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September 8, 2013

Are the Coen Brothers Finished Shooting on Celluloid?

We know that motion picture film is going to stick around for a while on a large scale thanks to Kodak, but what happens when the biggest directors and DPs choose not to use it anymore? Is that when we'll stop seeing it in theaters? In a recent interview with the New York Times, Joel and Ethan Coen discussed not only their newest film, Inside Llewyn Davis, but how technology and the industry have changed since they started making films.

Here Joel and Ethan talk about how things have changed and whether this is the last movie they shoot on actual film:

Joel Well, the craft of it’s changed a lot, just because of digital technology. That’s the thing that’s been the most radical. I mean, outside of that, it’s still the same as when we were making Super 8 movies, basically. This movie was not shot digitally. We shot it on film. It’s probably ——

Ethan Probably the last one.

Joel It might be the last one we ever do on film.

Ethan “True Grit” was the last film that Roger Deakins shot on film.

Joel We were one of the last people to stop cutting on film. And when we stopped, people would say, “Why?” Honestly, the answer was because we couldn’t find assistants who knew how to work on film. They didn’t exist anymore. I mean, it was — I remember being in Ken Loach’s cutting room around then, and I said — he was cutting on a Steenbeck back then — and I said, “How do you do this?” And he pointed like that [points] and there was this, like, 96-year-old guy on the rewinds.

Shooting on film and all of the processes associated with it are literally becoming lost arts. I never worked with a Steenbeck (though we had one at school), but I was fortunate enough to cut and splice a 16mm short by hand -- which I would highly recommend if you get the chance. It's not an exercise that will produce better films, but it does make you appreciate what has been simplified by digital technologies. Every cut is precious and calculated because it's a painstaking process. Large format photography, another seemingly lost art, places an even greater emphasis on images, as the medium is not only very expensive, but the patience required to shoot it forces you to evaluate everything that does, and does not, matter in the frame (and even if you don't get anything out of it, being able to develop each 4 x 5 negative by hand is as fun as it is nerve-wracking).

Later on they were asked whether they'd tried any digital cameras yet:

Ethan We’ve seen Roger’s tests of the Alexa, which are pretty remarkable, which is the eerie thing.

Joel I think both of us — and T Bone I would throw in here, too — are very sort of analog. I’d rather listen to vinyl than to a CD. I’d rather see a movie shot on film. I don’t think they look the same. I think you can duplicate things with digital technology, but what you end up doing is trying to recapture elements of photochemical technology that aren’t there, and they always look a little screwy.

Ethan The analog texture feels so good.

Joel There was a period of time when you could choose whether you were shooting in black and white or in color, and depending on the subject matter — and usually it’s sort of genre-driven and all the rest. It would be great if you could say, “This movie lends itself to digital shooting, this one, black and white,” without there being any kind of arty stigma put on it. It’s just another thing you can try.

I think there is a lot of truth to that last bit from Joel about experimenting and shooting a particular movie in black and white if that's what felt right. It's almost impossible to get away with something like that in a mainstream film these days, especially as there are people going into theaters who may never have seen an entire film that way. What I do think is happening with digital technology is that we are getting further away from what we used to associate with digital images. As sensors get more advanced, they are able to control pixel readout in a way that is more pleasing to the eye. Having the cleanest possible images to work with also lends itself to feeling more like an analog medium -- something that was nearly impossible before hard drives and memory advanced enough.

It will be interesting if this is actually the last movie they shoot on film. The Coens were sort of the underdogs in the post world when they decided to edit on Final Cut instead of Avid, but they haven't done anything quite like that with the shooting of their films (even though it would open up more creative options just as the digital intermediate did when they first used it on O' Brother, Where Art Thou?).

Film won't go away just because Ethan and Joel stop using it, but every filmmaker that permanently moves to digital will mean less and less film is being shot and processed. Celluloid is going to stick around for some time, but labs are continuing to close. When the economics no longer make sense, it won't be a question of where you'll buy film stock -- but where you'll actually get that stock developed.

You can read more of the interview over at the New York Times.

Link: ‘We Are the Establishment Now’: The Coen Brothers Look Wryly at Their Films -- New York Times

[via Slashfilm]

Your Comment

65 Comments

Beside editing, there's also a workflow; recording media; camera size, cost and manufacturing; sensitivity to light; image resolution and other variables that are favoring digital and will favor digital even more as the technology moves forward. From the 88 DB organic sensors to 4 TB SSD's to the petaflop workstations, it's all going digital. (and, with music, 24 bit 192 kHz lossless makes it hard to go back to analog also)

September 8, 2013

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DLD

Not to mention the inability to see what you just shot.

FILM is dead, but from an artisitic standpoint i would still love to one day shoot on super 16 or 35mm on film and to also shot photography the old fashion way.

September 8, 2013

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JAYEEE

Kokak is still in business and their still making film. It's only dead if you want to believe in such.

September 9, 2013

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F64

Ohh the precious analog texture, ooooh.
Its. Just. The. Grain.

