This thread, started in 2000, is obviously the one that changes the most as time goes by!


I'm extremely poor, but I want to shoot on film. The only film
stock I can get is tungsten balanced Super 8mm. Do you have any lighting
tips for making Super 8mm look better than it is? Is the quality poor enough
to make it unrealistic to spend the money on film instead of a digital
camera? --TLD

Recently I got out some early video tapes of my kids when they were small.
That makes the tapes about 15 years old.  To my horror I discovered that
most of them are unwatchable, with electronic "fuzz" and dropout all over
them.  Next to these tapes is a suitcase with my parents 8mm films which are
from 30 to 60 years old.  I showed them last year and they were in perfect
condition. If what you want to shoot is precious to you, try to shoot it on
film.  If it is to "practice", shoot it on tape.  Most people advise
beginners to shoot on digi, to save the money.  I say, if you are drawn to
film, you will be looking at it again at the end of your life, and it will
look the same as the day after you shot it.  I only wish I'd followed my own
advice fifteen years ago!

 Hi! I'm currently making a feature on video. And I wonder if I
should try to correct the indoor light to match the outdoor light (or vice
versa)? Also, I'm thinking about using Digi Effect's Cinelook to gain the
"film-look". Is it worth the money? (A film camera is out of the question
right now). And last, are there any other light/lense tricks to make movie
look more like film? --Jens

Your three questions nicely encapsulate the whole "video" problem. You are
shooting on video but you want it to look like film... First up, TRY to
shoot on film.. It may not be as bad as you think.  You can always borrow
the camera free (any major equipment house will lend cameras to students),
you can do a deal with Kodak and a deal with the lab.  All these people
really try to help students for good sound business reasons, as well as the
fact they are all nice guys.  Don't forget your costs are the same once that
image is on tape, and if you aren't messing about with Digi Effects you'll
save some money there (I can't answer this query as I don't use it).
Lighting is lighting, whatever medium you gather the image with.  The
lighting has to be adapted to the medium, so if you have to shoot on Digi,
you have to light it even more carefully as the medium is less forgiving.
Yes, balance the exterior/interior (if you want to), No there are no
"tricks" to make video look like film. Lastly, if you have to shoot on
video, use the capabilities of the medium, rather than trying to make it
look like film.

I am trying to shoot a short film with portions in 8mm film.  A
friend of mine said that 8mm is better to use than Digital Video.
Which is better?

John Rajendra

Neither is better, but they are different. Most people prefer the “look” of film, for it’s grain, it’s texture and it’s tactile qualities.  But if you need to shoot a lot of material (like Interviews) then Digi might be a better option.  Again, it depends on the kind of magnification that you will be subjecting the image to: if you end up viewing your film on Video then the 8mm footage would not be as “different” as would be the case if you are final viewing on 35mm or 16mm.  Don’t forget also that Digital Video can mean a host of things, from very low-end consumer formats to very high-end Panavsion/Sony 24P.

Can you offer any cinematographic tips and advise for documentary makers? My idea has been to use video -- first I began with analog for research and to use in the doc if the footage and info is good. What are some things [that] help cinematographically when using digital video? I know I want a warm and personal feel to the doc. and some colleagues say that film would be better, but I am a novice in this area and still learning about video as well. If I decide to go film with an already low budget am I asking for trouble? I've been working on this project single-handed for nearly five years in terms of the research and development aspects and would really like to best prepare for the real shoot/production side. Thank you in advance for taking the time to answer my question!.

I’ll stick to this bit of the question: What are some things [that] help cinematographically when using digital video?
There is no contest when it comes to cost of film versus video for documentary work where extensive interview footage is involved.  With video you can roll long interviews without panicking about the cost which is real advantage: and most documentaries are shown on TV where the quality difference between Video and Film is the least apparant: if you are planning to show the doc on the big screen that’s another story as low-end video doesn’t blow up well.
The most important thing is to get the doc made: if going video makes it possible, then go for it.  Waiting for the money to use film for extra “quality” isn’t the point here: go for what is possible NOW! (Five years is quite enough time..)
Video can look very good when it is well lit: bear in mind that contrast ratio has to be low for video: if you interview someone next to a window, take some ND gel with you for the window is you want to see outside.  Get the colour of the light to match the natural light and it will look less “artificial”.   Try and take a decent monitor with you so you can see the picture properly and not just through the viewfinder.
Fine images can be made in any medium if they are made with care and attention.

