July 10, 2013

Is Film Dead? The World's Best Cinematographers Don't Seem to Think So

filmstockIt's the debate of the decade; is film dead as a capture medium? The answer to that question is manifold, and you would likely get just as many different answers as the number of people who you asked. Sure, shooting film is no longer taught in most film schools (there are a few exceptions). And sure, the cost of raw stock, processing, and high-resolution DIs are up since Fuji stopped production of capture stocks, and local film labs have disappeared left and right. Based on those factors alone, it would seem safe to assume that film is headed the way of the dinosaurs, and rather quickly.

However, Kodak has just released a list of the motion pictures and shows which are still using film as the primary capture medium, and the contents of that list might just surprise you. First and foremost, the fact that this list exists at all is a sign that Kodak is trying to conjure new business. And why wouldn't they? They are primarily a film company after all, and that business has been in financial jeopardy for several years. With that said, the amount of film-based production that still takes place in the industry is staggering, especially considering that many experts have been declaring the death of film as a reality for the past year or so.

Kodak

What's most surprising is not that major motion pictures like Man of Steel and The Lone Ranger are still shooting on celluloid. No, it's that film is not only surviving in independent film and television production, in some cases it's thriving. Take modern dramatic television as an example. Many of HBO's large-budget series such as Boardwalk Empire and True Blood are still shot exclusively on film. Even cable shows such as Breaking Bad, The Killing, and American Horror Story are shot almost entirely with film, despite the fact that it would be more cost effect to shoot digitally.

Film is alive and kicking in the independent film community as well. This year's Grand Jury winner at Sundance, Fruitvale Station, was shot with Super 16mm, as was last year's Beasts of the Southern Wild. Jeff Nichol's past two films, Mud and Take Shelter (an all-time favorite of mine), were both shot with 35mm on relatively small budgets. Even the biographical drama, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was shot with celluloid.

So what's the point of all this? It's not that film isn't in a treacherous position. It most certainly is. Film will likely be used less and less as digital cinema technology continues to progress and becomes affordable enough for the masses. The point is that film is still alive because it's the best tool to tell some stories. Today's elite cinematographers realize this and use the best capture medium for stories that they're trying to tell.

Here's one of Cinefii's "Bite-Sized Dailies" with John De Borman as he talks about how he chooses a medium for each project and why it's important to keep film alive.

For me, Borman's point is a valuable one. Film needs to be preserved as a capture medium because it's one of the tools with which we're able to tell stories. Eliminating it from the toolbag limits our storytelling potential; it's as simple as that. Of course most of us, myself included, can't afford to shoot film on most projects, and that's a sad and sobering reality. But having an understanding of how and why to shoot on film is invaluable, especially in our digitally-dominated world.

What do you guys think? Does it surprise you that film is still as prevalent as it is? Is it important to keep film alive as a capture medium even though the price to do so is rising? Let us know in the comments!

Link: A Selection of Productions on Kodak Motion Picture Film -- Kodak

Your Comment

85 Comments

Doesn't surprise me at all that there are still plenty of people wanting to shoot on film, but I am surprised that any movie with a lot of VFX would shoot on film these days. I don't know a lot about the VFX workflow for big budget movies, but I would imagine that shooting digital for movies like Man of Steel would take away an entire layer of complexity that shooting film would add to the VFX workflow.

July 10, 2013

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Brian

I can imagine the lack of RAW post capabilities would have made their job a little bit bigger.

July 10, 2013

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Tyler

Film negatives have quite a lot of "post capability" actually...

July 10, 2013

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john jeffries

Film is the original RAW - there's a ton of latent information in a film negative - a ton. You can push overexposed negative, like you would RAW, and find pretty incredible latitude.

So they're probably not missing out on RAW capabilities.

July 10, 2013

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It's not the raw capability or latitude that I'm talking about though - honestly, those are considerations for post, but don't really have much bearing on a VFX pipeline, which is what I'm talking about. In my mind, scanning the film to be worked on in the first place adds a whole extra step that digital dissipates, and in terms of consistent image alignment, film must have at least a little more variance than digital due to its mechanical nature, right? I know when you watch a film at the movies you can see the "jitters" in the picture, but I don't know if that's a product of the printed film or the projection - or both.

July 11, 2013

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Brian

That's a projection problem (one that IMAX films don't have due to a much more sophisticated projector). On a big film I don't think it makes any difference to the VFX people because they're not the ones developing and scanning the shots. They're just getting DPX or OpenEXR sequences the same as they would on a digital show.

