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35mm vs. Digital video


Benson Marks
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Paul, if you're telling me to study Steven Soderburgh, why didn't you just say so?

 

Same guy; two movies. One shot in film. One shot on a Canon XL1 PAL. Both efforts to address issues of real life in a realistic and mostly natural approach.

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Another film to look to mind; Rocky Balboa. Local Philly actors for some parts, mostly locations, and some very nice night photography of my little city. Not to mention, Rocky became so linked to Philadelphia we built a statue to him. Actually the girl from the bar scene, the younger one, lived around the corner from the set... and yes, some people in Philly sound like that.

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I'm grateful for the advice you guys are giving me, but I think it's time we go back to the main subject, which was, which format is better for movies with that kind of style? Digital video (MiniDV, HDV, etc.) or 35mm film? I like the advice, but I think this kind of stuff should be saved for another forum. For now, the question is which camera format to go for.

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Realism, Naturalism? How about a different slant...

 

To my esthetic sense black and white movies somehow can appear much more "real". Well shot and with great art direction there's something about black and white that tunnels under my "critic" radar. It may be that eliminating the emotional aspect of color focuses my attention better on the emotional content of the film. The best example that comes readily to mind is Woody Allen's "Manhattan". (It certainly didn't hurt to have Gordon Willis shoot that film...on 35mm).

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The reason you are getting so many different types of answers is because there is no definitive answer for your question. There is absolutely no manual, whether it be written or not, that says "for Naturalism, realism, etc.., it is best to shoot with X and for over the top sensationalism it is best to shoot with Y." Filmmaking is more nuanced than that. This is why it continues to be enjoyable. There are not supposed to be autopilot decisions when being creative. You are asking a question that has no answer, and that is a good thing. It's sort of like asking what is the meaning of life? Would any person's "definitive" answer truly be satisfying or not debatable?

 

You find your visual style (including your format choice) in your story and it's on a story by story basis, not some overarching concept of Realism, Naturalism, etc... People have responded to your question with things other than the acquisition medium, such as lighting, acting, directing, etc... and you continually tell people to stay on topic. I can understand your desire to do that, but there is a reason people are leaning away from the topic. It is because format is not necessarily the most important thing. I'm not sure what answer you are looking for. Do you want someone to say "X is better for this than Y?" I certainly will not give you an answer like that because I would be doing you a disservice.

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Realism, Naturalism? How about a different slant...

 

To my esthetic sense black and white movies somehow can appear much more "real". Well shot and with great art direction there's something about black and white that tunnels under my "critic" radar. It may be that eliminating the emotional aspect of color focuses my attention better on the emotional content of the film. The best example that comes readily to mind is Woody Allen's "Manhattan". (It certainly didn't hurt to have Gordon Willis shoot that film...on 35mm).

 

I respect your opinion, Hal, but I really don't think my vision for movies is quite the same as yours. I think my definition of Realism fits Wikipedia's article, titled "Realism (arts)." The main section, I think, pretty much says what realism was intended to be.

 

"Realism is the depiction of things as they appear in everyday life, without embellishment or interpretation. Realism can also be described as a work of art that, in revealing a truth, may emphasize the ugly or sordid.

 

Realism often refers to the artistic movement, which began in France in the 1850s. The popularity of Realism grew with the introduction of photography, a new visual source that created a desire for people to produce things that look "objectively real." Realists positioned themselves against romanticism, a genre dominating french literature and artwork back in the late 18th and early 19th century. Undistorted by personal bias, Realism believed in the ideology of objective reality and revolted against exaggerated emotionalism. Truth and accuracy became the goal of many Realists."

 

Again, I respect your opinion. If you think B&W makes a movie more realistic, then that's fine. For me, however, this states that Realism is about truth and accuracy rather than aesthetics, so, as I see it, it's probably a better idea to use color in my style rather than B&W. But everybody could look at this same article and get a different opinion about it, too. I just prefer my movies to be precisely accurate rather than precisely aesthetic.