With Panavision rolling out their HD camera packages in mass in the near future, do you belief that HD will seriously compete with film at least in Principle Photography?

The best article about this I have read recently is by John Bailey and is available at   Search for “film or digital?” and you should find it.

As I’ve said before in this column, I see no immediate threat to film from HD as film is still by far the cheapest and simplest way of achieving the best possible image on a large screen.  Digital will continue to improve but so will film: we’re not far away from dailies viewing and the preview process taking place on digital, but we’re a long way from film disappearing as an origination process for mainstream movie making.


I just finished reading your article on
It was very entertaining and in some ways educational.

Throughout your writing, I could see the "digital cinema" thread, and if I may comment:

I work entirely in the digital domain: all of my work is created and viewed on machines. I think DV is great, I have one of those new sony cameras and it's a great tool. I'm starting to putz around with it to get a feel for the light. I even own a digital still camera!

However, I have never used the digital camera for any serious photography. When I look at the result from a 35mm camera alongside my digital camera, one is alive, real and one is flat. 35mm film lives, it captures reality or one's imagination of reality. I don't believe film as an "origination" medium will go away for a very long time, if ever - because of that.

Unless and until the capture of moving images with digital equipment is capable of the same breadth of expression that 35mm film is, I do not see a switch taking place. Film has all these advantages that digital systems must catch up to:
    -film doesn't run on a fixed cycle, because it doesn't use electricity to capture the image (i.e. try undercranking a video camera, impossible because the chips are running on AC, which means thay have to capture images in numbers divisible by the frequency of the power source)
    -film is increadibly information dense as compared to all digital capture at the moment. while this will change, it will change fairly slowly.
    -film is much more mallieable than digital capture, and has a far higher contrast ratio than any video system I know of.
    -film is chemical, and because of that it can be manipluated in many wonderful ways, long exposures, short ones, too much light, etc etc. that same flexibility doesn't exist with digital systems (or where it does, there is far less).
    -film looks like film. and until video looks like film, it ain't gonna happen.

I think what I'm trying yo say is this: even if chemical film does eventually go away, I think it would be replaced by a system if similar flexibility (i.e. the cinematographer's job wouldn't be any different)

This is all from someone who has every intention of shooting on DV for a while, because I can't quite handle the $$$ for 35 equipment and all its trappings. But I'm using DV because I don't have the money for film, not because I think it's better (or ever will be).

And, as far as effects, 3D/CGI - all good cg is done using reality as a base, but I can't see CG being used as a _substitute_ for reality, especially the kind of reality captured by the eyes of a journeyman dp.

great reading,


Interesting... but, I must say wishful when it comes to digital and film..
I'm 24 and I love DIGITAL video.  I remember the days of analog when I was
11-14 and I loved the fader and editing controller knobs, but it took me 5
mins to learn and love using a mouse.  I hate analog now, and I mean HATE...

BUT I am rare breed in some ways cause I am also a professional
photographer, who HATES DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY.. hmm... interesting...  I shoot
PHOTOs on film and edit them in ways that the OLD masters did with hand
tinting except it is all done digital.  But I know that by the time I ever
get a chance to make a movie, it will be DIGITAL...  Some people are meant
to be producer, director, DP, writers and so on.. and even many combinations
of any 2 of those.  You talk about the geniuses in the field on movie
production, the true geniuses are the most balances combination of the
above. Im sure a 150 years ago painter hated photography as some (film)
people hate digital.  A great painting has its own look and feel just as
film and just as a CCD chip does.. what really makes a pigment look better
then a emulsion, or a emulsion look better then a digital pixel? Nothing, it
is what people are USED to, just as it took time for people to get used to
film over painting, people will get accustomed to video over film.. Just as
people are sill getting a painting of them for that PAINTING LOOK, people
will still be captured on film for that FILM LOOK. The best example of
people still being attached to that older art of painting is that may pro
photo labs offer canvas mounted and brush enhancement to portrait
photographs.  They advertisement it as making it look like a OLD painting on
canvas.  Film will become more of an art just like painting has.. And im
sure one day video will be succeeded by some new form of presenting audio
and video to people, such as a direct link to the brain instead of a screen
( or something like that ).

Hello, I am a student filmmaker, and for research for a future film that that I am making, I have been watching a lot of soap operas. I have noticed that most of the soap operas have a very polished, slightly darkened look, more so than most television shows. My question is this: How, with my JVC Mini-DV digital camcorder, can I achieve the polished, 'professional' look of television and movies-- should I invest in a camera filter, or can the effect be achieved by simply slowing down the frame rate?


