February 18, 2016

Why 'It Eats You Up' Director Kassim Norris Sold His Digital Equipment to Shoot Super16

Kassim Norris on the set of 'It Eats You Up'
Think shooting on film is too expensive or too complicated? This short film will prove you wrong.

Kassim Norris is a filmmaker and D.I. Colorist from Chicago who was recently diagnosed with a rare medical condition with no guaranteed cures. Instead of sinking his money into medical operations that may not work, he decided to spend that money making films. Norris sold off his digital camera equipment in favor of a Super 16 camera package to bring It Eats You Up, a short adaptation of his feature film, to life. We speak with Kassim about the philosophical and pragmatic reasons behind shooting celluloid and why it was one of the best decisions of his life.

"Shooting film made me a better filmmaker."

NFS: Why shoot Super 16?

Kassim: I always felt this really strong guilt that I couldn't call myself a filmmaker without ever really shooting on film. I grew up watching films shot on film. I love what digital has enabled us to accomplish in modern cinema, but film to me just feels like home. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago in an analog world, so for me film has the depth of my childhood memories. I always knew I was going to eventually cross over and let go of the digital world.

For me, film is like a window, a subtle reminder that you're just here as a visitor. It's a ticket. It's a time machine. Film creates and holds a separation between the characters and the audience. With digital you don't get that separation — digital places you in the world. I definitely wanted my audience to feel like they are looking at this world through a window. For me there's a beauty to that separation. 

My spirit was being attacked, not just my health but my spirit as a filmmaker. I was threatened. I am an optimistic person and I found myself hiding under the sheets for hours and hours of the day. I couldn't get out of this funk. At that moment I realized I could invest in these doctors or I can invest in my spirit. And I chose to invest in my spirit and I can honestly say it's one of the best things I've ever done. 

NFS: What were the challenges of shooting film for the first time?

Kassim: I had never shot anything on film. I didn't go to film school. I'm used to doing so many takes; they know me as the "one more" guy. For this I couldn't do that. Film forces you to be intentional. It forces you to commit to your ideas. It forces you to make those executive decisions and to know exactly what you want.

I had a million questions going into it: how do I load the mag? Is my fridge cold enough? I did a lot of research as to what look to go for and decided on shooting everything overexposed 2 stops. In film you can go as far as 6 stops over, it's crazy. So I was nervous, but film is more forgiving than digital, so you should be worry-free shooting film. I wanted to be the example for other filmmakers who think it can't be done. I got a really good deal on my 7213 can for $113 from a factory sealed supplier. I got a 2K DPX scan and I paid, altogether, for stock and scanning like $450.

"We shot on 1 can of film."

Aaton Super 16 on 'It Eats You Up'

NFS: How much went into the production design of this film?

Kassim: The focus on film rolls off a little softer that digital and it does something different with fabrics and textures and plastics. In the film there's a lot of fabrics and plastics. Sometimes the simple stuff is the most complex to accomplish. My good friend Skyler Lawson is a master of detail; he designed the playing cards in the film from scratch. I was trying to pull off a late 70's/early 80's vibe and Skyler was my guy who brought out so much of that. You never saw in her purse but everything in it was legit from that time period — it was that detailed. For everything in the project — including film stock— I paid the most for her glasses. I think as filmmakers we all have those things that seem really small but are very important to us.

Film used on 'It Eats You Up'

NFS: Being your first time lighting for film, how did you choose what fixtures and intensities to use?

Kassim: I pretty much read tons of blogs where cinematographers discussed their process and the effect of using different lights using tungsten/daylight stocks. Brenton and I never really found the answer we were looking for so we pretty much had to stick with what we normally do with digital.  After my scans came back I found that the CTB gels over our tungsten setup reacted slightly different with the tungsten stock but it still produced a "look" that was actually more complimentary to tone I was looking for.  In short, we were forced to experiment a little,  stick with our guts and what we already knew about lighting with digital.  I think Brenton is a genius with lighting and the way he assisted me with what I wanted I can say that i was very grateful to have him apart of the project.