July 11, 2013

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Gabe

If The Killing is shot almost entirely on film, why is it that pattern noise appears in almost every low-light shot?

July 10, 2013

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cows

Likely compression of the TV signal.

July 10, 2013

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Rob

That's likely due to the fact that AMC still broadcasts in standard definition. I've watched episodes both as they've aired on AMC and in HD on Netflix, and the Netflix version is filmic and beautiful and better in every way. Personally, I love the way they shoot that show.

July 10, 2013

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Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor

Film looked better in the movies I grew up on. 80's and 90's stuff. I watch a movie like Thelma & Louise now and I can't see those Dialogue scenes with a Red camera. Same for many others.. The newer movies still shot on film aren't convincing me however that celluloid is still relevant, because most of them all look the same anyway. If you'd told me Man of Steel was shot on an Alexa, i wouldn't have argued with you.

July 10, 2013

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Jeremy

That's so true! Film had a unique character in the older films that's not so visible on films using film now. I wonder why. Maybe its the DI process and hi-definition scans?

July 12, 2013

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its really annoying when unaccomplished people state whether something is dead or alive. It's happen all too much in the dslr blogs.

July 10, 2013

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cee

Amen.

July 10, 2013

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Josh

But, on the other hand... those who are accomplished are only going to side with what they know and what will protect their careers. You kind of just have to come to your own conclusions...

July 10, 2013

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bwhitz

ANY Union DP can shoot with anything. Using film isn't about protecting their job.

Do you really think that all the Union DPs will be replaced by n00bs with their first VDSLR when film fineally goes away??

July 10, 2013

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c.d.embrey

It's more so about protecting the status quo of the industry. Think about it, film is expensive... it takes a long time to learn the craft, decades to a life-time. We now have tools that you can learn the same craft on (if you have the eye/talent) in a year or two. Once the industry goes through another radical shift (like the end of the studio system) and we lose the union/exec control, we're going to see a very different way of making films. It's only a natural human response to protect the way that "I did it" and how "I learned the craft". A bit of narcissism mixed with hubris.

July 11, 2013

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bwhitz

Film looks good enough on the current resolution displays. Once you get to 8K - which may be another decade away but it's coming - anything mechanically recorded will have serious disadvantages on the movie screen sized displays.

PS. Much like vinyl vs. digital or tubes vs. solid state, the new technology will take over most of the consumer and pro market, with the small circle of aficionados clinging to the old technology. (and I am saying this as someone who actually loves the old tube sound for certain types of music)

July 10, 2013

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DLD

Not that I necessarily disagree with your point about 8K, but I know that in the guitar industry tube amplifiers are still largely prevalent at all price levels. In fact you'd be hard pressed to find a high end amplifier that doesn't use "outdated" technology, primarily because tubes are full of nuance and character at the expense of being less accurate and more expensive than solid state (which parallels the differences between film and digital quite nicely, if you ask me).

July 10, 2013

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Slandis

actually, these days one van get a digital simulation of any tube sound for the guitar amp purposes ... you can play any guitar into a modeling amp and it'll come out sounding like any other guitar played through any other amp, as long as the program for that particular model is uploaded ... (btw, I was actually talking about a home audio tube amp, which can still be found in a number of high end systems ... for certain music at low to medium volumes, tubes sound great due to their soft/musical midrange ... so if you're listening to a jazz vocalist with a trio backup through a planar/ribbon/horn loaded speaker, tubes are fantastic ... try to crank Judas Priest through a sealed enclosure and you're SOL)

anyhow, back to film vs. digital - one has to realize that the high end/pro digital cameras haven't been around that long ... first generation was HD at best and thus lacking in both resolution and color gamut visavis the film ... Dalsa Origin was the first 4K camera and it came out only in 2008 ... Alexa has been around for two and half years .... so, an experienced cinematographer, by this point in time, may have worked for 40 years with film and has barely a clue about digital ... if you compare with my tube vs. solid state examples - the germanium based transistors came out in mass in the late 50's but the silicon based audio gear only began to appear a decade later ... the Woodstock sound design team used McIntosh home audio amps to power up the subs, hoping that only a small portion would fry in the open air ... the modern type of acoustic reinforcement began for real in ~ 1971-72 when Grateful Dead, the Who and Led Zep got their multi-channel multi-separates setups ... to cut the long story short, the digital cinema is at its infancy ... a decade from now, film will be a faint memory along with the DV's, Hi8, SuperVHS and alike ...

