September 4, 2014 at 8:46PM

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Shooting on film.

Hey dudes :)

We've all joined in on the discussions on which is better, digital or film and each time I see someone saying that the digital enthusiasts should try shooting something on film I always think... 'how?'.

So with that said I would like to start a discussion on the mysteries of shooting on film as I feel that there is a real lacking in the way of resources to help the uneducated like myself to get started.

Like many others, due to my online education (NFS for life baby!) I know pretty much every high-end cinema camera and their respective images and workflows like the back of my hand but if I was asked to shoot and finish something shot on film I wouldn't even have a clue where to begin.

If there were even a handful of guides to help the uninitiated film maker shoot something on celluloid then I think we may even stand a chance of seeing it stick around a little longer but who knows?

What would be great to get advice on:

Any links to resources or tutorials, what cameras and kit (for small and big budgets), what film stock and why, advice on *how* to shoot compared to digital, advice on post processing, how did you start shooting on film and how would you recommend others making a start or learning more?

I don't expect any one person to answer all of those questions, they are just suggestions to get the ball rolling but any other advice is totally welcome.

what this discussion absolutely is not, is a discussion about what is better, digital or film so if we can keep it on topic without things getting silly that would be cool. I love digital and wouldn't give it up for the world but I also want to love film and learn how I can make it fit into my work.

Cheers :)

=KW=

28 Comments

I have actually wanted to go through the paces of shooting a project on film just to share the experience and what/how I learned. Don't know if I will ever get around to it as it would have to be a certain kind of project to even make sense, never know though.

September 4, 2014 at 9:16PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2791

If you did dude, that would be awesome. I've searched pretty hard and never come across anything similar so I can see it being a pretty valuable resource to people like myself :)

September 4, 2014 at 10:58PM

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It's definitely something I want to try out, I just would have to justify it. OR work out something with a rental company that wants cross promotion.

September 4, 2014 at 11:08PM

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Luke Neumann
Cinematographer/Composer/Editor
2791

This is a great idea. Having shot a number of projects on film, and recently been the loader on a 35mm project, I think it would be worth it to have some guides on what people should be looking for. The obvious issue is cost - 16mm is cheaper than 35mm in all aspects.

All that's left is Kodak stock pretty much, so it would have to be one of those, and you can order it directly from them, or look elsewhere for re-cans and short-ends, which are unused portions of film from other shoots - but that can be a little more risky - though the savings can be huge.

Camera-wise just about anything ARRI is pretty good, though not all of them are sync sound, and some Aatons are also solid. For 16mm I've worked with the Bolex, Aaton Minima, ARRI SR2/SR3, and 35mm have worked with the 235 and 535B. Some of these, like the ARRI SR series, can be purchased relatively cheaply, but with film cameras I would suggest going to a rental house, because there are so many moving parts, you want something that has been well-maintained.

For film stock you've got either daylight balanced or tungsten balanced. Kodak's Vision 3 stocks are pretty much the top of the line now, and you can't go wrong with any speed you choose. 500 Tungsten (500T) is pretty grainy with 16mm, less so with 35mm, but it will do the job and will give an exposure even in some dimly lit environments. Generally most people will stick around 500T or 250 Daylight (250D). Some DPs prefer shooting everything 500T, and then using an 85 filter to balance the daylight for tungsten balanced film.

As for processing, there aren't too many labs left, but if you're going to go through the process of shooting film, it's good to get at least a Best Light transfer and an HD telecine, and hopefully they will convert it straight to a ProRes file to make things easier, otherwise they may request to do it on an HDCAM tape. Getting a 2K/4K scan is prohibitively expensive for most projects, but that gives you the best quality, and is closer to shooting RAW with a digital camera.

There is so much more to get into, but yes, would love to do a series of posts on shooting film and go through the entire process. Shooting film is not easy, and loading some of them can be tricky since it has to be done in complete darkness (except for 16mm daylight spools), but it can be rewarding. The key thing I've learned is being cautious to a certain extent, but you have to just go with it and trust that you're doing it correctly, and not be scared of it.

For the most part the modern film cameras are all PL mount, and they'll take any PL mount lens provided they were made for the right format - 16mm or 35mm. There is also the question of format, which is a whole other can of worms. 16mm vs Super 16mm, and 35mm 2-perf, 3-perf, and 4-perf and anamorphic.

