This Is Why Tarantino Is Not a Fan of Digital Cinematography

Credit: Miramax Films
If shooting digitally makes anything possible, then does anything matter anymore? 

The great film-versus-digital debate continues. There are no words to explain that tingling feeling you get when watching a movie shot on film, but some cinematographers believe that the film look can be achieved through a digital camera if done correctly. 

Cinematographer Roger Deakins has been actively shooting digitally for the past few years on some of his projects like Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049, and 1917. Deakins sat down with Nolerg and explained why shooting digitally is the way to go. Digital cinematography can look like shooting on film if edited correctly.  

Filmmaker Quinton Tarantino strongly disagreed with Deakins’ hot take.

For Tarantino, shooting on digital seems a little excessive and redundant. Most of the time, people shoot on digital to avoid the extra time it takes to light a space or properly plan to achieve the final look of the movie. When shooting digitally, what you see on the monitor is what you get. There is no extra work done before or during filming to get that specific look the movie is trying to achieve. 

It’s why Tarantino said it is hard to tell if a movie has a good cinematographer or not.

“In a world where you can do anything, nothing means anything,” Tarantino said in his interview with Nolerg. If you’re not doing the work to get a great shot, then what’s the point? Digital cinematography puts all the heavy work in the post-production rather than planning and attempting to get the perfect shot while on set. 

Shooting on digital is a great way to go if you are on a budget. If you are shooting digital and are trying to get that film look, then use film. Instead of adding a grain or shutter effect to the digital shot, use film. Film looks like film, so why not go the simple route? 

Tarantino isn't totally against digital cinematography. He fully supports its use if digital cinematography can capture something in a way that film can't. The problem he has is simple: stop trying to make digital look like film. 

What are your thoughts on shooting on film versus digital? Let us know in the comments below!      

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22 Comments

It's almost impossible to fix bad lighting in post. I always notice when a talented DP did everything right on set.

July 20, 2021 at 8:27AM

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Jan Becker
DP, Director, Producer
787

I’ve admired Deakins’ work a hell of a lot more than I’ve liked Tarantino’s. It’s apples and oranges.

July 20, 2021 at 11:25AM

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Podcast made me realize how "naively ignorant" Tarantino is.

Yes, digitally shot CAN allow for VFX that aren't live on set, but then again, I think most of Deakins' work is not getting tons of effects done (sure, bullets, explosions, etc.).

I am grasping that what Tarantino is getting at is that he is fully live actioning his films with no/little VFX.

He uses that pretext to say everything he creates is physically done on set, as most of Deakins and other's work is.

Some directors don't have the cache to get the extra multi-million dollars required to do things physically, and in many ways, it makes zero sense to do it that way.

Lastly, I have to assume as a film purist, Tarantino is doing chemical color timing to his films with no scan to digital involved. I bet NOT!

To say you just prefer film for the arguable quality and nostalgia of it is okay, but to transcend that and start knocking people AND Deakins (a god of cinematography) who shoot digitally, is just arrogant and pathetic.

July 20, 2021 at 12:23PM

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Grant Vetters
Director
133

I agree with Tarantino, but not with how he chose to summarize his viewpoints.

Film is a medium which requires professionalism for it to even function right. You MUST meter your light, you MUST check your gate, you MUST bring your A-game to every second you are on set because it will slip up in one way or another if you do not. Film forces you to be on in a professional and creative mindset.
Digital because it gives you exactly what it sees and is so forgiving, the mindset becomes more relaxed and the ball gets dropped more often because, digital is more forgiving and things can be fixed in post.

Roger Deakins learned the proper mindset from film before he switched to digital. I 100% respect his desire for wanting to, because honestly he earned it. But the majority of the Greats in cinematography who are still working today all started in film, but the newer generation that is growing up in digital don't have that same set mentality or work ethic that the film "Look" requires.

Film and the principles that make great cinematography are more interwoven into the format itself than it is with digital.
The film principles can be learned and applied to digital, but not the other way around I am afraid.

The mindset in conjunction with photo-chemical processes is the film "look" it can be replicated if you keep those principles, but as Tarantino points out why try to mimic film when you can just shoot it?
Of course that is a point pointed at Hollywood and not from the independent filmmaking community for obvious reasons.

End of my rant.

-Cheers!

July 20, 2021 at 2:03PM

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McSaint
Director, Cinematographer, Editor and Colorist
104

This is pure non-sense. They were lazy people with film cameras long before there were lazy people with digital cameras. Not everything shot on film is a masterpiece. Film does not posses some sort of voodoo where just shooting on it makes people better at filmmaking.

The Room was shot on film, and it is a masterpiece of awful filmmaking. There is no voodoo, there is nothing magical about film.

July 21, 2021 at 8:28AM

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I never said that there weren't lazy filmmakers before digital. Of course there are lazy filmmakers no matter what medium they shoot with.
What I said was that film is not as forgiving as digital and forces you to adopt a professional mindset. Yes, there are plenty of bad movies shot on film and you know what, they all looked like garbage because that ethic was not applied to the process. This only reinforces my point.

There are always going to be egomaniacs that don't care about the art or craft of filmmaking, but lets not infer that the Tommy Wiseau was pulling focus or taking light meterings.

