August 13, 2015

Is Shooting on Film a Viable Option for Indie Filmmakers? Kyle Patrick Alvarez Weighs In

Several big name directors stand behind their decision to keep shooting film, which may very well preserve film as a capture medium for years to come. But where does that leave independent filmmakers?

Our friends over at ShareGrid, an LA-based startup which gives filmmakers the power to safely and securely rent equipment to and from one another, recently chatted with Kyle Patrick Alvarez about that very topic. As an indie filmmaker with several successful features under his belt, including the recently released Stanford Prison Experiment, Alvarez has developed a unique perspective on film's value as a capture format for smaller productions.

It feels like we've gotten to the point where the "film vs. digital" debate isn't much of a debate anymore. Of course, from an aesthetic perspective, film still has an undoubtable, subtle charm. It handles highlight rolloff more organically than most digital cameras, and there are some lab processes which still don't have a proper digital equivalent. But in a time when digital cameras are getting better and less expensive, budgets are shrinking, and post production processes can replicate most of what makes film look like it does, finding valid reasons for shooting film is not an easy thing to do.

Ultimately, the main thing to consider is that choosing a capture format is only one tiny piece of a much larger puzzle. As an indie filmmaker, it seems foolish to spend a sizable portion of a budget on stock, processing, and DI costs, especially if those expenditures jeopardize the quality of, say, the production design, or the quality of actors that you can afford to hire. Shooting on film is still a great experience, and it's one that most everybody should get to do at some point because it imbues a sense of discipline into the entire process. However, if your goal is to simply make the best film your budget will allow, which is what I presume most of us are trying to do, then digital will almost surely be the way to go for most of you.

This was the fifth and final installment of ShareGrid's interview series with Kyle. If you missed any of the previous installments, you can find them all here.      

Your Comment

23 Comments

No

August 13, 2015 at 7:12AM

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"As an indie filmmaker, it seems foolish to spend a sizable portion of a budget on stock, processing, and DI costs"

That quote says it all. There really is NO advantage to shooting on film stock, and MANY disadvantages to shooting on film stock, so if you have too much time and too much money then go ahead and shoot everything on film-stock.

I will be so happy when filmmakers finally get over the great nostalgia of "shooting on film", it's just sad.

August 13, 2015 at 8:24AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30206

..from producers and colorists...film is a lot cheaper for indies than you think...
savings come from post...camera rental etc.
an example "El Mariachi" super 16mm was shot for under 5,000.00
film is good out of the can...so you save on both post and time
camera rental...super 16mm and 35mm cameras are dirt cheap...
not only for films but commercials are being shot on film simply because it's cheaper...

so even if you have little or no money you can shoot on super 16mm...
for 35mm you can find short ends...
you have to have passion...and the people using film are passionate and successful

the best is to use both film and digital keeping them both evolving and competative

August 13, 2015 at 9:47AM, Edited August 13, 9:50AM

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Stephanie Mahalis
graduate film student
263

How is film evolving? Kodak has not released a new stock in years, and I don't believe they plan on doing so.

August 13, 2015 at 11:59AM

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d shay
388

I've been quoted the following pricing for finished ready to view film-stock...

16mm = $40 per minute

35mm = $100 per minute

So say you want to make a 10 minute short on 16mm, and you anticipate a shooting ratio of 8:1, so you want to shoot 80 minutes of film stock to end up with your final 10 minute film, and this will cost you $3,200 just for the film-stock and full processing. If you shot on 35mm the cost would be $8,000 for the film-stock and full processing.

If you shot digital you would not have to pay these extra fees. If you owned your own gear ( many Indie shooters do ), then the cost difference between film and digital could be huge, especially if you are shooting a feature length film.

August 13, 2015 at 12:55PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30206

Your 8:1 ratio is exactly the problem. Film isn't more expensive it's way more efficient. It makes you think over everything at forehand instead of torturing your cast and crew having no fucking clue what you are doing. If you are prepared you don't need a 8:1 ratio. And that's where you are saving money! Everyone knows it's serious when the camera assistent shouts speed to let you know it's running your money through a small electro motor.
The first 5 takes aren't another rehearsel. You also don't need tons of hard drives and days of post production to give life to your images. And you get the camera almost for free because every rental likes to support a serious filmmaker. If you think it's only nostalgia and keep claiming you can no longer tell the difference you have never really watched a movie!

August 14, 2015 at 9:07PM

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Marnix Ruben
Director
141

How does editing work these days if you shoot on film? Do you have a lab scan the film so you can edit in your NLE of choice? Or do you record the video tap on set and edit that? And how expensive is this part of the process?

August 13, 2015 at 2:27PM

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Benjamin Reichman
Post Supervisor/AE/Editor
376

Most people get a DI ( digital intermediate ) copy made and then do everything with a standard digital editor.

August 13, 2015 at 3:30PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30206

Same way it has for years: you shoot on film, you process the film, you telecine to something like HDCam SR and you generate digital dailies (usually Pro Res 422 or DnxHD, depending on NLE). You often conform back at the end to the HDCam SR but if you work in say pro res 444 the whole way probably no need for the HDCam SR (DMin/DMax) which can save a little money but it is nice to have a tape backup .

August 13, 2015 at 3:44PM, Edited August 13, 3:44PM

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Brad Jones
Director/Producer/Writer/Editor
433

I just shot and edited a film on Super 8. It's playing at this years DC Shorts Film Festival. The total cost to make the film was less than 400 dollars.

http://festival.dcshorts.com/films/free-fall-with-john-yoko/

I also just took a workshop in eco-processing, where you can use eco-friendly mixtures such as coffee, beer and strawberries to process your film and get really unique results.