"Film forces you to be intentional. It forces you to commit to your ideas. It forces you to make those executive decisions and to know exactly what you want."

NFS: How did working with actors change?

Kassim: We shot on 1 can of film. I went into the project deciding to only shoot on 1 can, to push myself. I didn't do any testing of film. I wanted to debunk this mindset that you can't afford to shoot on film. I wanted to go into it with a disciplined mind saying, "This can be done." My friend Brenton Oechsle helped me so much with the script; he's a master of silence. They had the scripts 3 weeks prior, but I had 5 pages to shoot and a few hours of rehearsal. It went so well that we shot on 400 feet — which is 11 minutes — and the short is about 4 minutes, so we had roughly a 2:1 shooting ratio. So what you're seeing is basically everything we shot. I think I got the best performances from my actors because I had no choice not to. It gave me a whole 'nother tool in the toolbox.

on Set of 'It Eats You Up' by Kassim Norris

NFS: As we move into our careers we all have projects that we want to make that we haven't yet; they're just sitting there, eating away at us.

Kassim: That's totally another thing this film is all about. It's not just about one specific thing. Its about this huge monster that's hovering over all of us, the human struggle, being able to face our own reflection. For boxers they say your true enemy is yourself. Same with being a filmmaker: you are your worst critic. I always imagined it would cost $3,000 to do what I did. It's just about being open to a new way of creating.

Kassim Norris' It Eats You Up

NFS: What's the next step for the feature version of this story?

Kassim: It Eats You Up is a short adaptation from my feature Adore the Wolf. In the feature script, it's a 13-year-old boy who runs away from home to avenge his father's death. He's roaming the streets of Chicago and gets tangled in this criminal world. I made this short to show to investors and I'm shopping for producers right now. So anyone who's reading this who's interested, don't hesitate to get in touch. Or if anyone has any questions, I would be honored to answer any questions about the technical process of shooting on film.


Thanks, Kassim!      

Your Comment

43 Comments

1 can= $450 +#$113. yikes. I ended up getting sealed 4 cans (new / sealed) of 35mm 5219 400 feet for like $80 each on ebay. the local film place was offering me to have it processed and digitized for $400. Try to look on ebay and call up other labs, they definitely over charged you

February 18, 2016 at 12:11PM

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Hey Nick,

Its actually not $450 + $113....I paid $450 total which included the stock, process, and scanning. You said you paid $400 for process and scanning. I actually paid $300 for process and scanning > adding the $113 for the can + shipping came to a total of $450 for everything

February 18, 2016 at 3:12PM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

I really enjoyed this.

I did the same thing, ditched my digital gear and invested in 16mm. Best decision I've ever made.

February 18, 2016 at 1:50PM

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I'm really glad people still like working with film. There is definitely a certain quality to getting a reel back from processing or cutting work by hand or just hearing it whir through the camera, but I think a lot of the romanticism that surrounds photochemical is misplaced. I wouldn't choose to shoot film again and I wouldn't encourage anyone to do it either; not with how much digital cinematography has improved in the last eight years.

February 18, 2016 at 2:22PM

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Alex Mitchell
Film Industry Technician
88

Hey Alex,

I wouldn't necessarily encourage anyone either way. But, what I will encourage is for people to stop spreading rumors that film is too expensive and not tangible. Filmmakers/Cinematographers deserve to have choices. If we allow film to "Die" then the ability to "choose" dies with it. All digital cameras pretty much use the same technology and CMOS sensors to capture an image. We think we have choices because their are some many digital cameras to choose from when in actuality they're all pretty much the same sensor with minor adjustments added or subtracted. That doesn't seem like much of a "choice" to me. Digital is where Film was a hundred years ago.

