Filmmaking without the ‘Film’

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Why shoot laboriously on film when you can achieve a similar look digitally and without all the added hassle of medium time constraints? This is a question pegged by many in the ever-changing filmmaking world.

For San Diego State University’s Film Department, the film camera is no more. The 16mm cameras have been locked up in storage and the Sony F-3 digital cameras are the students’ futures, so says the faculty.

With modern, technically advanced cameras on the market like the Red Epic, Arri Alexa, the Phantom, and the F-3 paired with the benefits of 5K resolution, high speed frame rates, and grain that tries to mimic that of film, it’s not a huge surprise that shooting on the once revered 35mm format is declining.

However, it’s worth considering what these students might be missing out on. Sure, shooting on film is expensive, time consuming, and you always run the risk of improper exposure, but raising an entire generation of filmmakers without the background knowledge and experience upon which their industry was built, could be a mistake.

Beloved whimsical director Wes Anderson defies the changes that are occurring and continues to shoot on film. His Moonrise Kingdom (2012) was on 16mm film and achieved great success. Most of his films have been shot on film including his upcoming film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) shot on 35mm.

What does that mean for the modern filmmaker – the once industry standard or innovative technology? Mature and wise or fast and groundbreaking? Can there be a middle ground?

p-2Derek Cianfrance seems to think so. Director Cianfrance shot Blue Valentine (2010) half on Super 16mm for the falling in love part of the story and the other half digitally for the falling out part. He explains that, “it was because of the electronic medium that I was able to erode that [feeling] and break it down. I like [it] for that kind of ‘surveillance’ thing and for more modern stories.”

Cianfrance is an example of a filmmaker who sees the benefits of both worlds and how they can potentially be utilized together. Ideally, it would be worthwhile if the current and future generations of filmmakers could have the experience of shooting digitally as well as with film and in turn also have this choice.

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