July 10, 2013

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DLD

Methink that audio media is an anomality that will not be repeated. Why did DVD Audio not take off? Weird. Vinyl is still there because CDs, at least for many people, including myself, exhibit a worse audible quality than Vinyl. DVD Audio would probably have replaced Vinyl for good.
In the film industry, there are no hardware standards that prevent a next generation of technology to become successfull. Resolution, dynamic range, colour space will continue to evolve until there is no longer any reason for chemical film.

July 11, 2013

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Thyl Engelhardt

DVD Audio/Super Audio CD delivers resolution/clarity that is far beyond the capabilities of vast majority of home sound systems. For hobbyists, as you deftly put it, there are lossless formats available that are above DVDA or SACD. Presuming motion pictures will attain an 8K resolution within a decade, it's highly doubtful a home theater market will be tempted to move beyond 4K regardless, as at CPD of 60 (retina display approximate), one would have to sit within two thirds of the diagonal screen size to fall under it. In theaters, however, 8K makes sense and that isn't something (35 mm) film is capable of. In TV production, digital in general and 4K in specific is beginning to take over this summer, albeit with a bunch of scripted 1-hr dramas still shot with Arri Alexa in ~ 2.6K. (which is easier to upscale to 4K than 1080P)

July 11, 2013

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DLD

Id like to see studios push for imax cameras like in dark knight. 70mm is breath taking.

July 10, 2013

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vinceGortho

Especially if you can see it projected in its native resolution!

July 13, 2013

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Dan

Just watch "side by side" and you'll hear some of the most acomplished DP's and directors saying that there's nothing like film just quite yet. Digital is growing further and further but hasn't reached film ( 35mm ) capabilities let alone 70mm... film is the best there is, too bad that not everyone can shoot on it.

July 10, 2013

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Francisco

Well, again, allot of them are just going to, psychologically, side with whatever they are familiar with and what protects their careers. Digital production (not just shooting), once fully implemented, will upset allot of the industry and union practices.. causing job-loss/re-arrangement. Digital is also faster to learn on, and easier to get better results with less experience... siding with film preserves the inherent "elitism" of film and the process. I love watching movies like side-by-side... but there's just something about the tone in their voices and the way they word their arguments... it doesn't seem fully sincere.

July 10, 2013

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bwhitz

Hahaha. You have no idea.

July 10, 2013

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Kenneth Merrill

And you think you do? Go to bed, gramps.

July 11, 2013

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Natt

Usually when one responds with visceral dismissals like "hahaha"... you know you're getting close to the truth.

July 11, 2013

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bwhitz

Skyfall and the Alexa went a long way to push digital... First bond movie not shot on film. Film is great but red, sony, and arri are going to burry it (save for a few) in the next five or six years.

July 10, 2013

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Heather

Concerning Kodak:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62kxPyNZF3Q

Skip to 1:24

July 10, 2013

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Sascha

Film is not dead, it is just no longer relevant. For every film or TV show listed you could easily name 10 of equal or better quality that are being shot on digital. Anybody ever hear of the small show on HBO call Game of Thrones?

Films primary strength lies in its archivability.Most major features will do separation neg of the final film, which I believe Fuji still manufactures, though I'm not 100% on that.

Convenience will always win out, and Digital is convenient and cost effective.

July 10, 2013

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Allan

OK, list them. 110 equally amazing films and TV shows shot on digital. GO!

July 10, 2013

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Kenneth Merrill

Simple.... Visit red for a list or imdb.

July 11, 2013

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Greg egan

The amount of TV shows, feature films, and commercials shot digitally on the ARRI Alexa alone is just staggering: http://www.arri.com/camera/digital_cameras/credits.html

July 11, 2013

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Razor

Film looks great, but RED, with old lenses and proper color grading, looks just as good.

July 10, 2013

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john jeffries

Not on skin tones, sorry. I'm always frustrated in the color suite with the accomplished artist trying to save a somewhat natural look when we had to shoot on Red.

July 11, 2013

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Elias

No it doesn't. The Red color science produces a nasty greenish cast that makes skin tones look like hell. In general it's a muddy mess. High lights are harsh and do not roll off smoothly. You need a good DI operator to make Red look its best and that's still not going to help you with the more limited range (11.5 vs 14 stops for film).

Ironically the cameras that were closest in look to film (short of DR) were the last generation CCD models like the F35 and D21.

Currently the most film like camera is the Alexa and probably the F65. You could add in the CCD based Ikonoskop A-cam and now the digital Bolex D16, which have a very organic look.