February 18, 2016 at 3:19PM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

This just absolutely nails the difference between film and the digital aesthetic for me "Film creates and holds a separation between the characters and the audience. With digital you don't get that separation — digital places you in the world. I definitely wanted my audience to feel like they are looking at this world through a window. For me there's a beauty to that separation."
It's the separation. Film looks like a dream world, not reality(which is an inherently digital look). That is what digital still hasn't gotten close to. All the talk about resolution and latitude advantages and how you make digital mimic film is utter garbage. It doesn't look or feel the same, digital is still so lacking the magic. People that always try to argue film is dead/digital has surpassed film/(insert name of many of the great directors) only shoot film for nostalgic reasons etc etc are blind morons. Digital has many many huge advantage over film, obviously. Image quality(if you value that magical, dream look(i.e separation) just isn't one of them.

February 18, 2016 at 4:03PM

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chris
294

Film can look great, digital can look great. Different aesthetics choices which should be made by informed aesthetic judgement. That said, I've seen plenty of movies shot on film that didn't create the dream world either. And I've seen plenty of digital films that did. It's more than just what you shoot on. Filmmaking is a complex multidisciplinary collaborative art form and to reduce it to the acquisition tech is to completely throw out all of the other contributions by artists and technicians that help make (or break!) that magic.

February 19, 2016 at 4:16PM

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Jawa
96

Also, Yedlin's test/example:
http://www.yedlin.net/160105_edit.html

February 19, 2016 at 5:40PM, Edited February 19, 5:51PM

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Jawa
96

I like to use this video as an example of how beautiful digital can look. It's shot on Red 4K:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky-e2bkTm78

Then there's this new video shot on Red 8K:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmIObGZDjew

As Roger Deakins says, getting film developed is becoming more difficult as most labs just can't stay open. So he says personally he is done with film. He will only use film if directors and producers want it, as they did with Hail! Caesar.

Film developing labs don't have enough business to pay the bills. There will be fewer as time goes by. It may get to the point where you'll have to mail your undeveloped film to a lab, unless you live in Los Angeles or New York. Of course with digital, after the shoot, you just put the memory card into your computer and start editing. By time you'd get film back in the mail you'd have your digital projects finished and delivered to your customers---meaning, bills paid. Then there's the huge benefit with digital of immediately playing back what you've just shot to see if lighting was right, if the shot is in frame, etc.

People wanting to use film have more time consuming factors to consider. It's still possible for some to use film. Many don't even have it as an option. And really, so what. Those who like the film look can make digital look virtually the same as film.

Then there's the argument that film has better color. I am not sure that's true. Autumn colors seem to stand out better in digital than on film. Autumn colors come out a little muddy on film. They stand out crisply in 4K. So I'm not so sure color is better on film. I think Autumn colors are a good litmus test for how a camera handles color. I would like to see a side by side shoot out with film cameras and digital cameras in Autumn colors. But I will probably never see it as shoot outs are VERY time consuming. And factoring in how long it takes to shoot on film..... I think no one will ever take the time to do it. And really, so what.

Then there's the argument that digital looks antiseptic. That is only a factor mainly because of lighting. When lighting, and internal settings of the camera, are right, there is no antiseptic look in digital. Only a trained eye will spot what is digital and what is film. That may be less than 1% of the population. the rest of us don't see it, and really, don't care either.

The digital vs. film argument is not an argument with more than 99% of people. We just don't care. We never think about it. And never will.

February 20, 2016 at 3:12PM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
973

"Film can look great, digital can look great. Different aesthetics choices which should be made by informed aesthetic judgement. That said, I've seen plenty of movies shot on film that didn't create the dream world either. And I've seen plenty of digital films that did. It's more than just what you shoot on. Filmmaking is a complex multidisciplinary collaborative art form and to reduce it to the acquisition tech is to completely throw out all of the other contributions by artists and technicians that help make (or break!) that magic."

Too bad I can't can't click up more than once to this comment!