High-end expensive shows like Friends get shot on 35mm so I’m afraid there is no filter that will turn your Mini DV into 35mm!  Even if the soap isn’t shot 35mm, the chances are that it is shot on Broadcast quality video equipment costing many thousands of dollars.  The “polished” look is partly because of the sophistication of the camera equipment, but also the lighting is very “high key” and there is a very definite technique to producing good light for multiple camera shooting for soaps.
Slowing the frame rate will only introduce more “motion blur” which will not lead you towards the effect you are looking for.  Make sure you use sufficient lighting to “simulate” the look of a soap ? the best quality will come from your Mini DV by using enough light for the exposure to be “full”, but beware using too much as this will result in a smaller aperture giving much more depth of field than you want.  An ND filter might help make the camera shoot “wide open” and thus with minimum depth (more like 35mm).

I was wondering what kind of tricks could be used with a digital camera (DV) to make the product look more like film.  It seems as though digital cameras are too automated and focus everything too well, and they have a computerized grainy distortion that is not directly correlated to the light source.  At least with film you can tweak the appearance with filters and development techniques, how can this be achieved with digital cameras to produce a similar product?


Strange how often this question comes up!  We really need a separate site so you can ask Digi cameramen this question: I believe there is one so someone enlighten me with the name of the site.  A movie camera costs around $200K upwards and uses film that also costs a lot of money.  It is foolish to think that a cheap DV camera can “approximate” film ? it never will.  At the expensive end, the Sony 24P is getting to look something like film but to me there is no point in “chasing” film with electronic images ? better to make the images speak for themselves and use them in the right context.  Many factors go into the “look” of a film, and only some of them are connected to whether the film is shot on film or DV.

Sept 13th 2003
I've read this column for a number of months and invariable see the issue of digital/film coming to the fore. Forgive me for doing so once again.
I'm planning on making a film and I have every intention of doing it on the cheap but when everything is done, I would like to have a product that would be suitable for entering into contests/festivals. I'm studying up on shoestring productions and my research to date, even for minimally financed productions, shows that easily ~50-70% of the cost is for film stock, film processing, or some other film associated step.
If I choose to go all digital, all the costs associated w/film disappear but I don't think an all digital production would be admissible to any contest/festival. Digital is attractive but does the merchantability of the end product suffer?
Lastly, is there some technique where a fully digital production can be put to film to solve this problem.

There is a handy dictum often quoted by film crews to production when shooting:  “Cheap, Fast, Good” - you can have any two of the above.  The “problem” of making digi look like film is not a problem, more of a fact.  Digi looks like digi and it can look really really good when made in the right way. “Marketability” is essentially "“who wants to see this film"? If the film is good it will sell whatever it looks like. And if the “look” is in keeping with the film and not a contradiction, then it could be a “cheap look” (like Pulp Fiction) or an “expensive look”  (like Gladiator).  As I have said before, if shooting Digi means the film gets made then shoot Digi.
Festivals judge films on their merit, not on their “look”.

In the book "Rebel Without a Crew", Robert Rodriguez talks about shooting El Mariachi. Even though he planned to go straight to video, (he did all his editing using a video copy of the film), and was on an extremely tight budget where film and developing were his major (and nearly only) expenses, he shot it on film. Why? What are some reasons to do this, other than hedging for film festivals in case (as it happened) the movie got popular???--Michelle

So he got lucky I guess. Had he shot it on MiniDV then it could not have been released in the cinema without it looking really horrid (which sometimes works). I saw some of his latest film the other day which he shot on High Def. I saw it on a VHS "screener" tape and I thought it looked great, really well shot and interestingly lit with lots of contrast and cute camera angles. I had to stop watching the film unfortunately because it was terrible. When someone decides they can do all the jobs they usually can't. He seems to having a lot of fun and clearly there is an audience out there who like his stuff, so good luck to him.

What do you think will be the impact on film-making of new filming technologies such as digital cameras, particularly on lighting techniques and quality? ??--Carla

The general obsession with this particular topic is beginning to drive me crazy! I think this is because there is no real answer to the question. I have answered it before in various ways, only to have feedback that I am too obsessed with film. I prefer film to digital as I have said many times before. However, the impact of digi cameras is here and is going to stay, both at the level of indie productions and increasingly in bigger films.. In the end,film will die out as it is obviously an antiquated and increasingly non cost-effective way of recording pictures. So, the impact on filmmaking will be very radical. Filmmaking will be digital making which will still be called Filmmaking. In 50 years time, a student question will no doubt be: What was film? Fortunately for me I will be able to finish my career still shooting film (more or less), so it's not a problem for me to solve! The lighting techniques are very similar and the quality of digi gets better every year.