September 8, 2013

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Natt

Not really. you can add grain in post that looks similar (Hell, you can even add Gran that IS from film) It is a different aesthetic. Simple as that. Same with the Alexa and RED: different aesthetics for different projects.

September 8, 2013

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David J. Fulde

@Natt: That's the kind of statement that proves you can't see the difference.

September 8, 2013

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Hampus

its not just grain its the motion that feels right. it takes you into that world moreso. that's why i like film

September 8, 2013

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Mechanical shutter. Alexa and F65 have that option.

September 9, 2013

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Natt

me too..I'm 23 years old and have been shooting on film this past year...I love it!

(I think Ethan is more the producer)

September 8, 2013

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DIO

i would say film will go the way of vinyl when cd's appeared. people will jump on the high res digital bandwagon and then realize some things. though vinyl was deemed obsolete then, vinyl sales have now increased sharply for six consecutive years vinyl manufacturers are now opening up in california to meet demand. classic blues and rock LP's that were originally recorded on analog reel to reel are being reissued on vinyl. this isn't purely due to nostalgia, as most vinyl sales are coming from new indie bands for a younger generation. i believe analog just looks and sounds better and it's interesting that the young generation recognize this too. maybe people are tired of upgrading their digital phones and cameras.

September 8, 2013

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ishoot720p

Vinyl is hipster audio (true, true, true). The high end sound in analog is in reel-to-reel tapes but the surviving machines cost an arm and a leg.

September 8, 2013

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DLD

So when is 8-track going to make a come back?

September 8, 2013

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Gene

When vinyl sales clear 5% of all album sales, then you can say vinyl is coming back. Currently, vinyl is 1.4% of all album sales. More than it was last year, but still not a consequential amount.

Plus it sounds mediocre. Especially the closer you get to the label. Thin, no dynamic range, no true stereo separation, all albums forced into 2 parts under 20 minutes each... Eugh. You can keep it. Great if it makes you feel cooler, but eugh.

September 8, 2013

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Colin

And you can't download vinyl...

September 9, 2013

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Tim McC

Consider CD vs Vinyl a historical anomaly that will probably not repeat. I can't tell why DVD Audio hasn't taken off, and we are still stuck with the first generation of digital audio (mainstream, that is; I know that there is FLAC and all), but this has not happened in other digital fields. Given normal technological progress, we would now all be listening to our music from Blue-Ray Audio in 48 Bit, 192 kHz in Five channel recording.

In video, we are not bound to a particular, mediocre format. The resolution increases by the year, there are new codecs every few months, and it all merges into the existing workflows. Film is still better, but not more practical, and I guess that its visual advantages will fade (make that a pun, if you like).

September 9, 2013

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Thyl Engelhardt

I think the consumer was already annoyed with the music industry because even old albums on CD was expensive, and no one wanted to just repurchase their collection. VHS to DVD was different, it was like 8track or cassette to CD. Blu-ray is having a harder time being adopted i think for the same reasons.

September 9, 2013

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Vizar

The problem with the move beyond the Super Audio/DVD Audio is the modern music and the modern audience. The 70's brought bands/acts that toiled for months in a studio to deliver just a perfect sound. Nowadays, the biggest sellers are heavily compressed for the radio play or streaming and the public taste switched to the convenience of the 128 kbps MP3 clips or a multichannel home theater. To some extent, the high end audio should accept part of the blame too, as its retail offerings usually feature a humongous markup (can be as high as 1,000%), which prices out a large portion of their potential customers. One can hypothetically go into an online market for better deals (like getting a Chinese made tube amp for under $2K) but a majority is reluctant to do that, given the potential quality control problems with the Chinese made goods. The high bit rate audio recordings have popped up online - though, there's no 1 Mbps audio streaming stations, as far as I know - for the small cadre of committed audiophiles. I suspect the same happening with the consumer video on anything past 4K. The yet-to-be-released $6,500 Sony camcorder will be selling for $2,500 in a couple of years and that's as much as a typical household will ever bother with. The high end pro market will go 8K - NHK is aiming to broadcast its 2020 home Olympics in 8K - if for no other reasons than archiving but the consumer market will stay at 720p/1080i/4K for the foreseeable future. In fact, 4K itself may take the rest of the decade to get to 50% market share but that's how it often goes when the consumer has the ultimate choice. When you think about it, CD sounds just fine on a $1,000 home theater system and 1080p looks just fine on a $1,000 TV.

September 9, 2013

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DLD

"It will be interesting if this is actually the last film they shoot digitally."

Shouldn't that read "the last film they shoot on celluloid"?

September 8, 2013

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Brian

An important question to ask is does the average person going to movies choosing which movie to watch by if it's shot on film or not? We have to consider if the intriguing look of 6K may be what they will want to see. The average movie goer may not have an inclination for film.

September 8, 2013

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Gene

The real problem is: too many films are being made for the average person already!

September 9, 2013

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Raul

You have to keep in mind they are where the big money comes from.

