Roger Deakins is Over Using Film, But Will Shoot on Any Format, Even a Cell Phone

Roger Deakins has probably gotten more digital ink on this website than any other cinematographer.

Why is that? It's mostly because he speaks from a place of common sense, and doesn't get too worked up in the newest technologies unless they can help him achieve his vision and let him work faster. Deakins has said he isn't nostalgic for shooting on film — though he has preferred in the past using an optical viewfinder over a digital one, as that's what he used all throughout his career. In a recent article for Variety with , Deakins talked about some of the issues he had going back to film for the Coen's Hail, Caesar!, but that he's really willing to shoot on anything.

When asked about the anxieties of shooting on film again:

...We had some stock issues and stuff like that, which was really disconcerting. And I’ve heard that’s happened to a lot of people lately, you know, stock and lab problems. That’s unnerving. I mean I never really remember having those kind of problems before. But it makes me nervous now. I don’t want to do that again, frankly. I don’t think the infrastructure’s there.

I tend to go back and forth on the format, but I absolutely believe it should remain an option for as long as possible. As Deakins says above, the infrastructure might not be there anymore. Now that so many labs have closed, the options for getting film processed, and what you can do with the film, are far more limited. This is something I've seen repeated elsewhere, and it's an obstacle that Kodak needs to overcome if they want film to survive. They are almost at a point where they need to become the biggest lab on both sides of the country, and provide the type of customer service that tons of labs used to provide. The company can still make film, but it's all of the backend and support that is in real trouble.

Deakins reiterates these issues later in the interview:

As I say, just the technical problems with film, I’m sorry, it’s over.

As for the Coens, Deakins thinks they will eventually go digital, especially because of the issues he talked about above. However, being the true cinematographer and team player that he is, he's willing to shoot on whatever format best fits the story and the vision of the director, even if that means filming on a cell phone:

I was in Albuquerque shooting “Sicario” and they were talking about it and they said, “I don’t know how you feel about it, but I think we want to go on film.” And I said, you know, “I don’t mind. I’ll shoot it on a cell phone if you like. I don’t mind. I really don’t.”

I, for one, would love to see a Deakins version of what Sean Baker and Radium Cheung did for their iPhone-shot Tangerine. Phone cameras are getting better all the time, and though this was a throwaway line from Deakins to prove a point, the true greats can shoot on anything, at any time, and still make it look good, because they understand lighting and have a unique vision. They use the right tool for the story they are telling, and learn that tool inside and out so they can push it in whatever way they have to.      

Your Comment

43 Comments

hehe except RED, Sony, and Blackmagic right?

January 26, 2016 at 11:50AM

5
Reply

Has any film with a budget over $2-3 million been shot on a Blackmagic? In my experience, the images they produce are great, but the reliability and feature-set aren't on par with the big boys.

When it comes to Red or Sony I'm sure he would shoot them if a director really wanted him to, but I know that in regards to digital cameras he's stayed away from them in the past because he simply thought celluloid looked better. With the Alexa he says that changed. Seeing how no camera so far has beat or even reached the same level in regards to noise, color science, or dynamic range I'm having a hard time seeing anyone make the case convincingly that Red, Sony, or Blackmagic would tell the story better than an Alexa.

January 26, 2016 at 12:05PM

0
Reply
avatar
Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1282

Well the man just said he would shoot on a phone. So I guess that's better than shooting with the other camera manufacturers? He has been so distant with anything other than ARRI. Vision3 film still has more dynamic range than Alexa, except for low-light shots. Talking about anything past ASA 800. Dyanmic range numbers: Sony F55=14+, Weapon=14+, Alexa=14+, Kodak Vision 3=16+, Kodak Portra=19+. Film cameras also don't have a rolling shutter, plus 35mm film can be scanned at 6k, 5-perf 70mm=8k+, 15-perf 70mm= 24k

January 26, 2016 at 12:24PM, Edited January 26, 12:25PM

0
Reply

Like they mention in the article, he says that to prove a point. I think he would if a case could be made for it. I also think he would shoot Red, Sony, or Blackmagic if the case could be made for any of those as well, but I know the Alexa is the first camera that convinced him digital could match film.

