Great News! Celluloid is Still Alive!

Film studios get a bad wrap for pushing tentpoles and burying indies, but today we are indebted to them because they saved celluloid. 

Shooting on film is an incredibly romantic notion. As filmmakers, most of us will never have the budget to shoot our projects on...well...film. (35mm film, anyway.)

Filmmaking has gone digital. It saves money, can be adjusted easier in post, and costs a whole lot less. It's democratized the medium and opened the world to so many new artists. 

And yet, maybe it's the romantic in me, but there's something about seeing a movie on film. We know that to convince Greta Gerwig to shoot Little Women on film, Steven Spielberg had her smell a camera. 

Well, some of that smell must have wafted upward to the studios because they've teamed up to make sure that sweet perfume drifts throughout Hollywood for a few more years. 

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pfny4WwA_U0

Great News! Celluloid is Still Alive Thanks to Movie Studios

The big news here is that five major studios (Disney, NBC Universal, Paramount, Sony and Warner Brothers) have re-upped their deals with Kodak, committing again to buying undisclosed amounts of motion picture celluloid. This is great news for us because without them buying it, it would go extinct. 

Kodak actually filed in 2012 and emerged from bankruptcy in 2013. A deal with studios in 2015 helped make them fiscally solvent. 

Now this new deal will keep them making movies on film for a while. 

Probably. 

Actually, a lot more people are using film than you think. 

Who still shoots on film? 

Lots of people. 

Sales of bot h8mm and 16mm film are surging. Some filmmakers we talked to found that when they shoot on film they save a lot more time in the edit. They are much more economical on set and have lots more ideas on specific things they want. 

Also, it's not just about movies. 

Some of the most popular music videos of the year, including Beyonce's Homecoming, were shot on film. 

Some of the biggest movies shot on film, too. Quentin Tarantino, Greta Gerwig, and Noah Baumbach shot Once Upon a Time in HollywoodLittle Women and Marriage Story (respectively) on film.

J.J. Abrams used it for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. 

Martin Scorsese relied on a combination of film and digital for The Irishman.

Even Detective Pikachu was shot on 35mm! The DP of that movie, John Mathieson explained to the producers that the price shouldn't matter, saying: 

...there’s a particular discipline—you roll sound, roll camera, come up to speed and if something goes wrong you cut—unlike in digital where there’s a tendency to just keep the camera rolling and to do takes again and again […] this results in significant overtime costs for the crew over the course of a production, not to mention the hidden dollar costs spent on transcoding, quality control and back-ups. There’s the pricing argument about film versus digital blown straight out of the water.

John Mathieson

Rising cinematography and directing star, Rachel Morrison echoed his sentiments. She shot Seberg on film this year as well, saying “In a weird way, when you don’t have money, the small expense of film compared to what you can’t afford, like picture cars and extras, is a very simple solution. It’s like the second you shoot in film, the moving grain and the softness of the image say ‘period.'” 

Still, there are challenges when shooting film. While making Ad Astra, Hoyte van Hoytema needed to find a way to get more light that seemed like the moon. But they didn't want to use CG or go digital. 

“Our challenge was the inability to light up a big area with a single light source. We needed to cover enough distance to be able to shoot a ‘car chase,’ but double shadows or soft light would be a big giveaway.” Solution: a 35mm camera and an Alexa infrared mounted on a 3D rig, their parallaxes exactly aligned. When only infrared spectrums are captured, daylight skies come out darker, so “shot in natural sunlight, with a slight contrast boost, it will result in images that are brightly lit; however, the skies will be dark, even in helmet reflections. This way, when shooting in a desert that resembles the moon surface, you will get a step closer to the lighting character on the real moon.” But these infrared images come out black-and-white; overlaid with the 35mm capture, the two cameras provide “all the color information and texture needed to complete the final image, by compositing these two together”

Hoyte van Hoytema

Even with these challenges, there's something special about shooting on film. It's amazing to continue to see filmmakers have the opportunity to keep those traditions alive. 

And to be able to dream about doing it myself someday. 

Here's a list of movies that used Kodak in 2019. 