July 11, 2013

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Hans

http://ia.media-imdb.com/images/M/MV5BMTU3NTUxNDI0MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMz...@@._V1._SX640_SY360_.jpg

Obseledia (red one mx + zeiss zf lenses)

http://media.theiapolis.com/d4/hJ4/i161P/k4/l166L/wZK/christopher-plumme...

Beginners (red one mx, not sure about lenses)

COME AT ME BRO. i can do this all day

July 11, 2013

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john jeffries

Are you talking about the original Red One there? Things have moved on a lot since then...

July 11, 2013

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Gabe

Im just giving examples of some of my favorite films shot with RED :) specifically ones that look fairly filmic and disprove that skin-tone nonsense

July 11, 2013

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john jeffries

Huh weird, that was supposed to be a reply to Hans...

July 11, 2013

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Gabe

@Hans
Are you talking about the original Red One there? Things have moved on a lot since then…

July 11, 2013

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Gabe

Would the nikkor AIS lenses count?
What lens would make a good wide angle for super35 with AIS since they don't make a 17mm?

July 11, 2013

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VinceGOrtho

im pretty sure they made an 18mm f4

July 11, 2013

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john jeffries

oops, no, thats AI

July 11, 2013

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john jeffries

Don't forget, the only truly archival medium is film. A hundred years from now, when some one stumbles upon an old reel of film, they'll still be able to capture its image.

Good luck trying to read a Mac formatted hard drive, or MiniDV, or Betacam in 100 years....

July 10, 2013

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Or you could transcode when you feel the need.

Film actually degrades despite what people claim. You dig up a film shot in the 1913 and look at it now in 2013 and tell me its as good as it was then. Lucas when they did the Star Wars remastered editions said they were lucky they did it when they did as it was fading.

At least digital we can transcode every 15 or 20 years. Who knows, its software. Why shouldnt we still be able to read prores in 200 years?? It shouldnt be hard for future hardware to handle the old software. Like an emulator.

Film might not be dead but ceasing film camera production in 2011 definitely made it terminal. Personally I like the look of film too.

July 11, 2013

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The film they were using in 1913 is very different to the film we have today. Nitrate film did tend to decay in quite a nasty way but the modern acetate stocks have an extremely impressive lifespan if stored in reasonable conditions. Anyway, high quality film archival is done on polyester film which has a virtually indefinite lifespan if stored properly.
Large scale digital archival is complex and extremely problematic. Way more so than archiving on film. It's not just a matter of transcoding from time to time. Hard drives are horrible long term storage mediums as they tend to fail often and need to be activated on a regular basis. Enormous amounts of data will need to be migrated onto new drives at regular intervals. Even SSD and SD storage uses a tiny charge which degrades with time (much faster than film degrades).
Maintenance costs for digital archival become astronomical if you are trying to preserve a large library of films (we need to look past our own immediate needs and think about what will be best for film culture in general) over a long period of time.
This preservation issue is such a serious problem. Whatever your views on capture mediums I think we should all be supporting film as the gold standard archival medium, at least until we find a digital storage process that is as straightforward, effective and reliable.

July 11, 2013

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Mak

But the above is assuming that the digital archiving has no further technological advancements either.

Meanwhile -

"Washington, July 10 (ANI): Scientists have experimentally demonstrated nanostructured glass could record 360 TB/disc data capacity, has thermal stability up to 1000 degree Celsius and has practically unlimited lifetime.

Scientists at the University of Southampton have, for the first time, experimentally demonstrated the recording and retrieval processes of five dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing.

Coined as the ‘Superman’ memory crystal, as the glass memory has been compared to the “memory crystals” used in the Superman films, the data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz, which is able to store vast quantities of data for over a million years."

From (but seen around the net everywhere)

- http://truthdive.com/2013/07/10/Now-nanostructured-glass-allows-360-TB-d...

July 11, 2013

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DLD

I take your point. I think technological advancements will eventually solve the problem. However, we need to be realistic about the current situation. That study you linked to is fascinating but seems very experimental. Only a 300 kb text file was recorded. I get that it is the process that is exciting rather than the size of the file written, but god knows how many years/decades this is away from being able to competently replace large scale archival set-ups, if ever.
I'm a devotee of technology and I'm not rich enough to be invested in film and don't particularly have an emotional attachment to it (although I do prefer the way it looks when it is done properly). Film is a technology too. A highly effective, time proven one. We shouldn't forget that. For long term archiving purposes (especially of large libraries like the ones the studios and film institutes keep) I don't see what the problem is with keeping film as the tool of choice until something demonstrably better is created. Why are people so eager to see film die?

July 12, 2013

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Mak

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