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The reason you are getting so many different types of answers is because there is no definitive answer for your question. There is absolutely no manual, whether it be written or not, that says "for Naturalism, realism, etc.., it is best to shoot with X and for over the top sensationalism it is best to shoot with Y." Filmmaking is more nuanced than that. This is why it continues to be enjoyable. There are not supposed to be autopilot decisions when being creative. You are asking a question that has no answer, and that is a good thing. It's sort of like asking what is the meaning of life? Would any person's "definitive" answer truly be satisfying or not debatable?

 

You find your visual style (including your format choice) in your story and it's on a story by story basis, not some overarching concept of Realism, Naturalism, etc... People have responded to your question with things other than the acquisition medium, such as lighting, acting, directing, etc... and you continually tell people to stay on topic. I can understand your desire to do that, but there is a reason people are leaning away from the topic. It is because format is not necessarily the most important thing. I'm not sure what answer you are looking for. Do you want someone to say "X is better for this than Y?" I certainly will not give you an answer like that because I would be doing you a disservice.

 

Yes, I certainly would like someone to say "X is better for this than Y," but you do make some good points. I think I'll chew on this a bit.

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After thinking about all this, and getting so many contradictory answers, I decided to answer this question by myself. Let's look at the basics of both and see which one is more realistic.

 

Lighting:

 

Film captures about 50 percent of what the human eye sees, and Digital video captures even less than that.

 

The winner: Film

 

Appearance and Look:

 

Film has a grainy and soft appearance. This appearance is common since it gives the movie a more theatrical look. However, digital video has a sharper and clearer look that appears more natural than film, Although the contrast looks a tad high.

 

The winner: Digital video

 

Color:

 

Digital video uses millions of different pixels that are red, green, and blue, just like our eyes. Film, on the other hand, uses four different layers of yellow, cyan, and magenta. The fourth layer is for balancing blacks and whites.

 

The winner: Digital video

 

Widescreen:

 

I believe a true widescreen image is probably closest to what our eyes see, not those formats where you matte the image like Super 35. Some digital video cameras have a true 16:9 widescreen format which would probably be good. On the 35mm side, anamorphic comes as the best format on 35mm.

 

The winner: None (Though anamorphic is much more expensive.)

 

Portability:

 

The more portable a format is, the better and more natural camera movement will be. Digital video can be quite small. Even some prosumer-level camcorders can be a lot smaller than a big 35mm camera.

 

The winner: Obviously, digital video

 

Clarity:

 

Clarity is a big issue because the clearer the image is, the more natural it will be. The best quality image you can get out of a digital video camera is 1,080 lines of resolution, the same as the clearest HDTVs today. The anamorphic format has the largest negative of all formats. In fact, it's still far ahead of HDTV.

 

The winner: Film (That is, if you're shooting anamorphic)

 

Looking at all this, I think digital video is probably more realistic than film, though lighting would be the hardest part to work on.

 

Any complaints?

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Film probably captures much more color than video. . .as there is no compression going on there, and definitively more nuanced color than video. Each film frame is unique, and the sum of all that uniqueness is better handling of color and light, i would argue.

Film is much more portable than proper HD as well as well as much more ergonomic giving much more fluid motion.... the HD that is palm sized is heavily compressed, and I mean heavily compressed, and will cause issues on set.

Anamorphic is not the largest format, IMAX or 65mm is. Off hand I forget which one is.

If you include Digital Cinema in Digital Video, the frame can be 4K in pixels.

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Film probably captures much more color than video. . .as there is no compression going on there, and definitively more nuanced color than video. Each film frame is unique, and the sum of all that uniqueness is better handling of color and light, i would argue.

Film is much more portable than proper HD as well as well as much more ergonomic giving much more fluid motion.... the HD that is palm sized is heavily compressed, and I mean heavily compressed, and will cause issues on set.