Award Season: Major Motion Picture Films and TV Shows Shot on Kodak Film:

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Academy Award, Golden Globes, BAFTA, Critics Choice)
  • Marriage Story (Academy Award, Indie Spirit, Golden Globes, BAFTA, Critics Choice, Gotham Awards)
  • The Irishman (Academy Award, Golden Globes, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice)
  • Little Women (Academy Award, Golden Globes, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice)
  • The Lighthouse (Academy Award, Indie Spirit, BAFTA, Critics’ Choice, Gotham Awards)
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Academy Award, BAFTA)
  • Ad Astra (Academy Award, Critics’ Choice)
  • Bait (BAFTA) (Mark Jenkin hand processed the entire movie himself)
  • Sorry We Missed You (BAFTA)
  • Apollo 11 (Indie Spirit, BAFTA, Gotham Awards)
  • Uncut Gems (Indie Spirit, Critics’ Choice, Gotham Awards)
  • Luce (Indie Spirit)
  • Give Me Liberty (Indie Spirit, Gotham Awards)
  • Premature (Indie Spirit)
  • Her Smell (Indie Spirit, Gotham Awards)
  • The Souvenir (Indie Spirit)
  • Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé (Emmy, Grammy Award)
  • Succession (TV) (Golden Globes, Emmy, Critics’ Choice)
  • The Painted Bird (Camerimage

Next year Christopher Nolan's Tenet along with Cary Joji Fukunaga’s No Time to Die will be captured on celluloid as well. 

So cheers to Kodak and good news to filmmakers everywhere.      

Your Comment

6 Comments

"This is great news for us because without them buying it, it would go extinct." You're trying to make it seem like film is even in reach nowadays for low budget film makers = the majority. It was kinda in reach, to some extent, back when film was the standard. Today? Nope. All of your examples are super high budget to mid budget productions. Prices sky rocketed, quality issues everywhere because of the low volumes processed through all stages of the production cycle etc. - even Roger Deakins stated how bad the quality of the lab has gotten when his footage was processed for "Hail Cesar". Heck, I just worked on a commercial shot on 35mm two weeks ago, developed and scanned by Arri itself and the amount of dirt from processing was surprising. It would've taken more time to clean that than the actual fx work I was supposed to do.

Digital has freed the majority of us from the hassles and restrictions of film, why praise something that isn't meant for the masses in the first place?

January 31, 2020 at 1:49PM, Edited January 31, 1:56PM

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DingDong
2158

Film is not a monolith and neither is digital - there are expensive ways to shoot digitally and cheap ways to shoot film. As a counter to your experience, I just shot a music video on Super8 with a total budget of $1000. Dust was almost non existent on the scan.

Digital has freed of us of some hassles but created others. I don't enjoy endless rolling resets while handheld because rolling is "free". Patience and discipline are no longer mandatory for better and for worse.

January 31, 2020 at 10:39PM

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Dan F
DP
74

Super8 is chosen deliberately for it's very distinct look, I wasn't speaking of that format anyways.

Endless rolling is a lack of discipline, not an issue of the format. I've known people who shot insane amounts of footage on 16mm and 35mm while I even thought twice with minidv before doing excess amounts of takes.

February 1, 2020 at 1:32AM

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DingDong
2158

The best thing I took from this was Hoyte van Hoytema's incredible technique from the moon sequence in Ad Astra. 3D rigging a film camera and infrared Arri camera is an ingenious technique to achieve the image.

Personally, I no longer desire to shoot on film. The higher light gathering ability of modern sensors with an ACES workflow can create very clean and beautiful imagery. There is a discipline to film, and I respect it, but It is a goal I no longer desire to chase with my projects unless a director asks for it.

February 1, 2020 at 7:10AM

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Geoff C. Bassett
Colorist
318

Actually medium of shooting nothing to do with creative stuff. If subject and creators are creating some useless stuff, you think film is going to save them with its great look? NO. May be people who invested lot of their money on film making Companies are trying to recover some of their lost money.

February 1, 2020 at 10:21AM

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jaganmohan
CEO
170

Parasite and 1917 were the most strikingly shot films I've seen all year, and both were digital. Film is not worth the hassle. Everything is scanned into a DI at this point anyway.

February 7, 2020 at 6:59AM

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Batutta
580