According to the October issue of HDVideoPro magazine (one of my favorites) film is dead. Recently, some of the biggest blockbuster films, including the newest Bond film, SKYFALL, Peter Jackson’s THE HOBBIT as well as the AMAZING SPIDERMAN have been shot digitally. Using either the RED camera or the ARRI Alexa has become the standard for shooting many feature films and television shows. It simply looks like it’s time to accept that digital age has taken over. And I say… bring it on!
When I was mainly working as an actor, I remember one of my favorite high pressure moments came when the director would yell ‘action’. I always feel this surge of energy when that word is called out. But it often started when the AD would yell ‘roll sound” then ‘roll camera’. Hearing the film speed through the sprockets at 24fps added such a finality to the moment, simply knowing that it was already capturing images before the action began. There’s such a finality to film, in the sense that is an organic piece of matter that is actually being exposed. It’s not a digital file that can be transferred or deleted easily. It actually had to be exposed to capture the image-and it had to be exposed properly.
To continue on the acting experience side of my work, I will also miss the moment of ‘check the gate!’ There was always such pressure and excitement around that moment. I remember years ago one of my favorite acting teachers, Amy Lyndon, told a story of her shooting a very dramatic scene on a film. She had a large monologue and nailed it on the first take (tears and all). The director yelled “check the gate” and, low and behold, there was a hair in the gate. She had to do it again. Pulling from her stellar technique and years of experience she was able to do it once more and this time all was in the clear. But there was always something so exciting about the checking of the gate-it added such a finality to the moment, raised the stakes of the process, and made you feel like you were a part of something big.
I remember when I first started working behind the camera, mainly in post production but I also found myself shooting a lot of Mini-DV, as I had the hit camera of the time, the Sony VX1000. My wife (then girlfriend) was attending film school at Loyola Marymount University and I became fascinated by everything she was doing (truth be told, I always loved moviemaking-since I was a kid). I helped her on her Super 8 films (which she edited without any magnification on an old splicer!). I also attended her sessions in the flatbed edit bay where she worked tirelessly putting together an edit of the old TV series GUNSMOKE for an assignment. I loved being around the film, seeing it, feeling it, it was like creativity in organic form.
Later, I worked as an Associate Editor on a beautiful film called FINDING HOME. It was shot on Super 35mm and it was quite the experience. Because we were on a 30 frame AVID system we had this terrible process, that some may remember, called matchback-where the system creates Edit Decision Lists for the Negative Cutter and conforms the 30fps video to 24fps film (and the negative cutter is another casualty of the digital age-an entire job that will soon be nonexistent). What I loved, though, is that this is really where I learned the importance of a single frame. Rather than allowing the program to decide what frames to drop, in order to keep the sound in sync, the Director and I chose the frames. It was exhausting but worth it to really learn how much a single frame matters.
On FINDING HOME I also had the pleasure of cutting actual film for my first and only time. I learned a lot in the process. We had a tremendous amount of obstacles on the film and, in order to make sure everything was in sync, we opted to start printing film and cutting in the film opticals for the sound mix-yep they actually projected the film reels to do the final audio mix.
Some other things I’ll miss about actually dealing with film have sort of been transferred over to the digital world. Although I never worked as a Camera Assistant, I always had such respect for the changing of the magazine. I found that entire process to have such pressure. And the limitations of time on the magazine also added some pressure. I sort of feel like this is similar to changing your memory card, although not nearly as time consuming. I will say there is some pressure with the data transfer as well-once you wipe the card, that’s it.
There’s so much I could write about film but I think it’s important that, as media creators, filmmakers, storytellers, we remember that this is where it all started. Film will continue to be the aesthetic that we try to mimic in the digital age. And, although images will continue to get clearer (4k to 8k and beyond) what really matters is what we capture, what we are trying to tell. It’s all part of the process of telling the story and making the audience feel something-and regardless of technology, that is what really matters.