It'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.
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.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wQTivapzKQ
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!