September 9, 2013

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Gene

Of course, maybe some are content, or feel they are not violating some principle, by staying with small budgets, movie festivals, and art houses.

September 9, 2013

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Gene

Enjoy your 3 viewers with "taste" then. No one carers.

September 9, 2013

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Natt

I think what he means is that the average viewer has too many choices and it'll be harder to make a return. Niches can be lucrative, but it's hard to get there immediately. It's about cultivating the niche.

September 9, 2013

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Vizar

THE SONY F65 is the best digital camera available, images pouring out of it look absolutely amazing, at times it even looks better than film grade,

September 8, 2013

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JAYEEE

You've compared it to the 6K Red Dragon?

September 8, 2013

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Gene

Nobody here has seen a 6K image from the Dragon, or even a 4K image. So there's no way to compare. Right now, the 4K image out of the F65 is the strongest, high-resolution image out there. I prefer the Alexa in general, but I loved Oblivion's look too.

September 8, 2013

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Kenneth

R.I.P.D., though it was a box office dud, was a great looking movie. It was an ARRI. But I'm looking forward to the first Red Dragon movie. I haven't heard a title yet using it. I guess I'll keep tabs on NFS and they'll probably have a post on the first one.

September 9, 2013

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Gene

I could have sworn one of the big productions is using it... Transformers maybe?

September 9, 2013

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Kenneth

Transformers 4 could be the first Hollywood feature to use it, but knowing the amount of time in post required to finish that kind of film I'm sure some smaller indie films shot on Epic D will be released prior. After all the upgrade process begun this month in smaller quantities.

September 9, 2013

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Natt

Michael Bay is currently using them Trans4mers.

https://vimeo.com/73446258

They have been shooting for a few months, so the whole movie isn't gonna be Red Dragon, but some of it will be. As was his style on the last pic, he mixed the different formats up pretty randomly, using 35mm anamorphic for close-ups, a F35 3d rig for wides, some RedOne and a chunk of SI2K for the basejumping sequence.

September 9, 2013

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Sure there's big productions using ARRI. Who would say there wasn't? Comments are like a Rorschach some times, I guess.

September 9, 2013

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Gene

I will be going to that movie just to see if I can pick out when the 6K red Dragon was used.

September 9, 2013

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Gene

meaning Transformers 4

September 9, 2013

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Gene

Kenneth, yeah, i think it is. I, for one, am looking forward to it. I am so curious!

September 9, 2013

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Gene

Aren't the Coens editing on Premiere now?

September 8, 2013

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Matt

Pretty sure they are.

September 8, 2013

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Kenneth

I'd compare it to digital photography. At some point the quality is so good that the convenience wins.

September 9, 2013

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derkiki

Star Wars will be shooting on film.

September 9, 2013

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and, the next Star Trek, I believe..

September 9, 2013

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Really? that's ironic....

September 10, 2013

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...ah yeah, the "texture" - anyone noticed that theatres nowadays project digital? and those DCPs aren`t uncompressed, nor are DVDs/Bluerays/Downloads/youtube and so on, that means: The grain/texture is to a large extent killed/softened by compression anyway. It`s silly to go through all that hassle with film when in the end you`re not even able to reproduce the grain in the exact same way it was once created...

September 9, 2013

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Mariano

I always wondered how much of the unique film qualities were lost when film was scanned to a high resolution digital format. My only experience editing film was on a flatbed, so I've never had the chance to compare the images side-by-side. Since digital cinema cameras are recording 2K /4K, there seems to be less interest in dealing with the hassles and expense of shooting on film as opposed to the early days of HD.

I really do like the look of this movie in the trailer. Their is a dreamlike quality to it even though it is realistic. I'll go to see it even though the subject matter doesn't interest me because it looks great.

September 9, 2013

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Marc B

Irrespective of analog film and music vs digital, i believe the quality of work in general is diminishing. The golden era of cinematography is long gone, where each take was meticulously planned, scenes rehearsed many times, careful consideration given to cutting and editing. there was a true story telling continuity in films of the past. to be a DP, you'd have had to apprentice for a decade at least with master cinematographers. today, a film school major rents a Sony F65, or Red with his or her parent's money and makes some crap film. there is so much crap out there on youtube, including videos, music. it used to be 10% of music and film was good. now it's less than 1%.

September 9, 2013

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ishoot720p

a crappy movie made on 4k will look 4 times worse on 4k than 1080p

September 9, 2013

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ishoot720p

DCP from 35mm film for theatrical release looks AMAZING!!!

FOR T.V. CHECK OUT BREAKING BAD...the best looking series on T.V.

September 9, 2013

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DIO

Anybody know what camera Godzilla 2014 is using?

September 9, 2013

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Gene

I don't know, Gene but, I sure hope it's a Red Dragon 6K camera because, if it's shot on anything else, it's just going to look like pure crap.

September 10, 2013

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If you could roll film though a 5Diii you'd have perfection.

September 10, 2013

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Gene

That would be an EOS 5 :-)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_EOS_5

September 10, 2013

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MGS

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