When the last Star Wars episode was released, a lot was made of the new digital technology, with George Lucas predicting that celluloid would one day be surpassed by pixels. Beyond the obvious expenses inherent in converting movie theaters, do you agree with Lucas's assessment? Do you see any artistic and technical pros and cons in using digital over film? ??--Dave

I think the last Star Wars put back the forward march of digital by at least ten years. This was because it was widely perceived as looking terrible. Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, shot on film and finished digitally, looked absolutely wonderful. Lucas and Sony are pioneering a technology that just isn't ready yet to challenge film on the big screen. I think he is right that it will, one day, take over from film. But that day is a long way from now (thank God!), so the more big screen bad looking digi movies that come out, the less the rest of us will be persuaded to shoot in that format. From an archival point of view, shooting on digital at the moment makes no sense. Outside of documentary/TV and small features, I see no value in digital shooting for large-scale feature films. I seem to remember this debate going on in 1982....

I have heard/read that shooting on digital video (DVCPro) and then transferring to film will not get a good response from festivals, distributors, etc. because it just won't look good. Having not seen an example of DVCPro transferred to film, I am unable to form my own opinion. If this is a person's only option (financially, of course) - would it be best to go another route, or can I throw this rumour out the window and WOW everyone with brilliant dialogue, charismatic actors, and grand directing skills ????--Jackie

Definitely go for the WOW factor and don't worry about the scary rumours. There are various "requirements" for festivals, which would be as well for you to get acquainted with. I don't know what they are, but I am sure they are easy to find out via the web. Just contact half a dozen by email and ask them what formats they accept for the festival. Also it sounds like you are the director, so your first move is to find a DP and get him or her to do the research for you! Films must be driven from the top: get the script, get it cast, get some money and then the likes of people like me start to get interested and come along to sort out the technical stuff.

It has been years now since the first iteration of "So You Wanna Work in the Movies" was written and posted for all to read. Then, you seemed to have a stigma in regards to digital "film." Since, more and more folks are recording in digital (Lucas being the most well known to do so) and fully digital movies (Sky Captain and Sin City) have been made where living, breathing actors were the only real piece to the entire film. While many young (some respected) filmmakers are embracing digital filmmaking as a way to ease production, (seemingly) the old guard (some respected as well) still staunchly supports traditional film. Most notable (see: vocal) among the proponents of film-over-digital is Quentin Tarantino, who quipped "Mission Accomplished" when asked how he felt digitally filming a scene for Sin City. On the set of King Kong, Peter Jackson said part of the beauty of digital filmmaking is to fix the inevitable mistake which is made on set, yet he adores film as well.

With the foresight to have seen it [purely digital filmmaking] coming and the experience in the industry that you have, how do you feel about digital filmmaking nowadays? As someone who wants nothing more than to pay his dues to the system, be abused by the production staff, and one day (after many long days) hopefully be a DP myself, is the job I want doomed?

It seems that some directors (Lucas) feel that digital filmmaking is the wave of the future (and then turn around and predict doom for cinema because of it). Others(Tarantino) feel that a vivid film can only come from true reels of film. Still, some (Jackson, Spielberg, Fincher) seem to believe that a happy medium can exist. All of this talk comes from directors. Where do the people who actually film the movie, who get the shots, who control the initial look and feel of the film, where do they stand?

To the untrained eye, the pro-digital-everything camp might seem to have a total control of their movie obsession going on, and with millions of dollars bankrolling a film, who cares about the cost? On the other hand, if the shot can be done with a smaller, less expensive, still high quality digital camera, what is the film-over-digital proponent's argument aside from personal preference? Thank you. Your articles have always fascinated me and are a wealth of knowledge.??-Bryce

Thanks for your thoughts - very apposite. It probably is time for a revision of SYWWITM, especially the digital section. As you say time has moved on, and also little has changed.

My own theory is that when the first digital Star Wars came out it looked so terrible that the industry was really shocked ? especially after all the hype. The irony is that the next one looked OK (not great but OK), but it was too late ? the damage was done by the first one.