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

Hope that helps a little bit right now at least getting people to think about it.

September 5, 2014 at 2:46AM, Edited September 5, 2:54AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

Great thread and nice detailed answer from Joe.

It's been over 10 years since I worked with film, using a few of the cameras mentioned on Joe's list (specifically Bolex, Aaton Minima & an Arri or two).

I was a Clapper Loader and shooting on film was always a scary but very rewarding experience! There's nothing more terrifying than the crew setting up the next shot whilst you're crouched in the middle of the street loading the stock (blind) inside a black bag as to avoid exposing it! :) But you just go for it and luckily I never encountered any major issues (although a DP kindly had to double check / finish loading for me one time to avert disaster) ;)

Working with film gives you a certain discipline in my opinion because the stock is expensive & you have limited 10 minute mags so you have to plan/ration everything!

In terms of post I had the great opportunity to cut a couple of films on a Steenbeck which is basically a huge table with reels to feed/view the film through. I had to splice (literally cut) the film and then tape the edits together. The sound was then matched visually by essentially stretching the edit/sound cuts across the room on huge reels and matching them up.

I definitely recommend doing whatever it takes to get some experience with film, even if it means purchasing some 'shorts-ends' of old stock and simply shooting/developing a few simple tests.

Here's a quick Behind the Scenes video of one of our music videos shot on Aaton cameras: http://littlefil.es/38I7

- Picture showing the film cameras - http://littlefil.es/v1RI

(Sorry, quality is quite poor due to these being captured before Jesus was even born! :P)

September 5, 2014 at 11:00AM

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Darrell Pringle
Design & Motion Director
74

Joe and Darrell, that's awesome dudes!

Joe, did you have any previous experience before going into this shoot? Did you get the hang of it by doing just a few tests firsts, and if so, how much did that cost you/the production?

Thanks for the awesome explanation, this has given me a great starting point already :)

September 6, 2014 at 7:44AM

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I had only loaded the 35mm once before on a previous shoot with the same crew, but it was actually a different camera and different mag, so a whole new experience anyway.

Rental houses should have what's called dummy loads, or you should be able to get them pretty easily. Basically it's film that is likely not good anymore, and nobody wants to risk shooting on it because they may get wildly inconsistent results. These dummy loads can then be loaded as normal like they were the real thing. I essentially did that a half-dozen to dozen times before I felt comfortable feeling my way around inside that particular mag, starting with actually seeing what was going on outside of the changing bag, and then eventually forcing myself to get it right in the bag.

As for the 16mm stuff, I did that in school, so there was plenty of experience putting dummy loads in the camera, and I wasn't the loader for all of the shoots.

I will say 35mm is easier to load because the film is bigger and easier to get it to catch the perfs, but with enough practice, you can get the hang of it. But again, 35mm is also the most expensive. :)

A decent rental house should be able to help you out either way if you wanted to do some tests with loading the camera if you are going to rent from them.

September 6, 2014 at 12:02PM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

I had the luck to go to a film school where they had us shoot on film. I shot 16mm on the Bolex, and then Super 16mm on the ARRI SRII. It was great for teaching me the way in which movies have been shot for years. I now shoot digitally all the time, but the best results are when I treat the digital like film and light it well. The one thing film still has is the best highlight rolloff. Although my Blackmagic Cinema Camera is very good with highlights and greatly reminds me of Super 16mm film.

September 7, 2014 at 2:27PM

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Tim Buttner
Multi-Media Expert (writer, director, producer, D.O.P., etc)
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Oh, by the way a great resource is the American Cinematographer Manual: http://www.ascmag.com/store/product.php?productid=16677

September 7, 2014 at 2:30PM

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Tim Buttner
Multi-Media Expert (writer, director, producer, D.O.P., etc)
371

Amazing, Thanks Tim! Yeah, I do actually like the idea of having limitations imposing a greater discipline. I mean, I love the various get out of jail cards that can save your ass with digital (like instant dailies for example) but I can see how having no choice but to be more careful in your choices can create almost a greater freedom with that respect and discipline :)

September 7, 2014 at 6:50PM

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Interesting thread, thanks for initiating it Kraig. If you get a chance, I would highly recommend shooting with film even just for a day. If you know any camera assistants you might be able to source some left over waste ends (the bits from film rolls that are too short for larger productions to bother with). Most professional camera assistants have a stash of waste ends they've collected that they use either for camera tests during prep on new film productions or even to convert to short ends to cover their ass when they've mis-calculated film use and need to balance their inventory to keep production happy (there's a little trade secret for you!).