I agree film still has the highest dynamic range but the only digital camera I've seen that performs as advertised in the real world is the Alexa. Kodak rates Vision3 at 13 stops (Zacuto pegged it at 14.5). Haven't seen Weapon in the wild yet but I can't imagine it's several stops better than Epic Dragon, and the advertised 16 stops for that camera is incorrect to me. Sony don't eek out the full 14 stops either. Here is a great test that accounts for color saturation and noise: http://cinematography.net/edited-pages/CML-UWE-tech.html

January 26, 2016 at 2:33PM

0
Reply
avatar
Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1282

January 26, 2016 at 3:02PM

0
Reply

Nice link Hank Carter.

Those are the 6K Reds. It's sort of sucks they couldn't get one of the Red 8K out there being used by a very few shooters. All of the feedback I've read so far, and it is very little but at the same time glowing, is that the 8K is clearly better than the Red 6K.

BTW, with this comparison done in succession Arri looks too yellow and soft compared to the Reds. I think the striving to stay looking like film could hurt Arri in the long run. The Red image is sharper and more eye catching, more appealing.

January 26, 2016 at 7:59PM

0
Reply
Gene Nemetz
live streaming
2086

So, an improvement but still the same sensor. They put it a stop under the Alexa which would place it around 13 stops. Really impressive how the signal processing modifications could make that kind of a difference.

January 27, 2016 at 2:09AM

0
Reply
avatar
Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1282

According to Geoff Boyle, Dragon with SkinTone OLPF was on par with Alexa, except it was noisier in the shadows. Weapon apparently cleaned a lot of that.

January 26, 2016 at 3:04PM

0
Reply
avatar
Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1678

Really? Geoff Boyle was the one who did the test I linked to where he pegs the dragon with skin Olpf a full 2.5-4 stops under the Alexa.

My point about this whole thing is, you can make any camera look better than it actually is if you disregard noise and saturation. The Alexa is the only camera I've seen that gives usable stops throughout its entire advertised range in the real world. Arri even had to raise the dynamic range specification because people found 13 stops to be too modest.

Basically every other camera out there has had the manufacturer's DR numbers crushed when the camera reaches the end user. The dragon, C300mkII, Sony FS7, BMPC4K, etc.

January 27, 2016 at 2:20AM, Edited January 27, 2:21AM

0
Reply
avatar
Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1282

isn't that the same dude who almost had a fist fight with jim jannard

January 27, 2016 at 6:48AM

3
Reply

haha. I had to google that. Looks like he almost got into a fist fight with Geoff Boyle.

http://nofilmschool.com/2013/08/is-red-digital-cinema-jim-jannard-steppi...

January 27, 2016 at 7:28AM

5
Reply
Mike Brown
Director of Photography, Camera Operator, Assistant Camera
157

wasn't that zacuto test from 2011? http://www.cinematography.net/Valvula/valvula.html wish they can do an update with Weapon.

January 27, 2016 at 7:28AM

0
Reply

Wish Kodak could make Portra for motion picture films https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2011/05/kodaks-new-portra-400-film/ http://static.timparkin.co.uk/static/tmp/dynamic-range-2.jpg both these guys conclude that the dynamic range is about 19 stops

January 27, 2016 at 7:42AM

0
Reply

Hi Oscar,

Did Roger Deakins say he uses Arri because of, "noise, color science, or dynamic range"?

I'm quite a fan of his and I haven't heard him say that was why he chose Arri. I've only heard him talk about body design, familiarity of use, things along those lines.

January 26, 2016 at 7:44PM

10
Reply
Gene Nemetz
live streaming
2086

No, what he's said is that Alexa is the first digital camera that gives him more possibilities than he could get with film. He's also said he thinks it's the first digital camera that matches the resolution and dynamic range of film.

Color science is obviously subjective and to me no other sensor has the same kind of skin tones as Arri. Same with noise. The dual gain readout gives the noise structure a very random appearance, not dissimilar to film grain. It is, however, the undisputed king of dynamic range.

http://nofilmschool.com/2011/02/master-cinematographer-roger-deakins-sho...

http://nofilmschool.com/2012/09/roger-deakins-talking-about-the-arri-ale...