I am not sure there is a single top DP who prefers digital over film, although it may be that we just don?t hear from them as the journalists think Directors make the photography and we are just assistants. When was the last time you saw a DP interviewed in the National Press? The "talk" comes from Directors because they get quoted. The move to Digital will not damage the job of Directing and some would argue that it will make it easier, freeing them from the "tyranny" of the DP. I sympathize with this as I have heard that a number of members of my profession are power-hungry noisy bastards who get their rocks off by mistreating those not as powerful as themselves. A director might get put off the profession after just one film with such a person: go to Digital and the DP suddenly looses power as the picture is right in front of you for all to see (and comment on!).

Although I think the job as it has existed in my lifetime is doomed there is another job slowly emerging. This job is kind of the same but has not been defined yet. At the moment you have the DP and then the "colourist" who is slowly becoming a co-maker of the image. And then there is the Visual FX supervisor who is slowly becoming a Designer as more and more images are composite. This affects the world of the Production Designer as the images are shot by the Cinematographer but in a sense are designed by the Production Designer. The Director may or may not have a key roll in all this: some pay great attention to the visual landscape of a film and others do not.

As directors become more aware of the post-production possibilities, some are embracing it and making the most of it, and others get lazy with a fix-it-afterwards mentality. The challenge for me is to stay current with what is possible and what it costs so that I can make intelligent decisions on a daily basis as to what I should spend time on and what I shouldn't.

As an example, there is a location in Casanova which is Heath Ledger running down a very very long hall which was impossible to light. Instead of rejecting the location (which a number of other DP's had done for other movies!), I was able to place the lights in shot on one side of the hall, and then remove them with a relatively simple digital split screen shot where the one side was joined to the other - also halving the cost of the extras!

Being aware of CGI and what it can do is now a very important part of the DP?s work, and a part that will become increasingly important. In effect, on a smaller film, you become the Visual FX supervisor as the production doesn?t employ one because they are so expensive.

So I guess my rather dour thoughts about digital 5 years ago have been a little elevated by the thought that the DP may become the "image maker" which of course he or she always was: but this time it embraces the post processes also. It is vital that DP's today take control of the DI and CGI processes otherwise the job really will slip into the hands of editors, producers and VFX supervisors.

So the challenge for the younger generation is to train in both film and digital and be very aware of all the possibilities of the post house. In the old days many DP's would do time at a lab to learn about the chemistry. Today?s equivalent would be to do time at E-film or one of the other post houses to get to grips with the post processes. In a sense exposing film is not the arduous task it once was as film is now so forgiving and with such extraordinary latitude that some DP's are just putting their meters away and shooting it by eye, knowing that all the controls are post controls. I don't see much wrong with this: as was the case 20 years ago, every time Digital thinks it is catching up with film Kodak and Fuji produce another amazing film stock which re-writes what film can do.

I think Digital will eventually take over, just as it has in the stills market. The timescale is not the one that Sony and Lucas envisaged and things like the tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Pakistan reminds people that we don't control the world. The studios spend $50M on a film and they are very interested in archive and the effects of time on their $50M investment. The first thing they do when a Digital Film is shot is transfer it to film: strange huh?

I am an aspiring director with a few miniDV shorts to my name. In the near future I will be trying to get my feature off the ground. I would like to shoot on Super 16. I am prepared for the situation of getting very little money and having to go down the Robert Rodriguez route of filling every crew role myself. I may bring in a cinematographer/camera operator, but I would like to be able to bear some of that load myself so things move as quickly as possible. I have worked as a spark and grip, but one ability I don't have is loading film. Where can I learn this skill as I dearly desire to shoot on film???-Jack

If you intend to direct and shoot your own film DO NOT learn how to load the film! Since you have a passion for speed, this will definitely slow things down horribly. Get a wife, girlfriend, mother, brother, someone to load it for you. However, the job is more important than it looks, so you want someone who knows what they are doing. If you thread the film wrong (especially in 16mm) you'll get horrible scratches that will ruin your day. The VERY IMPORTANT business of paperwork with the unexposed/exposed film is done by the loader.

I would recommend getting a cinematographer to take care of that stuff while you worry about the essentials like: Story, Actors, Script, Costume, Locations etc etc. First thing an aspiring Director has to learn is to DELIGATE!


Is the Digital Intermediate output to film process an economic hardship for the low budget film? I have not seen many, actually only one smaller budget film with the DI process--that was The Machinist--the rest have rather large budgets.