The biggest reason to shoot with film is it teaches you to be a better DP. You need a much better grasp of lighting and exposure when shooting with film. Your eye, your knowledge and your light meter become the most important things - no monitors, gamma curves, zebras etc to guide you here.

I second Tim's recommendation re: American Cinematographer's Manual. I'd also recommend the magazine American Cinematographer, especially the old, pre-HD issues. You can often find them for cheap on eBay or even in used bookstores etc. depending on where you live.

September 8, 2014 at 12:51PM

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Neil Every
Writer/Director/Story Consultant
203

Hey, thanks Neil - that's awesome!

Getting quite into the idea of just spending some money to run some tests just to learn (I can always justify it by it ending up as showreel material if I do a decent enough job).

As I know very little about what makes a decent film camera, does anyone have any recommendations on a good one to hire?

I'm not after something crazy over the top but decent enough to produce some nice images and allow me to get a feel for shooting "properly".

I guess that's rather vague so to compare to digital I would say that over the top for running this kind of test would be Alexa/RED etc. whereas you would still be able to learn the same principles with nice results on something like a C100/BMCC. Hope that makes sense?

I live in the UK (Midlands) so if anyone knows of any decent hire houses that they can recommend I'd love to hear more.

Thanks!

September 9, 2014 at 8:27PM

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Kraig, there are many choices for film cameras. If you're just shooting tests and don't care about sound you can always rent an MOS camera (i.e. non-sound blipped) like an ARRI III or even an ARRI II. Going up from there, the ARRI BL4 is also an awesome camera (built like a tank) and it's super easy to load and thread up fresh mags. These are both 35mm cameras. Other options in the 35mm side of things would be a Panaflex, Aaton35 or a MoviCam although I'm not sure how available a MoviCam would be in your neck of the woods. The good thing with ARRI cameras as opposed to Panavision's is that its a lot easier to get an ARRI on a deal or even free simply because there are private owners. Panavision only rents so you HAVE to deal with the rental house and that means more money.

Super16 or 16mm will be an even cheaper option. I'm not sure how things are in England but here in Vancouver there are tons of privately owned ARRI SRII and SRIII cameras around gathering dust. Kind of a shame really...

The real cost for you won't be a 1 day rental of a film camera but the lab costs in developing/transferring to a digital medium. Still, worth experimenting with. Personally, I'd recommend you shoot a spec commercial or a short film rather than just doing random tests. Not much you can do with random test shots but at least with a short you can add it to your reel, to imdb, submit to festivals etc.

September 10, 2014 at 1:23PM, Edited September 10, 1:23PM

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Neil Every
Writer/Director/Story Consultant
203

Awesome advice again - thanks Neil! Can't believe how useful this thread has been for me! Also, I think you are right, I would like to shoot something that will have purpose but basically I don't want a client involved in case I make a fool out of myself :P

In other news, I was talking to a great DOP and friend today (Karl Poyzer - credit given where it's due) and he came up with a fantastic idea I'd like to try out before I start on my first proper film tests...

Basically, we are gonna get his RED and attach an iPhone with a DOP viewfinder app on to the rig and line up the view with what is seen on the monitor. Then cover up the monitor completely, grab a light meter and go shoot some stuff. The idea being of course is to gain the same kind of experience one would get while shooting film but with the safety of it not costing us any money for stock and processing. Then when I'm confident I can light and expose a scene without the monitor, histogram or zebras (using only the iPhone for composing a shot and a trusty tape measure for focus), I can then try out with a proper film camera.

Would be interested to hear anyone's thoughts on this. Is it a waste of time or what can we do to make the experience more authentic?

