Last month I talked about how four out of the five features nominated for an Oscar® for Best Cinematography were shot on film, and how I didn’t find this unusual because they were all done that way for artistic reasons. The reality is that shooting on film is no more, or less, expensive than shooting on digital. Film has a certain quality that, while not impossible to duplicate digitally, is a lot harder to replicate. There’s certainly an emotional quality to shooting on film, but even more than that, there is a beautiful and elegant simplicity to putting film in your camera.
Here’s an example: After a couple of years of shooting nothing but digital, I recently did a day’s work on film for one project, and then another day’s work on film for another. The revelation was astounding. I had forgotten how wonderful it was to just shoot film: to take a reading with my light meter, set the lens, get the shot, go home, and know, intuitively in my heart and soul, what I would see the next day.
That kind of experience doesn’t make film any better or worse than any other medium. As I’ve said in this column many times, the opportunities with digital capture are endless and because of that, we live in exciting times. But it’s just as exciting to work on film, which, in many ways, has become a throwback medium. After all, we have reached a tipping point where there are now more productions in this industry that shoot digitally than on film. And the transition from film to digital in areas like episodic television happened overnight for reasons of commerce, not art.
There’s also been a huge influx of new, lower cost image-making tools filtering down to the consumer level. Walking into a Best Buy to pick up an HDSLR is certainly within the realm of possibility these days for many professional camera people. But all of that, for me, only highlights why shooting film is such a different animal. The level of experience and craft required for professional film production is vastly more significant. But even more than that, shooting digitally means the art is often overshadowed by the technology. Shooting film means the technology is always at the service of the art, and there’s a direct connection to the creative process that’s totally unique.
For me it’s the difference between using a single lens reflex in still photography to that of a rangefinder, the latter of which I have always personally preferred. There’s a direct connection to the subject with the rangefinder that is visceral and immediate; and it’s the same feeling I got when I shot film a few weeks ago. Shooting film inspires a connection to the creative process that is somehow more pure and unencumbered. And, this tipping point toward digital capture has, ironically, brought that distinction front and center. We choose to shoot film for artistic reasons, and I say bravo that we are still able to make that choice. Let’s hope we still have that ability for many, many years to come.
Steven Poster, ASC
International Cinematographers Guild
IATSE Local 600