Here are two articles on him using the Alexa. At neither point had he seriously considered the Epic, but I know he used it as a B-cam on Skyfall so there's obviously a reason why he continues using the Alexa.

January 27, 2016 at 2:38AM

1
Reply
avatar
Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1282

There have been plenty films shot with Blackmagic Cameras over 2 mill. Mad Max Fury Road, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Expendables 3, and I could on. There have also been plenty of Sundance Films shot with Blackmagic Cameras.

Most movies are never exclusively shot on one camera anymore. Sure they have an A Camera like Film, RED or Arri but pickups and B cameras are either Blackmagic, Canon or Sony. Maybe a GoPro thrown in there.

Red, Sony, or Blackmagic could tell the story better than an Alexa for the simple fact it doesn't matter! It's the moron behind the camera that tells the story. I've seen crappy films shot with Alexa and RED and fantastic films on a DSLR. All you need is a good story, good audio and a some technical know how and you could shoot a film on a potato.

January 26, 2016 at 10:52PM, Edited January 26, 10:54PM

18
Reply
avatar
Joseph Lindsay
Director of Photography/Motion Designer
267

Well, I should have specified as A cam. Similarly the 5DmkII is still used as crashcams and for tight spaces, which is what BM are used for. BM was exclusively used on the Movi on Mad Max I believe, and back when that film was shot neither the M15, Ronin, or Alexa Mini had been released. Most films that shoot BM as A-Cam do it because of budgetary reasons.

While I agree with you, you're kind of contradicting yourself. How could either of those cameras tell the story better if it "doesn't matter". We chose the right tools for the job, but in the long run, we have to use something. The thing is, this isn't some moron behind the camera; he's one of the most respected DP's of all time and he had the choice to shoot what he likes. If he feels the Alexa is what enables him to do his job as efficiently as possible or that the Alexa is what gives him the best image, then so be it.

January 27, 2016 at 2:50AM

7
Reply
avatar
Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1282

I know Rodger is no moron. I mostly was referring to all of us filmmakers generally. There is a quote from a Photographer when he was referring to full frame vs APS-C "So what's it come down to... the moron behind the camera." The moron bit I was trying to be funny. Which obviously doesn't translate very well in text. I for one consider myself a moron behind the camera.

Yes I do agree we do choose the right tool for the right job.

January 27, 2016 at 7:51AM, Edited January 27, 7:52AM

1
Reply
avatar
Joseph Lindsay
Director of Photography/Motion Designer
267

I don't think a BlackMagic would be the A camera on any big budget movie.

January 27, 2016 at 7:10AM

0
Reply
Gene Nemetz
live streaming
2086

"All you need is a good story, good audio and a some technical know how and you could shoot a film on a potato."

Depends on the potato. I don't particularly care for the color science of red skin potatoes.

January 27, 2016 at 10:34AM, Edited January 27, 10:38AM

0
Reply
avatar
Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker
935

And also the chip size

Sorry

January 31, 2016 at 4:27AM

5
Reply
Paul fern
Film maker
386

Alexa is top of the line, he's working on multi-million dollar films, no reason for him to down-grade right?

January 27, 2016 at 2:11AM

0
Reply
avatar
Matt Nunn
Amateur
522

From a guy like Deakins? No. Alexa.

January 27, 2016 at 5:46AM

1
Reply

It's almost like he's okay with settling, you're amazing, shoot with the best format!!!!

January 26, 2016 at 11:59AM

0
Reply

And yet he went back to 35mm film for "Hail Caesar!". I'm curious if he would try Alexa65 or Sony F65 or RED VistaVision on his next project (Blade Runner 2) or later. We already know he makes excellent images with Alexa.

January 26, 2016 at 2:53PM

5
Reply
avatar
Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1678

His decision for moving away from film came (from what I believe) from shooting Hail, Caesar!.

