. I think his level of drive and commitment is what people lack, more than talent.

  • I would just like to let people know that right now it is very easy to rent film equipment affordably because it is a lot less popular than going digital. As a camera rental agent at Arri/CSC I can say that if you can figure out the cost of stock, processing and transfer shooting on film can be a very attractive option and from a rental perspective-much cheaper than renting out digital cinema equipment . I consistently rent out the 416′s, 535b, arricam studio and 435 to students and make camera packages work within their budgets . If anyone is looking to get an idea of how much film equipment will cost them they can email me or call me @ 212.757.0906 ext. 256.

    • I forgot to mention that Beasts of the Southern Wild actually was serviced by Arri/CSC :)

    • I think people should know that Kodak is very friendly to indie filmaker, more then once have I negotiated with them to get stock at a discounted price for a project, or have them donate a % of the estimated stock required. Same goes with labs (even if there are less for 16mm then 35mm), I’ve frequently dealt with Technicolor (or here in Montreal we also have Vision Global that processes film) and they’re always very amiable in helping me figure out the cost and budget realistically, trying to see what discount they could provide, they also tend to have pricing agreements with local film association or collective… don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to argue that film is the cheapest option out there, it’s not, but what I am saying is before ruling it out as too pricey people should get actual numbers first, you might be very surprised… I know I was!

  • God, this is a gorgeous film.

    I totally feel his perspective; out of all the film stocks out there, s16 isn’t easy to imitate and nearly impossible to do it well.The closest we can get to s16′s resolution and texture is with Canon DSLR’s s35 sensors and even then, some doctoring is needed in post.
    But, s16 and 65mm/Imax are the only film stocks that current digital sensors just cannot touch for aesthetic value. Especially w/ 16mm, as its golden highlight fall off and bloom is a VERY unique looking factor. Even more than its grain.

  • Being only 20 really makes me sad that shooting on film may never be a viable option for me.

    • Jake, I’m 28, I only started shooting film 3 years ago… today as a emerging DP I shoot a lot of digital low budget but also a reasonable amount of celluloid low budget, because I took the time to learn and try. I’m not going to say it is a viable option for you, as I do not know your reality, but being 20 is not an excuse if you think it’s something you’d like to try! my barebone 16mm film kit costed me less then my Digital DSLR kit, practically all my DSLR equipment (lighting, grip, dolly, sound, etc.) can be used with my film kit. a Bolex with 400′ mag, cristal sync motor and film gate adjusted for super16 will cost you under 2000$ to get in most case, if you take the time to look…

  • I’m Johnson….Please I have some money and I need my personal Camera…I need your advice….Is Digital Cinema Camera better than Film Camera….Although I used Bolex 16mm and Aaton A Minima before….(Documentaries)…..glad to read from you….

  • I can only reaffirm the above: having shot my exam short at HSC (Hungarian Society of Cinematographers) DOP school, Kodak Hungary was most friendly and acted as above.
    The film:

  • Hey JAKE . Make sure that you and some more FILM-nerds get an outranged developing machine from one of the labs that are actually being closed. Think of this possibilties. The last chance would it be to develop your stock in a bathtub. It works too.

  • Congrats to this Film for making the Oscars. Very Nice! Make this post that much more exciting to me, for it being recognized on such a grand level.