Anamorphic is not the largest format, IMAX or 65mm is. Off hand I forget which one is.

If you include Digital Cinema in Digital Video, the frame can be 4K in pixels.

 

OK, that is a good point. Digital video does give out more compression than film (In fact, film doesn't have any, as far as I know), but I could argue that 35mm is still not as compact. Compression is a different issue and it doesn't excuse the fact that video cameras are smaller than film cameras.

 

On the color issue, again, compression is a different issue. Here's the problem, colors are less accurate on film because it doesn't use an RGB process like video does. Film uses yellow, cyan, and magenta in order to give out color, so even if film gives out more color, the color is still not necessarily accurate.

 

As for anamorphic, I meant that it's the largest 35mm film format, not THE largest film format (And yes, I do know IMAX and those large formats). Alright, I did make a gaffe on that post, but I'm sure people would've understood what I meant.

 

Again, you made a good point on the compression issue, so I admit, I should've had that on the post (and yes, film would obviously win).

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The reason you are getting so many different types of answers is because there is no definitive answer for your question. There is absolutely no manual, whether it be written or not, that says "for Naturalism, realism, etc.., it is best to shoot with X and for over the top sensationalism it is best to shoot with Y." Filmmaking is more nuanced than that. This is why it continues to be enjoyable. There are not supposed to be autopilot decisions when being creative. You are asking a question that has no answer, and that is a good thing. It's sort of like asking what is the meaning of life? Would any person's "definitive" answer truly be satisfying or not debatable?

 

You find your visual style (including your format choice) in your story and it's on a story by story basis, not some overarching concept of Realism, Naturalism, etc... People have responded to your question with things other than the acquisition medium, such as lighting, acting, directing, etc... and you continually tell people to stay on topic. I can understand your desire to do that, but there is a reason people are leaning away from the topic. It is because format is not necessarily the most important thing. I'm not sure what answer you are looking for. Do you want someone to say "X is better for this than Y?" I certainly will not give you an answer like that because I would be doing you a disservice.

 

I think Benson's leading us around by the nose.

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Any complaints?

 

Yeah. I think you're mostly wrong.

 

But back to your post. I think you're confusing realism with naturalism.

 

Even if you're shooting on video, you still make decisions about how to frame, where to frame, what to show, what not to show.

 

Have you made films before ? Have you shot on film or video before ?

 

why don't you try making two shorts. One on film, one on Video and then work it out....make sure you get back to us....

 

jb

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Check out showscan. There were experiments done with it to create extreme "realism"

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Showscan

 

Our perception of "realism" in cinema changes with each generation. How about the film over 100 years ago of the train coming toward the camera. The legend is that people thought the grainy, black and white image of the train was a real train coming at them and people started running. I have also heard that this is not a true story. Regardless, films like these were very realistic for their time. Something that is considered "realistic" today could be deemed over the top by future generations.

 

I am glad that you are trying to answer the question yourself, as it is a very subjective thing. I still feel that you are trying to come to some sort of objective conclusion about artistic decisions. Don't take this the wrong way, but this could lead to you being a difficult director to work with in terms of discussing creative, open ended things with a cinematographer. But I'm sure you do not want to be that way. I hope you will stay open minded and flexible as you gain more knowledge and skill.

 

If you want objective information about which is more realistic, film or digital, I would recommend you look at both mediums in a different way. Let me explain. Film and Digital are simply tools. Neither is inherently better or worse, just different, with different characteristics. So do some extensive research on film characteristics, both 35mm and 16mm. What are their dynamic ranges. Exactly how clear or how sharp are they. How do they handle color. How do they handle depth of field? How do you subjectively feel about how different film stocks handle certain situations? Not every film stock is the same. Film does not have one inherent look. Basically figure out what film can and cannot do. And make sure you are accurate about these findings. Do the same evaluations for video and digital cinema cameras. Do as much as you can, and get the best information possible. If possible, shoot tests, lots of them. When you have a solid understanding of the characteristics of the different formats, you will have this information at your disposal when you are ready to shoot a script.