January 26, 2016 at 3:06PM

0
Reply
Gareth Ng
Cinematographer
690

The Coens wanted to shoot film, that's what Deakins said in his interview. The whole point of this is that he's open to anything, but the issues he had shooting 35mm on this project will likely mean he'll push not to shoot it again — though I'm sure if a director really wants it he would do it. He's there to serve the vision of the project, just as any creative is.

January 26, 2016 at 5:17PM

4
Reply
avatar
Joe Marine
Camera Department
7033

This. Sure it can come across as shocking betrayal to hear one of the most respected DPs say they're done with film, but I understand his concern. If the infrastructure isn't there, the tools are unreliable and one feels like they don't KNOW 100% that they're getting what they think. Lubezki also said that The Revenant was "finally his divorce from film".

January 26, 2016 at 9:32PM

0
Reply
avatar
Samu Amunét
Director
328

Now we're just waiting for Pfister and Kaminski...

January 27, 2016 at 2:17AM

0
Reply
avatar
Matt Nunn
Amateur
522

Pfister already shoots with RED. He used it for the Apple iWatch commercials and Under Armour commercials. And unfortunately doesn't DP as much because, he wants to move to being a director

January 27, 2016 at 6:47AM

0
Reply

Shocking betrayal? You feel that strongly about film?

January 27, 2016 at 4:13AM

0
Reply
Gene Nemetz
live streaming
2086

Lubezki also said that he still loves to shoot on film and that it would be a shame if it went away.

January 27, 2016 at 2:45PM

1
You voted '+1'.
Reply
avatar
Henry Barnill
Director of Photography
784

IMDB already lists the Alexa 65 for Blade Runner 2.

January 27, 2016 at 10:47AM, Edited January 27, 10:47AM

0
Reply
avatar
Mike Tesh
Pro Video / Indie Filmmaker
935

It wasn't his decision to shoot film if you listen to some of the interview. As he also mentions he will shoot on anything if it helps with telling the story better.

January 27, 2016 at 12:43PM, Edited January 27, 12:44PM

0
Reply
Keith Kim
Photographer
1707

There's two interviews of Roger Deakins where he talks about why he loves digital. Both of these interviews were done before he came to this conclusion about the difficulties of getting developed.

First interview, from 2011, he starts talking about digital cameras at 14:42:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hzlDmlE0wA

Second interview, from November, 2015, he starts talking about digital cameras starting at 9:49:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfYeS_20dXo

January 26, 2016 at 8:10PM

7
Reply
Gene Nemetz
live streaming
2086

None of this matters, film and digital are just different tools, both with advantages and disadvantages. It's what Deakins and all the greats say, and it's true. Can we move on now? :)

January 26, 2016 at 8:48PM

0
Reply
avatar
Oren Soffer
Director of Photography
2235

No, that's not really what Deakins is saying.

January 26, 2016 at 8:54PM

22
Reply
Gene Nemetz
live streaming
2086

Here we go... All Deakins said is that it doesn't matter what he shoots on so From and Arri right back to a Smartphone he got zero problems. Why are you guys putting words in his mouth? Mayne Yawl stay riding these guys D**K$! and i'm sure they'd prefer if you didn't do that. A Camera is a tool that what it is! Whatever suits a projects thats what he'll use thats what he's saying!

January 27, 2016 at 12:56AM

10
Reply
avatar
Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2969

You didn't make what you are saying clear. But it looks like you think he personally has no preference to which camera he uses.

It is clear he would rather use digital cameras.

January 27, 2016 at 4:15AM, Edited January 27, 4:18AM

0
Reply
Gene Nemetz
live streaming
2086

So he could sleep better at night. =)

January 27, 2016 at 12:48PM

10
You voted '-1'.
Reply
Keith Kim
Photographer
1707

And because, he said he can do so much more with digital than with film.

January 27, 2016 at 7:38PM

0
Reply
Gene Nemetz
live streaming
2086

They probably wanted to use film because of the time it was set in. They wanted it to look older. Digital would probably look too modern.

January 27, 2016 at 7:08AM

4
Reply
Gene Nemetz
live streaming
2086

Does anybody else see Dick Van Dyke operating a camera?

January 28, 2016 at 10:22PM

0
Reply
Ryan Gudmunson
Recreational Filmmaker
983