I would wager that you have never shot on film before and don't know the challenges of shooting blind and not seeing what you shot until the day after. That requires discipline and technical know-how. I can make claims about it not forcing you to learn better on-set practices all day, but I wouldn't dare say that learning to drive manual doesn't make you a better driver than if you drove an automatic. And most race drivers would agree with me.

And yes, there is something special about film, otherwise why on earth is FilmConvert so popular?

Also as Jespar pointed out above. The Room was shot both on Film and Digital.

July 22, 2021 at 3:03PM, Edited July 22, 3:03PM

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McSaint
Director, Cinematographer, Editor and Colorist
104

Why spend all you time dealing with stupid camera stuff as if that is all a movie is. Making a movie is so much more than just camera gear, its everything else too. The script, the acting, the set decoration, the editing, etc.. when your time and mind space is freed up from checking the gate for stupid hairs you can focus on the story and getting the best shots and performances out of your actors instead of worrying about just the camera gear and if its working properly.

July 23, 2021 at 2:56PM

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Hunter Senftner
Director/DP/Editor
214

He definitely colors digitally after processing.

July 20, 2021 at 5:36PM, Edited July 20, 5:36PM

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This dude's arguments for film are becoming more nonsensical by the year. He doesn't even shoot IMAX film, which is probably the only format where you can see a benefit to film(if cut and printed the "old way"). Digital can be easily matched to 16mm, 35mm and 70mm 5-perf film. The purpose of digital is the reliability, consistency, and flexibility it provides. This is something even Tarantino takes advantage of when he colors and grades. So his argument is moot. "People work harder" Have yet to be on a recent set where people were treating film like it was the decisive factor on their work ethics. They still treat it like it was a digital camera. Mostly because they have the budget for it. This guy is the final boss in rich white hipsters. Idk, maybe he needs to write his scripts in pen to get the whole tactile experience

July 20, 2021 at 5:35PM, Edited July 20, 5:37PM

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Do what you want, but don't act like digital isn't easier cheaper and constantly evolving, film's been around, digital is always changing and so are the stories being made.

July 20, 2021 at 10:29PM

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Sketkh Williams
StoryArtist
225

Tarantino about not buying meat in the store: the real meat is when you hunt the animal in the wild by yourself using bow and arrows.

July 21, 2021 at 1:07AM

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Regis.U
Filmmaker
8

“Just shoot film” is the most “let them eat cake” phrase I’ve ever heard. Tarantino can say this because he shoots with budgets upwards of 90 million $$$. He wipes his ass with fifty dollar bills. Some of us can’t afford the burdensome costs of shooting film: crews, labs, digital transfers, reshoots. If today’s digital were around when he was shooting “Reservoir Dogs” you can bet your ass he’d be using it. Would have given him more flexibility and time. Maybe would have been an even better film. His statements are arrogant. He’s a hack.

July 21, 2021 at 7:22AM

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Anthony Wood
Writer/Producer
148

Great comments! Besides, a good D.P. is a Master of Light, that happens in front of the sensor/negative. With digital, you have more control. Regarding Reservoir Dogs with all dialogues and long takes, better digital.Tarantino is a fetishist! His latest movie is all about Hollywood fetishism, not a story.

July 22, 2021 at 6:22AM

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Javier Diez
Director
459

I think there's an assumption that films are made in ideal situations... Times, budget, location, crew...

Most of us are going to learn film making on digital equipment. It's cheaper and more accessible. That doesn't mean we don't want our film to look a particular way, and striving for the look we want is often the start of a process of learning about technology and aesthetics. And maybe, even having some fun.

July 22, 2021 at 5:06AM

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Aiwa
11

Digital democratized filmmaking! Good for digital! Bye negative elite…

July 22, 2021 at 6:23AM

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Javier Diez
Director
459

No se porque hay que adorar al grano como si los espectadores les atrajera especialmente. Es cuestion de cineastas nada mas. Y conservar la actitud de trabajo como en filmico sin estar pensando que "despues lo arreglamos en post!!". Esa acttitus es lo que se pierde no el grano que con la Vision III nadie lo ve!!!!. El resto es moda para parecer importante o resistirse a actualizarse. No se escribe mas con maquina, carbonico y papel. Pero los mensajes pueden ser los mismo y el espectador va sobre todo a que le muestren un visualmente el mejor guion.

July 23, 2021 at 10:42AM

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I have enjoyed reading the comments on this topic and everyone is entitled to their opinion. I always find it funny when people who have found success in a very challenging industry to about themselves as an industry God. Filmmakers are ultimately story tellers and I think the story is more important than how it was captured. Many indie filmmakers have great stories to tell and don’t have monster budgets and use all their personal resources to develop their craft. If going digital makes it more accessible for them to realize their dream. So be it. I don’t think it’s anyone’s intention to diminish the art form by using digital. He should use his platform to pull others up not be the industry critic.