September 10, 2014 at 6:34PM

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I can share my experiences:

I learned how to shoot on film in a co-op in Chicago; not a film school but a small shared space where we got basic training and instruction on filmmaking, including shooting and editing on film. We shot reversal b&w on Bolexes and edited the footage with tape and razor blades. Later we shot color negative on CP-16s and edited with synced audio on flatbed machines. I don't know if similar resources are available where you live, but if you want to get your hands dirty with film then I highly recommend a class or two.

I shot my feature film "Chastity Bites" on Super-16, and it was a really fun experience. But I didn't do it alone -- I had a DP, a loader, a production super and a post super to help me with buying stock, loading it , shooting it and processing it. My past experience helped me understand what was involved with shooting on film, but I actually had little interaction with it once I was directing.

If you're just looking to shoot on film yourself, there's a few things to keep in mind. First, look for short ends or discontinued stock to play with; will be much cheaper than buying fresh cans of the latest Kodak stock. Then check your local rental houses to see if you can get a deal on a film camera rental; chances are they're gathering dust on a shelf and hopefully they'll just give it to you for a few days. But most importantly: figure out your post workflow before you shoot a frame. Find a lab to process your footage and negotiate a good price for a flat, best light telecine. That's the main difference from shooting digital -- instead of just pulling a card out of your camera you still have to deal with a lab and the analog process of converting film to video for editing. Like I said, get it flat or as "raw" as possible so you have options during color correction. Some labs still like to dump out to tape stock so make sure they can scan to a hard drive, otherwise you'll be stuck with an HDCam tape you can't ingest ;)

Also: from your last comment it sounds like you've never used a light meter. Those are ESSENTIAL for shooting film. The viewfinder and video tap (if it has one) are only useful for checking composition of your shot; your exposure needs to be calculated based on the ASA of the stock and the measured levels of light in your scene, and you can't do that without a meter.

Good luck!

September 15, 2014 at 12:01AM

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John V. Knowles
Director
183

I shot film for the first time last month as a test on location for my student thesis. My cinematography professor and the guys at the rental house were really excited about it since no one had rented out the Aaton they had there for quite a while. I haven't gotten it developed yet and, since I didn't have a light meter, I have a sneaking suspicion I have shots overexposed. Nonetheless I enjoyed the process so far.

What I was testing was lattitude and color. I pulled my first roll of 500t back a stop and used an 85 filter to make it effectively 250D so I could compare the differences with the real 250D I was shooting in the other mag. The location in the script is a forest during the day so latitude between highlights and shadows is important. Pulling a stock back one stop reduces grain and contrast so pulling my 500ASA stock back might produce results that give me a lot of latitude. My other location was an interior with two different lighting sources, tungsten and fluorescent tubes. I set up a color card to see the balances that could be struck between the two sources in color correction. Exposing tungsten timed film with different kinds of light sources can produce odd things on skin. I heard lips sometimes go green under sodium vapor sources, street lamps. I also pushed my last roll of 500T by one stop to see about grain and the increase in contrast, to see about how much more available light I could get.

Since I have about 400' of 500T in short ends I'm going to perform another set of tests soon to see about bleach bypass processing and re-timing tungsten stock for daylight in post.

As for what to know, loading is the most important thing to get right in my opinion. Since film is sensitive to light you have to load it in the dark. To do that you'll either need access to a darkroom or have a changing bag if you're out in the field. You can't see what you're doing so you have to do it all by feel. I watched videos on how to load the magazines and read the manual. Even though the guys pre-loaded the film in the magazines I ordered, I took the film out of the 800' mags and put it into the 400' mags just so the film would fit in my cans (the 800' mags had bigger film cores and they probably would've fit anyway, I just wanted to be sure.)

I bought my film from Kodak but it looks like they won't be the only game in town anymore as Film Ferrania in Italy is opening their factory again and will release a new reversal stock onto the market very soon. I also asked if they would be making a color negative stock and they said it's in their plans.

Shooting on film can still be very competitive with shooting on digital cinema cameras as film cameras rent for much cheaper, the only caveat is how much film you'll need and how much it will cost to process it. I've caught the bug. I'm going to keep shooting on film for everything I can from now on. My aim for my student thesis, for example, will be to shoot anamorphic super 16 like on Machine Gun Preacher and Low Down. I think it strikes a good balance between cinematic quality and weight and budget savings while still shooting on film.