February 20, 2016 at 3:13PM, Edited February 20, 3:14PM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
973

For some reason, the stem isn't letting me reply to @ kassim morris. What I want to say, is that it makes more sense now, I thought it didn't include celluloid developing :)

February 18, 2016 at 4:55PM

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I tried to reply to you again as well and it didn't let me. But yea I would've never paid $450 just for a 2k scan of 400ft. I know there's places in LA that charge double that too lol

February 18, 2016 at 5:12PM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

This was beautiful to watch, great work!

February 18, 2016 at 6:04PM

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Raney Rogers
Independent Filmmaker
152

Cool post, I enjoyed it. My only qualm would be with the following:

"I always felt this really strong guilt that I couldn't call myself a filmmaker without ever really shooting on film"

I understand this is one person's opinion, but I think this sort of thinking runs the risk of creating fimmakers thinking they are somehow better or "more real/authentic" because they shoot using film technology rather than digital.

I'm glad that people still shoot analogue, but as has already been mentioned there seems to be a mystique around film. So often talk here is about content and performance over the technical quality of the camera being used. Deciding to shoot on film is ultimately just another technical decision. But one that somehow elevates the project in prestige. I'm not sure I think it should.

There are great DoPs/directors out there who shoot digital only. I would consider these people filmmakers without hesitation, regardless of whether they do or ever have shot "on film".

February 18, 2016 at 6:11PM, Edited February 18, 6:11PM

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Hi Al,

First of all, I love your last name! -My daughter's name is Yoshi. :)
Second, I feel like I need to clarify what I meant by "I couldn't call myself a filmmaker without ever shooting on film".- Shooting on film was always a desire and personal goal of mine. So, I've always felt that if I had never reached that personal goal of pushing myself to acquire the technical skill of shooting on a format that meant so much to me then how could I ever call myself a filmmaker without ever really achieving my goals? It really had nothing to do with format but more about pushing myself past comfort levels. I really hope that people truly understand what that statement really means as I feel a true filmmaker/cinematographer must push themselves to reach their full potential. This isn't war of digital vs. film. It's about waging war against your own fears.

February 19, 2016 at 1:40AM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

Kassim, I love this film! Pitch perfect! I have been wanting to do something similar (going back to film and locking myself into a very short, lean production plan). My question is, where did you find the camera on your limited budget? Did you pay for it to own or borrow/rent?

Thank you and keep it up!

February 18, 2016 at 7:26PM, Edited February 18, 7:28PM

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Jonathan Payne
Post Production
126

Hi Jonathan,

Thank you so much for taking the time out to watch the short and I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed it!

With me personally, it wasn't just about shooting a short on film but also positioning myself to always shoot on film when I desire to. So, I purchased my Aaton XTR Prod and Zeiss Super Speed package. In terms of Super 16 rental kits, you can find the rates extremely cheap nowadays since everyone else wants to shoot on digital. There's so many Super 16 packages lying around rental houses that they would practically give them away. You just have to look. Also, I am thinking of renting my package out so contact me if you are really interested and we can talk further.

February 19, 2016 at 1:48AM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

I may just do that! Thank you for the offer and thank you for sharing this film with us all! I genuinely love the economy that you get away with here in the plot/dialogue/cinematography. It's so bare bones but it doesn't feel stripped down in anyway. It's so interesting to hear that the production was essentially mirroring the film in that way! I can't wait to see more!

February 19, 2016 at 2:40PM

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Jonathan Payne
Post Production
126

Hey Kassim, I've always been deeply interested in shooting film, but I don't know where to start, like where to get a camera? Or affordable stock? And I love the way the short looks by the way, I really dig 16mm the most.

February 18, 2016 at 8:19PM

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Ivo
Dreammaker
81

Hey Ivo,

Thanks so much for reaching out. I would love to help! Shoot me an email kassimnorris@gmail.com.

February 19, 2016 at 1:49AM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

Kassim is the best. Great article here!!!

February 18, 2016 at 8:52PM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1351

Hey Ed!
Bro, that means so much coming from you! You are a master! I feel like it is safe to call you family- considering the F35 has binded so many incredible cinematographers on DVX User.