July 23, 2021 at 1:36PM

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About 13 years ago, I attended a round-table seminar with Dante Spinotti. Even then he said he was "sold on digital," having used it a few times with Michael Mann. He recalled the times he shot film, and no matter how good the lighting looked on the set, how carefully the lights were placed, how on-the-money the f/stop was on the lens in accordance to the meter, he was always concerned how it would appear in the dailies. He said he would act confident and assure the director that they were going to get what they were looking for. And then he'd wait for the dailies and hope that he was right and that the director would be happy.

Spinotti confessed that even the best DPs aren't going to know exactly how a shot will look until they see those dailies. But he would always say to the director, "Yes, this will look good," because DPs always know what they are doing; that's what they are being paid for, right?

Back when Spinotti said this, he was still using the Vipercam, not a particularly good digital camera by today's standards. I remember seeing Mann's "Public Enemies" in a theater, and it still looked too video-ish in places, even though I was watching it on a film print. Someone at the end of the discussion told me about the RED cameras. I checked out their site, and felt some degree of assurance that digital would look better with time.

The Arriflex Alexa does great work as well; one really has to look carefully to see if the image is film or digital when shot on an Alexa.

Tarantino's current DP, Robert Richardson, works with both film and digital. He won an Oscar for "Hugo," and he said in a podcast two years ago that he couldn't have pulled it off (with all the effect and such) had he shot on film. Richardson is one of the best DPs in the business, and he has no problem with digital.

Also, as far back as the 1960s, Kubrick was using a Polaroid to check lighting on shots in "2001," which a light meter would not notice. Basically, the use of the instant Polaroid photos was a precursor to looking at a video screen and seeing how a shot will look when it's lit -- that is, an instant version of how the image would look on film. Better to see any issues while filming than to wait and find out later. It saves money if something has to be re-shot. (Case in point: when Kubrick saw the two-dimensional Polaroid shot, he realized it didn't look the same as it had appeared to look good through the (three-dimensional) viewfinder. He had the setup changed.) I'm sure if Kubrick had lived long enough, he would have used digital, perhaps not entirely on a movie, but he would have seen its potential, even if it was simply as an aid in checking out exposure and lighting on a shot as the black and white Polaroids were for "2001."

It's not just what the naked eye sees that's important, but how it will look on the screen, whether that is achieved with a Polaroid still, or a monitor hooked up to a digital camera; the result will be what the image is going to really look like (barring timing and grading on digital post systems).

Whether one is using conventional studio lighting with digital, or more naturalistic (if not just existing) lighting, it still takes a DP with skill and talent to make such shots work. A good camera will not give you good results if the person using it doesn't know what they are doing.

Just ask Roger Deakins, and I love Deakins' work, both on film and digital. (I'd love to see Deakins do something on an iPhone, just for shits and giggles. It would probably blow everyone away.)

July 23, 2021 at 4:50PM

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Robb Wilson
Director/Owner Miller's Tale Productions
1

Allow me to point out that the image seen through a viewfinder is also two dimensional - not three dimensional as you mistakenly state.

July 23, 2021 at 7:22PM, Edited July 23, 7:22PM

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It's only two dimensional because one is looking through the viewfinder with one eye, so you are half right on that. While it will render the exact framing and even how much or little in focus the background will look (as long as you are looking through the lens) it still won't give you the exact image. When you see it on the screen, with the lighting the way it has been set up, then you will see what it is exactly going to look like. This was something else Spinotti pointed out at that seminar. He also pointed out that it was hard for Michael Mann to go back to film when seeing the setup like that.

The old guard studio DPs of the "Golden Age" preferred it that way -- that is, let them light and nobody else could see what was going on until the dailies were shown. It helped create the "aura of mystery" as to how they did their jobs and thus gave them more power on the set. Of course, they had hours to light a set as well, something your average low to modest budgeted filmmaker doesn't have the freedom to do. However, according to some interviews I've read with the 1970s DPs, these old guard guys died with their secrets. That forced the younger, up-and-coming DPs to take a different approach. This was fostered by the younger up-and-coming directors who wanted to do things differently, influenced by the French New Wave and other foreign cinema. The result was something exciting and dynamic within the "New Hollywood," which, with the help of the subject matter, the actors and the directors, broke the old rules and created new ones.

I had to light the traditional way (I mean, with a light meter) with my college films (16mm). I didn't see the results until I got it back from the lab, and we shot reversal, so any mistakes in exposure made it hard to fix when making an answer print. When I could actually see what I was getting when lighting it made everything go faster. When I started doing that I only had one monitor, and I always shut it off until I needed it to make a final check of the setup, or when the director needed to watch the take on the monitor. Otherwise, too many crew members hovered around and offered up their own unwelcome opinions.

July 24, 2021 at 11:11AM

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Robb Wilson
Director/Owner Miller's Tale Productions
1

Watch the double feature "Grindhouse". Even Robert Rodriguez makes the point that his movie (shot digitally) looks far more filmatic than Quinton's movie (shot on film). And IMHO, Netflix's "Stranger Things" has a more filmatic look and vibe than "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood". So Quinton can hold on to nostalgia all he wants; but, to any casual observer, many of his movies look far more "digital" than many YouTube videos shot on cheap DSLRs.

July 25, 2021 at 2:06PM, Edited July 25, 2:08PM

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Frank
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