 

When you have a deep understanding of your story and what you want to say this will inspire your visual approach. If that approach happens to be "realism," it will be a realism that you will understand deeply and be able to better communicate. You will now be able to be very specific about the visuals. Once you know what the film needs to look like, you can start thinking about how you can achieve that look. Among other things like lighting and production design, you will now need to decide on a shooting medium that will fulfill your requirements for the "realism" that you have discovered from the story. Since you will have already acquired all of that technical knowledge beforehand about digital and film, you can now pick the medium that has the characteristics that suit your story.

 

This way, you are holding true to the specific story and letting it organically lead you to your medium rather than deciding on format based on a general philosophy about realism and imposing it on every story. This would be like a filmmaker having a preference for extremely blue images and making every movie appear super blue regardless of the story.

 

Some directors might say "research every single camera and film stock? This is way too much of an investment of a director's time." I actually agree, this is why a Cinematographer is so vital to a film. All you really need to have is a deep understanding of what you want to achieve. Let the Cinematographer figure out how to achieve it (including which medium to shoot on. You don't have to be completely out of the loop, all I am saying is that in this aspect, the Cinematographer can help you out tremendously)

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Yeah. I think you're mostly wrong.

 

But back to your post. I think you're confusing realism with naturalism.

 

Even if you're shooting on video, you still make decisions about how to frame, where to frame, what to show, what not to show.

 

Have you made films before ? Have you shot on film or video before ?

 

why don't you try making two shorts. One on film, one on Video and then work it out....make sure you get back to us....

 

jb

 

No, I haven't made anything yet(In fact, I'm more interested in being a writer/director, not a producer, so the closest I'm gonna get with making anything is writing scripts). No, I haven't shot on film or video before (Except with home movies).

 

And finally, no, I won't make shorts. Why? Nobody buys shorts! Go ahead, call me mad as Howard Beale, but I will not take this shorts route anymore! If you're going to make movies, make movies. Period.

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Now to Andrew's post. That showscan read was very interesting. Too bad showscan went under chapter 7 bankruptcy :(

 

You may be right. I am taking this a little too objectively (Hey, I mean, I just want to make the best decisions. Isn't that partly what a director does?). Here's the problem though, as much as I would like to study these two different mediums, I can't afford to buy, let alone, rent one of these cameras. So if I can't get my hands on one of these cameras, how do I research these two different mediums anyway?

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It depends a bit on where you live. If you live in Los Angeles there are tons of ways to learn about film and digital with little or no money. There are rental houses in many major cities where you can look at these cameras. There are seminars where people discuss these things. The internet is a great resource, especially this site. Any time a term appears on this site that you don't understand, look it up. There are hundreds of books out there. There is a whole section on book recommendations on this website. There are so many resources out there. Take advantage of the ones that are available to you and work toward accessing the ones that are not currently available so that you can benefit from them in the future. Try to get some experience shooting film. If you can't afford to rent 16mm, try practicing with 35mm slide film. Basically what I am saying is that since you are a student, now is a great time to learn as much as you can about filmmaking. If there is stuff that you don't have access to, you can still learn about what is out there. This stuff takes time and doesn't necessarily have to be learned all at once.

 

Of course the majority of what I just said is stuff directly related to Cinematography. This is stuff a cinematographer must know. For you as a director, I don't think you need to know all of this stuff in as much detail, so don't go to nuts about it. I just mentioned all of this so that if you really wanted this kind of knowledge, you could go for it, but it might just be a distraction from developing your skills as a director. You are absolutely right that it the Director's job to make good decisions. A huge component of that is the personal he/she hires. A good director will find a good cinematographer and the two can work together to effectively bring the vision to the screen. Your job is to know your story deeply. Communicate that story well. It is the cinematographer's job to research and test the various mediums available for shooting. They will have this information for you and can advise you. You do not need to do this yourself. You will be too busy working on casting, working with other departments.