February 19, 2016 at 1:52AM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

Wow! That's a great short. Straight to the point with beautiful pictures.

February 18, 2016 at 10:46PM

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GREAT PIECE!! It was colored BEAUTIFULLY! Framed and shot WONDERFULLY! Good pacing and good acting. I'll keep my eye out for more stuff! Keep up the good work!

February 19, 2016 at 4:39AM

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Terrence Mickie
Writer/Producer/Director/Cameraman
76

So grateful to see you taking this 'tiger by the tail'. Taming fears to reach goals is a big part of becoming. I know your project will be successful, and I'm very proud of you. Blessings!

February 19, 2016 at 10:14AM, Edited February 19, 10:14AM

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Omg, I'm so happy and honored to hear those words coming from you. You just made my day. It means so much to me to have your support considering you're my second mother. You're such a strong and intelligent woman. Having spirits like you around has helped me face those incredible challenges. Love you and thanks for all of your support. I won't let you down.

February 19, 2016 at 11:56AM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

Looks like the beginnings of a really nice feature. Love the color!
On a technical side, though, I noticed skewing of verticals in the quick pans.

I had assumed that all film cameras (or, rather, their shutters) being mechanical, are free from skew. Is this not the case? Are some film cameras more susceptible to skewing than others?

February 19, 2016 at 10:53AM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
903

Richard that is indeed correct! Film cameras have a (very literally) rolling shutter but it is just much less noticeable than many digital cameras (especially DSLRs which as you know are notoriously bad at this). Once you start looking for it you can see it in many older features that have whip pans. Incidentally this is also why I think cinema cameras with true global shutters look "off". They movement is so rigid that it can seem very odd at times. On fast camera motion however they look great!

February 19, 2016 at 2:44PM

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Jonathan Payne
Post Production
126

Thanks for the reply, Jonathan.
Actually, as I was typing that comment, I'm thinking, as I have for years, how can a mechanical shutter not create skew? Because a rotary shutter is still scanning across the film much to the effect of a rolling shutter in a digital camera.

I'm guessing, somehow, the effect on film just isn't as pronounced.

February 19, 2016 at 8:35PM

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Richard Krall
richardkrall.com
903

Well this is exciting! I am currently considering purchasing a Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4K or 4.6K, but this is truly inspiring, and considering the shortcomings of the 4K sensor of the Ursa Mini, I am now throwing both 16mm (Arri 16SRII) and 35mm (Aaton 35-III) into my consideration. However, there seems to be no labs processing either of the formats in my native Norway, so it seems I would have to send the reels for processing in either Sweden, Germany or the Netherlands, meaning I would have no idea how it looks until maybe a week after shooting. How did you, Kassim, overcome this? Did you process dailies or did you just cross your fingers, shoot the film and hope for the best? Are there any ways to get a digital intermediary through some sort of output on the camera?

February 19, 2016 at 11:19AM, Edited February 19, 11:20AM

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Hey Stian,
I totally understand your frustration as thats one of the things to consider when shooting on film. You have to trust yourself and wait for those images to come back without knowing if you did everything proper. To answer your question, I didn't have funds or time for test or dailies. I pretty much to a huge risk a prayed my way through it all. I also had to wait 8 days to get my images back since the closest lab to me was on the east coast. The process and scanning only took 3 days but with ETA of shipping off and return is was about 8 days total. That time of waiting was brutal BUT when I got the images back it was well worth the wait. If you're interested I would say to face your fears. Last to get an image/DI from the camera there is a way but I found out shortly after we shot the short. You can purchase a Composite to HMDI Scaler and connect that to the camera's Video Tap straight to an HDMI monitor/recorder and you should get an image to record dailies. They wont look great but you can use it to edit or just for framing purposes. Anyway I hope all this helps.

February 19, 2016 at 11:51AM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

I'm wondering where you got the stock processed at?