September 15, 2014 at 2:57AM

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Peter Phillips
Filmmaker
633

Two cheaper and easier ways to get practice and experience shooting film: Super 8, and still photography on film cameras.

Still photography using film cameras will teach you most of the basics of how to expose film, especially if you use a handheld lightmeter instead of the built-in one. The film stocks aren't exactly the same as the motion picture stocks, but you will still get all the basics of exposing film, the cameras are cheap, and so is the film, at least compared to any other motion picture film.

We had a great exercise in school using a mechanical still camera (a Pentax k1000 clone by Cosina, I believe): take out the light meter battery and use a handheld lightmeter, load up a 36 frame roll of film (we used slide film for projecting in class), and tell a story just with the stills. Get all the same essential shots that you would use in a motion film (ES, LS, MS, CU, etc). We did this in one of my last classes and I thought would have been awesome to have done this first, before even touching a Super 8 camera.

Super 8 is also a great way to have a first experience with film. That's what film schools used to do: start with Super 8, then 16mm, then 35mm. It's very cheap to buy a camera, and cheaper than the other gauges to both buy and process the film, so great for experimentation. You can also get some of the same exact stocks that are used in 16mm and 35mm film! Kodak currently offers 3 Vision3 color negative stocks (50D/7203, 500T/7219, 200T/7213), and a B/W reversal stock (Tri-X/7266). Super 8 projectors should be cheap as well (I haven't checked in several years), or you can just have it scanned to digital files.

Focusing will be different from 16mm and 35mm (Super 8 easier because of the smaller frame, and 35mm FF harder because of the larger frame), but exposure, which is arguably where most of the magic and technicality of film happens, should work pretty much the same as 16mm or 35mm. Get a cheap light meter, perhaps even one of the light meter apps with lightsphere attachments, and go at it! Most Super 8 cameras have built-in light meters, but you won't learn how to expose like film DPs do if you don't learn to become intimately familiar with how a handheld lightmeter works, and how it helps you decide your film exposure.

Also, I just wanted to mention a book that may be helpful to anyone looking to start with motion picture film: The Filmmakers Handbook by Steven Ascher and Edward Pincus. I've taken film production classes in a couple of different community colleges and universities in the past, and this has been a frequent go-to book. It's dense with information for the beginner and works great as a reference too. The older editions are pretty much focused on film only, while the newer editions also include video and digital.

Kodak's Super 8 page: http://motion.kodak.com/motion/Products/Production/Spotlight_on_Super_8/...

Super 8mm stock sales, processing, and scanning (there are probably a variety of other places that also do this, and probably cheaper, but I don't know them off-hand): http://www.pro8mm.com/

September 19, 2014 at 12:30PM

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Shen
414

Quick update: I just noticed that pro8mm seems to cut and package their own film stock from the fuller Kodak range, so they actually sell 9 color negative stocks and 2 b/w reversal stocks in Super 8.

September 19, 2014 at 1:06PM

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Shen
414

>>>but if I was asked to shoot and finish something shot on film I wouldn't even have a clue where to begin.

- proper lighting and exposure
- ruthless camera cleanliness
- video tap for focus, framing, and shot review
- a lab I could trust for processing
- a lab I could trust for digitizing the camera negative
- edit everything digitally

The color gamut of today's best digital cameras is equal or better than film, so other than a stroll down memory lane there aren't too many reasons to shoot film any more, especially if you work with people that are masters of digital post processing. The best digital work does not look like digital work.

September 23, 2014 at 11:57AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
30679

Lighting and exposure comes down to light metering your entire set to make sure you got your ratios correct.

As for video tap, you just gotta look through the diopter and measure (with a measuring tape and DOF chart for your film stock) to make sure what you want is in peak focus. It's a long process and you do it multiple times to make sure it's correct. But it's also a lot of fun.

September 24, 2014 at 1:35PM

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Ethan Cardoza
Cinematographer/Editor
248

During film school, they made us learn to use film (16mm on an assortment of cameras) before we could touch the high-end digital cameras. The greatest thing I learned from shooting film was to have everything set up perfectly (or as close as possible) because you can't afford to take more than a few takes for each scene. Film stock and processing is expensive, and we had very strict budgets. Still use that lesson today so I don't have 50 takes for one shot going into post.

