Fujifilm was the first to go, in Spring 2013, when it announced the discontinuation of its motion picture film products.
A few months later, sensation-seeking headlines announced the Eastman Kodak Company would cease production of cellulose acetate film – the clear base upon which light-sensitive emulsions reside. Kodak was quick to clarify:
“Kodak has not stopped the manufacture of its finished goods in the 65mm, 35mm, 16mm and S8 motion picture film formats. Film remains an important creative choice for filmmakers, and the company continues to produce billions of feet of motion picture film every year….”
I grew up with film, I love 70mm, adore IMAX 15-perf, but I try to keep an open mind when it comes to how movies are made.
Recent productions such as Skyfall, Prisoners and Her have been stunning examples of skilled cinematographers (Roger Deakins and Hoyte van Hoytema) wielding artist-friendly digital image cameras, such as the Arri Alexa. For filmmakers Peter Jackson, James Cameron and David Fincher, the RED camera system — a loaf-of-bread-sized Lego brick of tech – has offered depth-of-field, high-frame-rates and stereographic options unfeasible on film. And then there are Hugo, Life of Pi and Gravity, Oscar-winners for cinematographers Robert Richardson, Claudio Miranda and Emmanuel Lubezki, whose digital imagery was fused at a genetic level with visual effects. I’ve been moved and awed by all of the above, regardless of their format.
Film still has its place. Fine-grain motion picture film is, from most accounts, still unbeatable for fidelity and longevity in archival purposes. But more frequently, the word ‘filming’ is misapplied, used generically like ‘Kleenex’ by folks who wave their cel phone cameras around when little Billy takes his first steps, or by doofuses at rock concert venues.
I try to pick my words more carefully at Cinefex, so I made sure to address the topic of format while covering The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which I was intrigued to hear chose to shoot on film. As visual effects supervisor Jerome Chen explained:
A: I hadn’t done a movie on film for quite a few years.
Q: May I ask why did director Marc Webb choose to shoot on film this time? On the last Spidey film he didn’t, and I remember you mentioned it was quite a learning curve for you, back then, coming to grips with the very wide dynamic range of the RED cameras, particularly in the nighttime photography.
A: Well one of the main reasons is Dan Mindel, the cinematographer; he loves film, and Marc loves film. We all talked about it and we felt like, who knows, maybe this will be the last time we get to make a movie on film? Because back then, when we were starting preproduction, everything was going digital. We now appear to be in what we hope is a renaissance. Star Wars is shooting on film — and again a lot of that is probably coming from Dan, who is also shooting Star Wars now for J.J. Abrams on anamorphic 35mm and 65mm IMAX. Dan really is a great collaborator.
Have other moviemakers, or slap-happy media journalists given film a premature burial? Is photochemical filmmaking an anachronism? Or is there a beauty to this century-old technology that digital imaging will never capture?
Cartoon copyright © John Van Vliet, used with permission. ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Her’ copyright © Warner Bros. Pictures. Thanks to John, Jerome Chen, Daniel Mindel and to Judy Doherty at Panavision.