February 19, 2016 at 12:09PM

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R. Aaron Webster
Director of Photography
81

It was processed and scanned all at one place- CineLab.. You can find more about them here: cinelab.com.

February 19, 2016 at 4:24PM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

This looks fantastic and you left me wanting more! You should do a Kickstarter campaign to fund the feature.

February 19, 2016 at 1:38PM

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Tim McC
Director
93

So much film hype ...aaaand video looks like VisionColor LUT on top of Blackmagic footage with a bit of celluloid artifacts! No shit.

Fucking hipsters.

February 19, 2016 at 5:26PM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1031

I like how none of your work seems to exist online for people to critique how great you really are or not!

I'd rather be a Hipster than a Hater!

February 19, 2016 at 9:48PM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151

Amen to that. Film is special. You can completely tell this was not done on digital. Not that either is wrong or right. But this short...is right! Awesome work.

February 26, 2016 at 2:50AM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
913

I bought my Aaton super 16 camera last year and have been loving it. Like you, all of my background was shooting with digital cameras so I've had to kind of forget the habits I've grown accustomed to like fussing over ISO levels, doing 10+ takes for no reason, redundant coverage, relying too much on shooting flat and fixing in post, etc. Film is a totally different discipline and it brings a level of seriousness to the work. There's a lot less fucking around on set when you bring a film camera lol.

Also digital cameras, like all electronics, have a planned obsolescence when being developed and sold. Get that RED Weapon upgrade? Get your wallet ready for another major "necessary" upgrade next year. Today you will be laughed off the set if you walk in with a RED One, but you can pick up a 30-year-old film camera and get the same great footage today.

February 19, 2016 at 10:58PM

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Max Bedroom
Fauxfessional
74

I don't think it's fair to call it planned obsolescence. And I don't think you could walk onto a set with film camera and find a place more easily that with a Red One. There a lots of shoots that would use a Red One. I am certain there are not lots that want to use a film camera. Let's face the reality of it, there are very, very few that would use a film camera. You would likely even have a better chance with a Sony a7S on most sets than with a film camera. Am I pointing out how good the a7S is in saying that? No. I am pointing out how few are using film now---and will not be using it.

February 20, 2016 at 3:35AM, Edited February 20, 3:49AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
973

I don't know if it's the better part of wisdom for this web site to continually point shooters toward film. I read Mark Toia say that 2% of video we see now is done with film. Going by how fast digital is advancing, in all aspects, that 2% will be even smaller not too far in the future. The future is digital. It's not a dark horse bet to say that. Film is diminishing, with no hope of stopping that diminishing. Film is not going to make some sort of miraculous comeback. On the contrary, what is happening in digital is where the phenomenon is happening.

Aiding shooters in the area of digital is what 98% of us need. We are not shooting with film. We may never shoot with film. (I know I will never live stream with film, and upload to the internet with film.) It seems that 98% of posts here should be about digital, 2% film. That proportion is no where near done here.

Why is there this continual promoting of film? It doesn't make good business sense.

p.s., please note I am not saying there should be NO posts about film.

February 20, 2016 at 3:24AM, Edited February 20, 3:59AM

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Gene Nemetz
live streaming
973

This is glorious. I went to a film school miles from home in the early 2000s and the whole reason I did thus, was to shoot on film; video simply did not interest me. These days video of course looks incredible, but I simply cannot shake myself from film - no matter how archaic it might seem to shoot it. It is beautiful and having been a 35mm projectionist for many years, also, until the day comes when I can no longer tell the difference, it will remain all about film for me.

February 21, 2016 at 10:04AM

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Ian Alex-Mac
Writer, composer
8

Great job. I like the look but the other aspect that stood out was the quality of your sound. How did you record the sound and what mics did you use?

February 22, 2016 at 2:23PM

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Thanks Andrew! Everything was boomed with a Sennheiser 416 shotgun into a Zoom H4N recorder > Then mixed with a little compression and EQ in Premiere.

February 24, 2016 at 8:10AM

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kassim norris
Director, DP, DI Colorist
151