Film is dead!

Is film dead?

Earlier this year I was invited by Philip Bloom to come and watch a series of camera tests that compared a bunch of cameras that are available to film makers today. At the bottom end was the DSLR family, at the top end Alexa and film.

The footage was screened from a DCP in a top notch theatre, so conditions could not have been better. I will leave all the detail to the films themselves, but here’s what struck me. All the cameras looked pretty damn good. Any one of them could be used to shoot a low budget feature. Sure, some had peculiarisms, but so do all formats.

The cameras were all compared to film too, which I am sad to say, performed pretty poorly in comparison. Weave, grain, scratches, dirt… Yikes!

Now… let me be clear.

Film is still the preferred format for me. Given a budget, there are no digital formats can match it. BUT… with restricted budgets, I really can’t see how film makes sense. Again, to be clear, I love shooting film. I would fight for it. And that’s why I struggled when I dropped the bombshell that no-one else in the room was either seeing or was saying… ‘film is dead’.

Yes there were audible gasps from some DPs, and yes I did get an ear bending from the Kodak and Fuji reps afterward.

So is film dead for indie film makers?

I asked my friend Danny Lacey to comment as he had just shot a film on Super 16mm, and this weekend is shooting a film digitally with Philip Bloom. Here’s what Danny said…

‘Shooting my first major short film project on Super16mm is something I’ll never regret. Something I’d do again? No. Well, at least not in the foreseeable future. The great thing about shooting on celluloid was experiencing the discipline that the format absolutely demands. A discipline that I will be using on future projects. For me that’s the true romance of making films, not the format, but the discipline. I’m talking about working with an experienced and talented crew, the process, taking time to get the lighting just right etc.

Shooting on film is way too expensive for indie film projects. I managed to pull in an incredible amount of favours and good deals, yet it still ended up costing heaps of cash! This wasn’t the only problem for me. There was the lack of control I had in post. The whole telecine process for me has been a nightmare and an expensive one at that. There are so many expensive processes that the film has to go through (i.e. TK offline, conforming online etc). It’s almost 9 months since principal photography on Love Like Hers and I am yet to see one single frame of online footage! And this is a few thousand pounds later!

For me, it’s digital all the way for my next project. I’m not talking about DSLR’s either, we’re looking at the RED MX, Arri Alexa etc for the next film, high end kit. It’s a no brainer. The quality of the picture is comparable to film, yet it’s way cheaper and has a much more pleasing post-production workflow.

Shooting on film is very much a novelty, and that’s the way I see it. It has become a novelty item for a lot of indie filmmaker’s. Can the cinema going public really see the difference between film and digital? Of course they can’t! Our ‘in-house’ obsession with shooting on film, or any format for that matter can often leave us to overlook the single most important thing about any film – story.’

Thanks Danny.

You can also watch the other two parts of the camera shootout by clicking below…

Episode 1 “The Tipping Point”
Episode 2 “Sensors & Sensitivity”
Episode 3 “It’s Not So Black & White”

Onwards and upwards!

Chris Jones, Film Maker and Author


4 Responses to Film is dead!

  1. Faviel Ferrada October 13, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    I watched a 2k projecton a few weeks ago and I never thought I could say this, I loved it, the colors were beautiful, the images so clean and powerful…I can’t imagine how amazing the 4K projection could be. I fell in love with movies in the 80’s and I always liked the grain, the little frame movements and all the fantasy/fiction themes in the 70s and 80s. I think to keep the magic of cinema today is a matter of how the stories are treated visually. Movies need to be more 3 dimensional, not 3D glases media, I mean, more intense in the way the images take the audience and put them inside the action, that feelling I experiment watching “Jaws” or “Alien”.
    Sorry for my bad english – Regards from Chile

  2. Mark Morris October 13, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

    35mm is still the gold standard and still beats HD. The Alexia which is the BEST HD camera out there at the moment is still beaten into touch by film for both resolution and Latitude. The only thing it doesn’t win on is grain or noise but still wins on skin tones.

    16mm still gives the best movie look when compared to HD. It just does.

    But does it give a possible £50,000 film cost difference compared to shooting film and the much more convenient HD? If I had the money I would plump 35mm every time but in the real world only my fantasy budget will achieve that.

    I may also be a bit biased as I’d love to neg cut my own film on a movieola Although maybe that’s more of a fantasy too than practical.

    I used to think HD could never replace film as the two formats aquire their images differently. I still think that holds true and why projected film will always be a real movie for me. HD still looks different enough to not hold the gravitas and emotion that somehow film does so well.

    I say long live Kodak Fuji and HD as film making mediums. Every tool has its place I really hope people don’t rush out and ditch film as I think that would be a huge mistake and I wish we could stop saying film is dead and replace it with HD is becoming a very good tool in the toolchest

    I’m aware 35mm film cameras are no longer being made. HUGE mistake. The film makers world is a much better place with all the tools.

  3. Matt October 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    Format is subordinate to story. So rather than be consumed in format, get consumed in what you’ve got to say. What you intend to convey carries within it all the answers to things like format. Then, execute according to the budget you’ve got.

    In the end, all formats are available to everyone. And certainly, film will be available for some time to come. I wouldn’t say it’s dead, by any means. It’s more a matter of what you want.

  4. Graham Inman October 19, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    What an excellent film, very informative, love the tests. I think thats the best graphic explanation of rolling shutter I’ve seen.

    I’m off to watch the other two.

    Thanks Chris.

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