Film will always fill a niche that digital simply cannot because digital can only imitate analog.

If you simply want a really clean, high resolution image for most intents and purposes, then digital is surely the way to go.

However there will always be aesthetic characteristics of film that digital will never be able to fully replicate.

The two will exist side by side, just like digital downloads and vinyl co-exist in the music industry. And that's the way it should be.

August 13, 2015 at 1:14PM

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Adam Badlotto
Director and Visual FX Artist
102

Adam, how did you do your edit?

August 13, 2015 at 2:28PM

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Benjamin Reichman
Post Supervisor/AE/Editor
376

>>>Film will always fill a niche that digital simply cannot because digital can only imitate analog.

Digital can do an almost infinite number of things that are not possible when working within the limitations of film-stock.

With digital you are only limited by your imagination, anything is possible.

August 13, 2015 at 3:38PM, Edited August 13, 3:43PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30206

With current technology I don't see a reason to shoot on stock. It's expensive & it even doesn't look better.

August 13, 2015 at 1:17PM

6
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Andy Tokarski
Director, Editor, Colorist
1171

August 13, 2015 at 3:33PM

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Adrine
Writer
74

Only if you are loaded with money or if you want to be a snob. i.m.o you dont see the difference, beside that film is not about the medium, it is about the story!

August 13, 2015 at 3:38PM, Edited August 13, 3:38PM

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Long time ago they counted the LPs out - they're still here, more present than ever. I guess the same goes for film-stock. Kodak or another brand will surely re-release a stock or two. No matter how far they'll push the digital cameras in terms of image quality and (rental) costs, some filmmakers will stay true to film stock anyway.

August 13, 2015 at 5:03PM

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No Film School
CEO at Yes Film School
95

Of course digital works. But to me its an image that parallels noticeable cgi effects implemented in a live action movie.excep, the entire image itself is a noticeable effect.

August 14, 2015 at 9:45AM

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Vincent Gortho
none
958

There really is no logical reason for shooting on film nowadays, with the alexa 65 out the technology will just keep on improving. We've become so spoilt by this amazing technology that we forget how lucky we are to have these cameras at our fingertips. We've got such names as Fincher, Jackson and Mann embracing digital whilst many new filmmakers struggling to even shoot on film. Film is unecessary baggage, that's what Fincher and co realized, the digital image has gotten so good I'm amazed people such as PT and Tarantino still stick by film, I guess it's just nostalgia now that's keeping it alive.

August 14, 2015 at 1:53PM

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Matt Nunn
Amateur
569

"...I'm amazed people such as PT and Tarantino still stick by film, I guess it's just nostalgia now that's keeping it alive."

No, it's what they know. When the old guard dies off in Hollywood, so will film.

August 16, 2015 at 5:48PM, Edited August 16, 5:48PM

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Vidrazor
547

It's too bad there hasn't been more innovation in film stock and methods of processing. The innovation in digital is so astounding that sometimes it's maddening. It's gotten so good, so fast.

I'm sure if there was more focus on getting the costs of shooting on film lower, then smart people in lab coats could figure it out. There's just not enough demand for it to make sense though.

August 14, 2015 at 10:39PM

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Ty
Cinematographer, Editor, Director
588

"I'm sure if there was more focus on getting the costs of shooting on film lower, then smart people in lab coats could figure it out. There's just not enough demand for it to make sense though."

Well that's the truth. It's really about the market and value return. People generally prefer things that are easier, for good reason. Just as most people prefer digital downloads or streaming to vinyl. Film is more expensive because it uses more material, requires more work and passes through more hands. Unless someone developed a reusable film that could be easily processed and transferred at home by one person for next to nothing in time or cost, it just makes more sense that digital would become more popular.

That said, digital has a certain look to it, even though you can push the footage from higher end cameras around a lot in post, it still has a certain look. I have yet to see digital emulate stock from the 60s, 70s, 80s or 90s that is 100% convincing. However modern Vision3 stock looks like digital to me and vice versa. It's like they got that stock tuned so well for a digital scan, so clear and crisp and clean that they basically turned it into a digital looking medium. Which makes me not at all keen to shoot it. But that's just my opinion.

October 2, 2015 at 2:55AM, Edited October 2, 2:56AM

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Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker
735

I'd love to shoot on film for the artistic value and the simple joy of doing film "right", but from a budgetary perspective, it's just not possible for me. I definitely don't want film to die completely as a medium for those who can afford it, but it's increasingly clear that digital won, and it's been that way ever since HDV camcorders first caught on.

Oh well. Due to my journalistic background my style is more ENG/EFP anyway. The TV station I've been working for still uses Sony PMW-EX3's from 2008 for our field cams and sports broadcasts.

August 15, 2015 at 1:50AM, Edited August 15, 1:50AM

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Charles Duoto
Studio Floor Director
1479

Yeah, I heard a film teacher say to his students that there was no significant difference in cost between shooting film and shooting digital. Good for them they challenged him on that.

I love film and I love the process of shooting on film.. But it's bloody expensive today. I had to shell out over $500 to get one shot developed on 35mm. It was for a self financed short about the end of film, so it had to be authentic. I only ended up needing about 10 seconds of it. Ouch.

Maybe with Hollywood budgets the differences in cost are negligible. It would be sad to see film fall out of use completely. But no way it's cheaper than digital.

August 15, 2015 at 1:55AM

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Jon du Toit
Writer / Director
214