John Mathieson (who shot Kingdom of Heaven recently) wasn't very impressed with the DI process which must have rattled a few people! Whilst it's considered "essential" like the iPod, you have to remember that Lawrence of Arabia and about 10,000 other great movies were all shot without the DI process. No, it is not available for a small budget movie but SO WHAT!

Having recently done my first DI movie (Casanova), I have sympathy with John's comments, but would add that it is a great tool in the right hands, and those hands are the cinematographers hands, with tech help from the colorist whose role exactly parallels that of the lab timer. Like many techie things, what is just an option somehow becomes ESSENTIAL in people's minds, whereas the age-old element of storytelling is what is essential: good script, good actors, good director. The rest is just detail: detail is important but...make your film, forget the hardship.

I really hope you get this message as I found your article on at useful and entirely honest. I'm a film student in Australia and I have been ripping my hair out over film stock and quality. I also work for Ken Duncan, and although I know that he works with Fujichrome velveteen transparencies to saturate the colour, I don't know how to transfer this knowledge to cinematography. We shoot on mini DV which, I think, is less than OK and feel that our film quality suffers a great deal.
So, say if you were getting together with your other cinematographer mates over a few beers and discussing film quality and stock, money no object, what would you be recommending each other? Do you start with analogue and convert to digital in post, or do you shoot straight with digital? I'm thinking about shooting my next film in analog. I had a lot of problems with grain last time, is there anything I can do to minimize this?

Stills reversal film like Fujichome or the now defunct Kodachrome has a magical quality to it that Digital can't touch yet: it's getting close but Digital still lacks a "feel" that organic/chemical materials have. In stills the Digital image has made huge strides because you can devote 64meg of memory or larger to a single image. With film at 24fps this is another problem entirely that is being slowly overcome so films like Star Wars and Superman are now being shot in Digital and don't look too bad? (but not as good as say? Lawrence of Arabia made 40 years ago!!). I went to an Architecture exhibition recently and every booth had a laptop projecting pictures of one sort or another onto a screen. They all looked absolutely dreadful and I was amazed to see that Architects who one would imagine have some sort of Visual Sensitivity put up with that kind of presentation of their work. In one exhibition, from Finland I think, they had blown up very large and beautiful Fujichrome pictures which looked stunning and eye catching.

MiniDV is really a notebook for filmmaking - great for starters and getting going and then move on to the "real thing". Super 16mm is rapidly becoming the next step for a lot of smaller budget filmmakers: as stocks have improved so much over the last few years Super 16mm blow-ups look great in the theatre and provide a cost-effective and much more versatile alternative to HD. HD has so many formats at the moment that by the time you'd figured out what's available it's discontinued.

The "post route" is a whole other thing but right now the Film/DI/Film route is becoming the "norm" but I would still say that if your film does not need it then Super 16mm optically blown up for 35mm release takes a lot of beating. High end DI technology is now very good but there are a lot of losses involved in out of date or badly setup equipment involved in scanning.

For final release on DVD or anything without projection the resolution requirement is much lower so this is where well managed MiniDV with clever use of good software can make good images. There's all sorts of ways to listen to music: whether on a small radio or seated in the Albert Hall, if the music's good it's still good.


I'm very curious and skeptical about this whole 24p deal, simply because if it turns out to be a bunch of garbage over-inflated to make people believe this is the future and sell a whole bunch of these cameras, it wouldn't be the first time technology developers trick us into buying things. What's your view on 24p?

24p and its present children: Genesis, Viper, D20 and some other one I forgot the name, is plainly where it is going and it's just a matter of time before film becomes a historical curiosity. All the serious R&D is going into electronic image gathering and film cameras are probably on their last generation as the kind of money needed to make a new model is not worth it. However, I fully expect film to keep going for at least another ten years so hopefully I can continue to use it although I expect to be using it in combination with Digital.

I agree with you about "over-hyped" view of 24p etc, but the people putting up the millions of dollars in investment to move image gathering forwards need to advertise widely to get people interested in their products - especially as thus far they are not very good! We are just beginning now to see films like Superman, Miami Vice, Collateral where the Digital process is being used to advantage to create looks that are interesting and "new". No-one has shown these methods to be any cheaper than shooting on film, but some of them would be hard to get on film because of the special characteristics of Digital images.