There were times on set that we had to combine 3 shots into one because we were very low on film, but all three of those shots were integral to the story.

It was a blast shooting on film, but also very scary as you never knew the outcome until the film was processed. So many times people had out of focus or over/under exposed shots even though we measured and light metered.

September 24, 2014 at 1:29PM

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Ethan Cardoza
Cinematographer/Editor
248

Are there videos comparing films and say 5DMkIII RAW?

I looked briefly on y/t but got none.

Clearly the film looks amazing, but without a comparison this is a moot point. There could be a comparison bias where folks that shoot on film take extreme care about jamming all the light into say 10LV dynamic range. Hence regardless of the scene it looks like everything is properly exposed.

In fact, watching the video that Jim was so kind to share (thanks Jim!!!) I kept saying to myself -- the DP knows what he's doing. The scenes clearly avoid light-dark extremes and are inherently well balanced.

September 25, 2014 at 8:59PM

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Alex Zakrividoroga
Director
3815

I've heard it said recently that an area where film still holds a definite advantage is in how it handles highlights, because it has an analog, smooth highlight roll-off. But if you have really tight control of your lighting and exposure you should be able to control harsh highlights on digital. That's a big IF though. I still see occasional harsh nuclear highlights (on skin even) on professionally shot video on properly budgeted productions. Although, who knows if that was something that happened in post, encoding, etc. That's another minefield in itself.

September 27, 2014 at 2:28PM

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Shen
414

I think that digital cameras now can bit film...

September 29, 2014 at 2:34AM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
7582

Thanks for sharing your experiences dudes! I never expected this to turn out so useful so seriously, thank you :)

I re-watched some of the first episodes of The Walking Dead the other day to get warmed up for the new season and LOVE the way that pilot looks. They shot it on Super 16 (Kodak VISION3 500T 7219 I believe) and ever since I've been trawling through tons of old projects to find stuff shot on RED and Alexa (or anything with enough DR) to try and match the look. I got reasonably close, grading some beautifully shot post-apocalyptic footage shot on RED Epic that I've recently got in for a grade (I think shot with some lovely Zeiss primes) and graded through a Vis3 500T 5219 LUT. I spent hours and hours playing and also tried some lovely grain plates. I'm pretty sure my gamma and colours were damn close but it simply didn't match up (I think it's more about the nuances you DON'T notice that still separate digital and film as two different aesthetics in their own right). I hope that as I get better as a colourist I'll get even closer at replicating the look of film on digital but at the end of it all I was still pretty happy with what I ended up with and had fun trying. Also, now my thirst for shooting on film is even stronger :) Definitely aiming to shoot something on 16mm in the near future!

October 9, 2014 at 6:27PM

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Very intresting. I have wanted to shoot 16 mm before, but never got around doing it. I would want to shoot on Kodak TRi-X Black&Whte Reversal 7266 as short film that popped into my head listing to the Dale cooper quartet and the dictaphones. I want to shoot it with a Bolex camera (thats analog windup 16mm) and a BMPCC(digital) as backup.
I might give it a try just for the sake of trying it and learning from it.

October 12, 2014 at 3:38PM

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Film is obsolete and expensive. The audience doesn't care. Do you have access to equipment for editing film or the skills? Titles? If your film is scanned to digital (more expense) can you afford that?

A question I always ask myself with any project, which is is it the product (end result) or the process more important?
If a finished film to show people is most important than digital is your only option,
if the process of making the film with the end result of being able to BS about the process and the finished film secondary,
then it makes sense.

June 13, 2015 at 7:25PM, Edited June 13, 7:27PM

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If you love it, then shoot it. If you are unfamiliar with how to expose, pick up a Super 8 cam and a roll, all together it might cost you 100 all up, camera, roll, scan, process. If you are looking for the answer to what is better? You are on the wrong journey, a film is not improved by the camera. I happen to love film, and experiment with it for Music Videos and Short Films, with patience. Though, my Feature debut is Digital only, and is unlikely to use celluloid, because it's a huge complication, especially on an indie budget. The digital world is what allowed me to become a filmmaker, and not be discriminated against higher powers by, so that is what should be wholly embraced.

July 11, 2015 at 10:04PM, Edited July 11, 10:04PM

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Zachariel Shanahan
Writer/Director
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