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Are the Coen Brothers Finished Shooting on Celluloid?

Llewyn Davis Holding a CatWe 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]


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Description image 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)

    • 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.

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

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

    • David J. Fulde on 09.8.13 @ 11:11AM

      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.

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

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

  • 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)

  • ishoot720p on 09.8.13 @ 2:59PM

    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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • And you can’t download vinyl…

    • Thyl Engelhardt on 09.9.13 @ 4:57AM

      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).

      • 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.

      • 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.

  • “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”?

  • 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.

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

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

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

      • Enjoy your 3 viewers with “taste” then. No one carers.

        • 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.

  • 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,

    • You’ve compared it to the 6K Red Dragon?

      • 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.

        • 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.

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

          • 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.

          • Michael Bay is currently using them Trans4mers.


            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.

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

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

          • meaning Transformers 4

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

  • Aren’t the Coens editing on Premiere now?

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

  • Star Wars will be shooting on film.

  • …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…

    • 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.

  • ishoot720p on 09.9.13 @ 1:46PM

    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%.

  • ishoot720p on 09.9.13 @ 1:47PM

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

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

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

  • Anybody know what camera Godzilla 2014 is using?

    • 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.

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

          • I was joking. Maybe I was being sarcastic too. So I shouldn’t have made the comment in the first place since I’ve been advocating for more productive comment threads. So, MY BAD for even making the comment.

            Things get heavy for some reason when the Red Dragon 6K comes up. I think film looks great. But the RD 6K looks more fascinating. The clarity is the best I’ve ever seen. But, I think I’m seeing it’s best to not try to exchange comments about the RD 6K with a few people that have their heart set on film.

            Here’s a fantastic example of how good FILM can look. It’s a video posted a couple of weeks ago in another thread by another commenter whose name I can’t remember:

            [ ]

      • You are frustrated?

    • But it was a serious question: Anybody know what camera, or cameras, Godzilla 2014 is using?

      • I worked on Godzilla, though not in the camera department, but I can tell you that it was primarily shot on Alexas, with the Epic used occasionally. Some 5Ds for crash cams and the like.

      • Daniel Mimura on 09.15.13 @ 8:03PM

        Man…I hope they go analog on that one…what I mean is the guy in the rubber suit looks so much better than the cgi crap.

  • after spending the last 5 years in undergraduate and graduate film school and shooting digital..I always felt I was slacking thinking I was saving money on digital…now that I’m shooting on film I am getting beautiful images ..i will not go back to digital(video)…and I find that shooting on film is also cheaper…the up front costs might seem more but when you add post…film is cheaper …

  • Digital looks to real. Films are not reality. Going digital is like swaping horse with a motorbike. As with everything today things are becoming soul less. Quantitiy increasing, quality reducing. I used to make 20 good photos out of 32, now I make 20 good photos out of 200. More by chance less by knowledge.

    • Soul or not, a Kawasaki runs faster than the Arabian.

      • digital just looks cheap. take a look at all the winners at 2013 sundance and compare it to 2002-2007. the quality of images have gone straight downhill with the advent of all these new “fantastic” digital gear

        • I saw Skyfall (well, about a third of it – I have a short attention span …. in any case, I thought the Shanghai scenes were very pretty ) and it looked fine to me. Beginning this fall, one could shoot a feature quality material with FS700 + Odyssey 7Q in 4K 4:2:2 ProRes, a combo that retails for about $12K and can be rented for about $2,000/mo. The preliminary footage is of very high quality. FS-700 4K Sony Raw option will run about $18K and should be available for rent – it’s a very popular camera – for about $3K/mo. Or, those with more funds, can step up to F5 or C500.

          • well yes, when you have a hollywood budget like skyfall you can do anything with any camera and make it look good. they spend millions in post grading, coloring, repainting shots with algorithms that cost 10x the Fs700. i’m talking about Sundance which is more appropriate to this website and what the independent guy with a budget less than 5 million can do with all this “cheap and affordable” digital gear.

      • Soul is a relative term depending on who you ask.

  • thats the thing, i think we all crave those few odd digital films every year that actually look decent- skyfall for example. the film(call it texture, nostalgia or whatever you want) look is still pretty exclusive to celluloid. obviously most films are shot digitally now but i often wonder just how much of people feeling cynical and negative towards modern films is because of the look of digital. just because people cant explain why a film doesnt look right doesnt mean they arent conscious of it as a fault, and therefore less engaged. the audience doesnt care what camera you shot on, but for sure they know when it doesnt look filmic. (usually this is spoken of as “looking cheap”)
    im certain digital is a huge problem.

  • Large format photography a “lost art”? Does Joel Coen live in a cave?

    I suggest he visit the APUG (Analog Photographer’s User Group) and reconnect with reality.

    Just because you turn your gaze away from something doesn’t make it go away, no matter your credentials…

  • The film academics can argue all they want but film is dead. Way dead. The reason being 99 out of 100 people don’t even know the difference and at the end of the day equipment doesn’t matter, just your story and how much the audience cares about it. Digital just makes it cheaper and easier to get there. Though I think the problem has always been that, the people arguing to keep using film are the people making films for themselves, not for the audience.