Director Sam Mendes on Going Back to 35mm for 'Spectre'
The newest Bond film Spectre is already breaking records, and it hasn't opened in the US yet.
While you can usually expect a bit of nostalgia with the Bond franchise, it's not often that the medium it was shot on is such a large part of the conversation. We got plenty of that with the last film, Skyfall, which was directed by Sam Mendes and shot on the ARRI ALEXA by Roger Deakins. It was the first Bond film to be shot completely digitally, and though it was nominated for a cinematography Academy Award, neither the ALEXA, nor Deakins, returned for the new film, which was shot by Her and Interstellar and DP Hoyte Van Hoytema on 35mm (with some sequences apparently shot on the 6K ARRI ALEXA).
First, here's Mendes talking about the film itself:
And in a terrific American Cinematographer article, Mendes tries to explain what it is about film that he missed:
With the Alexa, I missed the routine of film and the dailies. Film takes a leap up from your slightly shitty monitor screen to the dailies, where it starts to really have richness. Watching dailies on the big screen for the first time is kind of like Christmas. With film, there’s something to look forward to, whereas with digital, I’ve always felt that the best version of the image is standing alongside the DIT on set, and there’s a step backwards when you watch dailies.
While he says that he's pro film, he also says he's pro digital, and he really loved the way some of the night scenes looked in Skyfall. He also said it felt less textured and less romantic in many of the daylight exteriors, but that going back to film made him feel all of that again:
I loved shooting on film again. Film is difficult, it’s imprecise, but that’s also the glory of it. There’s a magic there; you win big and sometimes you lose big, but the risk is worth it. I was so relieved watching the first day’s dailies on film. It had romance, a slight nostalgia, which was my own imposition, but I had that feeling. And that’s not inappropriate when dealing with a classic Bond movie.
And for a little bit of what he's talking about, check out a trailer for the film:
Here's a comparison to the last film shot digitally (which is difficult since it had different cinematographers, and this clip is only 720p):
At this point obviously digital looks fantastic, and there are plenty of practical reasons why huge blockbuster films have moved on from 35mm. Digitally shot films have won Academy Awards, and 35mm (and to a lesser extent 16mm) was the only game in town for a long time. We've gotten to a point where the choice to shoot on film is more emotional than anything else. When you hear about filmmakers like Tarantino or Scorsese talk about it, it's often a gut feeling or nostalgia. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it does show us how far digital has come, that the conversation has become less and less about the image quality, and more about how it makes us feel when we watch it.
Some of this might have to do with the way the film image is created, since there are random silver halide crystals that change frame to frame, and some of it might have to do with the fact that most people working in the film industry right now grew up watching 35mm. Either way, we're a long way from conversations just a decade ago regarding digitally shot films as lesser than those shot on film.
It's good that we've reached this point. Film is all about emotion and conflict. It's not always about getting from A to B as quickly as possible, but about how we feel getting from A to B, and the medium it was shot on can play a part in that.
Be sure to check out more from the fantastic ASC article as it goes into even more detail.