The Digital Intermediate process (known as DI), means that you can now easily shoot Super 8mm, Mini DV, 16mm, 35mm etc i.e. anything, and put it all together in your movie to create a multitude of textures and looks for a particular film. This of course has, and will create some really messy image-making where DP's and Directors are playing with the toys without due regard to the story. There is a misconception that any image can be "fixed" to look like anything but this is completely wrong which is good news for wannabee Cinematographers as there is still a job to do, even if it gets harder to learn what you need to know and harder to keep control over what you are doing. The traditional role of the DP is going to change into more of an "image management" role: some people think this is great - I guess I'll get used to it!

Recently, in one of my film classes we were asked to make a presentation on a classical cinematographer. I reported on Vittorio Storaro focusing on his contributions to film-making philosophy since he said that cinematography is writing with light and color as well that cinematographers are co-creators on films with directors. With digital film-making blurring the line between director and cinematographer, what do you think is the modern contribution of a great cinematographer?

This is one of the most intelligent questions I have had on this site and not only do I not have an answer, but I feel that the ones I do have would fill the space of a book! What is being misunderstood is that the work of the Cinematographer is not intimately tied up with whether the camera contains a chip of a length of film, but the word "co-creators" is the key. Whilst Mr Storaro might have gone a bit overboard sometimes with his insistence of the importance of the Cinematographer, he has done our profession a huge service by being one of the few to theorise about his own process.

The camera "rolls" at the end of a lengthy process of rehearsal, consultation with the Director, Lighting and then finally "I'm ready" and the AD says "Roll". The word Digital or Film is not in any way part and parcel of this key process to the making of a film. To an outsider observing a film set, they would even know what "image gathering" process is being used. I have said at length elsewhere that I feel Digital DOES alter the nature of the film-making process but that is another issue. The "modern cinematographer" does have a different role to those who shoot on film, but the nature of the difference is, in a sense, technical. Ask me which one I prefer and I will not hesitate to name film: ask me whether there is still a role for the Cinematographer in the world of Digital and I would say YES YES YES.

Some Directors like to "do it all". Great Ones understand the nature of collaboration and contribution: this will always exist in making movies, theatre and all the other collaborative arts.

When the last Star Wars episode was released, a lot was made of the new digital technology, with George Lucas predicting that celluloid would one day be surpassed by pixels. Beyond the obvious expenses inherent in converting movie theaters, do you agree with Lucas's assessment? Do you see any artistic and technical pros and cons in using digital over film? ?

I think the last Star Wars put back the forward march of digital by at least ten years. This was because it was widely perceived as looking terrible. Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, shot on film and finished digitally, looked absolutely wonderful. Lucas and Sony are pioneering a technology that just isn't ready yet to challenge film on the big screen. I think he is right that it will, one day, take over from film. But that day is a long way from now (thank God!), so the more big screen bad looking digi movies that come out, the less the rest of us will be persuaded to shoot in that format. From an archival point of view, shooting on digital at the moment makes no sense. Outside of documentary/TV and small features, I see no value in digital shooting for large-scale feature films. I seem to remember this debate going on in 1982....

On the other hand now (in 2007) we are, at last, beginning to see images made by Digital cameras that "hold up" on the big screen. That is to say, they don't look soft and grungy. Making those images is still a very cumbersome and expensive process - not to be confused with small screen technologies. However, now, for the first time, we are beginning to really see the end of the use of Celluloid. When I say "see the end", I don't mean that there is any reduction in its use going on now - quite the contrary - but when the images made electronically really begin to seriously compete with those made on film then obviously it is only a matter of time. "Collateral" would be an example...

I've read all your comments concerning digital video vs. film in your columns and find the debate very interesting. I totally agree with you that film is intrinsically a more beautiful format. I don't think any form of video will ever look as wonderful, but I also think it may be a mistake to compare them. I think they can both look good, but in different ways. The most recent Star Wars film looked terrible because it was video masquerading as film. However, there are other films shot on video, which have not tried to look like film, but have still looked very good. You may completely disagree but, for example, I loved the look of Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. The makers didn't seem to be trying to make it look like film, instead using the strengths of the technology for an innovative shooting style. I think they achieved a great look.

I noticed the film was shot by Anthony Dod Mantle, who seems to emerging as one of the first recognized DV 'cinematographers'. If you think that video is a "hideous technology", do you think anyone is worthy of the title 'DV cinematographer'? Personally, I think that video is ugly and therefore anyone who gets such wonderful results should be congratulated!

Did I say video is a "hideous technology"?? How awful - I must have just seen Star Wars too! I totally agree with what you say - use it for itself and don't try to make it look "like film". I love using video for all sorts of things and think it is a really useful technology for agents, and er...location scouting...and a ton of other things that you e-mail all over the world.

