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.
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.
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 Hollywood, Little 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.”
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”
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.