I have met with Anthony Dod Mantle and think he is a brilliant cameraman and as you say is leading the field in "low tech" shooting style, whether on DV or on film. I particularly like the shooting style that makes use of the lightweight nature of small DV cameras as this seems to me to make use of the technology. What irritates me is when the Sony 24P type equipment is much more cumbersome than a film camera, much less reliable and gives an inferior image whilst trying to "mimic" film. I have a small Sony Mini DV and I love it - because it is small and the image is perfectly fine for what I want to use it for.

I think in a previous article I said that DV cameramen should not be called cinematographers which seemed to annoy some people. It's actually of little importance - every technology has it's strengths and weaknesses and if I shot on DV I would try to use it's qualities to my advantage which is exactly what Anthony achieved so well in 28 Days Later.

I recently read your statement that you think film students should learn to shoot on film while they still can. Why do you feel that way? Digital has a whole range of advantages over film (cheaper, instant playback, better low light performance), and as lens quality and resolution improve, digital video becomes more and more appealing. Its easy to appeal to tradition when defending film, but what sort of aesthetic or procedural advantages do you think it has over digital?

I can feel myself digging an even bigger hole here than the "tradional approach" one that I am in already!
Before I get too hot under the collar let me make a brief reply to the first part of your question: "Cheaper". I have failed to notice that anything cheap is anything other than er? cheap. There is a saying amongst films crews: Cheap, Fast, Good.. you can have any two of these things. i.e. Cheap/Fast is BAD (although not always?). "Instant Playback". Most filmmakers agree that this tool has more or less destroyed the ability to develop a "flow" of work on the set which is about the "making" rather than the "reflecting on the making". Without going into detail which I have not space for here, "Playback" is gradually turning into "editing on set" which is seriously counter productive. "Better low-light performance": possibly true with a state-of-the-art camera but certainly not true at the student end of the spectrum.

To comment on the second part of the question: "Aesthetic" advantages of film? There are Directors out there who like Digital because of the long takes (which means they don't have to make up their mind) or the fact that they can get rid of the "pain in the ass" DP and shoot it themselves. Roberto Rodriguez clearly gets more of a buzz out of his Digital Shooting than he does out of anything else, otherwise his scripts would be a lot better than they are. Film is still "kinder" than Digital and a lot of actresses appreciate this: there is a level of detail beyond which all we see is artifice and make-up: there is "magic" in the film process which adds up to an aesthetic that Digital has to copy to seem convincing. Why copy when you can have the real thing??

"Procedural advantage".. this is a subjective thing, but I love the fact that the image is not available "on set" - just an approximation. One of the massive advantages of this is that we get involved with the "making" and not the "viewing". There is now a generation of Directors who can't cope without the teddy-bear monitor: that is not nostalgia - it's the loss of pre-visualization as a pre-requisite for a visually literate person. If you can't string pictures together in your mind (as I have said many times before) then you have no business being a Feature Film Cinematographer. Directors may get away with it, but we can't. So back to the film school: without any work on film, there is no encouragement to pre-visualize.

Dear Oliver
I wanted to know why do cinematographers who have been shooting on film for a long time move to digital or in other words accept to work on digital, is it a matter of money or experiments? Cinematographers like Dean Semler "Apocalypto" or Newton Thomas Sigel "Superman Returns". In such big budget movies who decides to shoot on digital rather than film?
If a cinematographer moves from film to digital, what changes for him technically, do technicians take over some of his role because of the technology?

Best regards, Saoud

There are many answers to these questions. In some cases the Cinematographer decides that he or she is interested in trying Digital for a particular project. The idea for this might be his, or that of the Producer or Director. As the technology is changing by the minute, then different developments are leading to different solutions for particular movies. Of the two films you mention, one was largely studio based - which is easier for Digital with all its cables and monitors etc, but the other had considerable location work which some would argue was made more difficult by the decision to shoot on Digital. Visiting any debate on the internet will reveal many opinions about how the role of the DP is changing in the face of digital technology. In the sense that the DP "translates" the vision of the director into images on the screen, which may or may not mean framing and creating the images, the technology that is used to do this is irrelevant. However, it does change the "rhythm" of the work and the nature of the job as in Digital (at the moment), the technology is a lot more invasive than film at the level of a Feature, and a lot less invasive at the level of a TV interview. So the technicians do not "take over the role" of the DP, but there are more of them!

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