 

But since you are a student, I think you should have a basic working knowledge of filmmaking mechanics. You need to learn about shot sizes and focal lengths. I would also recommend doing some work on sets as a grip, electric, camera assistant, etc... so you can understand what the crew has to go through. It will help you to relate to the crew better when you are working as a director.

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I think my definition of Realism fits Wikipedia's article, titled "Realism (arts)." The main section, I think, pretty much says what realism was intended to be.

 

"Realism is the depiction of things as they appear in everyday life, without embellishment or interpretation. Realism can also be described as a work of art that, in revealing a truth, may emphasize the ugly or sordid.

 

Okay, so that's what your aiming for. And how does the tool (camera and lens) and medium (film or digital) tie into that? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it doesn't.

 

All the qualities that you've compared between film and digital video are irrelevant. Realism in the classical sense wasn't defined by how big the canvas was, or what shape it was, neither was it defined by what type or how many colours the artist used. In the same way 'realism' in cinematography (and to a greater degree filmmaking as a whole) isn't defined by how big the imaging area is, what aspect ratio it is or what colour space and how many millions of colours are used.

 

The tool and the medium have nothing to do with depicting 'realism'.

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Thanks for the advice, Andrew. I think I'll start with asking about the shot sizes and focus lengths in another forum on this website. I think it would be a good start.

 

As for Will, I think you just hit the nail on the head. Basically, you're saying that Realism is an artform, just like any other type of artform, and what really matters is that the artistry is what makes the movie realistic, not the technical stuff (Although that does matter, too.). Good point.

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I am interested in making films that use realism as an artform. With this in mind, which of the two formats do you believe would be better for movies that use that kind of style?

 

I'm thinking digital, mainly because the sharp quality tends to show blemishes and wrinkles, which would be more like everyday life.

 

Whatever your opinion is, please post it. It would be greatly appreciated.

 

Thanks!

Boy, 35-mm film and binary numeric (digital) "film" are not two formats but different technology for the production of movies. Take the lightest 35-mm motion-picture film camera, let's say the Arriflex 235 for a moment, it weighs around eight pound, and compare it to a state-of-the-art digital movie camera, you cannot say: winner-loser. Compare the Mitchell BNC to the RED or even the beamsplitting Technicolor camera within blimp to Arri D-21: it's entirely different boats. You are raising the subject of film realism. Just think of having either a brush in your hand with which you're going to apply wet paint or having an air-brush pistol out of which comes a spray. Realism ?

 

The art form is given by your personal standpoint or view towards the world. Why make a movie ? To fulfill a style program ?

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Boy, 35-mm film and binary numeric (digital) "film" are not two formats but different technology for the production of movies. Take the lightest 35-mm motion-picture film camera, let's say the Arriflex 235 for a moment, it weighs around eight pound, and compare it to a state-of-the-art digital movie camera, you cannot say: winner-loser. Compare the Mitchell BNC to the RED or even the beamsplitting Technicolor camera within blimp to Arri D-21: it's entirely different boats. You are raising the subject of film realism. Just think of having either a brush in your hand with which you're going to apply wet paint or having an air-brush pistol out of which comes a spray. Realism ?

 

The art form is given by your personal standpoint or view towards the world. Why make a movie ? To fulfill a style program ?

 

Good point, Simon, but what do you mean that the art form I'm trying to convey is given by my view of the world anyhow? I don't necessarily understand that.

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O. K. (Otto Kaiser, final checker with Ford Automobiles), kannst du dir vorstellen, can you imagine that someone like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or Vincent van Gogh or Sonja Delaunay has had an idea of how society should be or could be. Joseph Stalin for sure had an idea about life, hadn't he ? Where are you, that is the question. Uhm, republican, democrat, socialist, communist, opportunist, philatelist, anarchist, anti-anti-reformist, uhm, Marksist . . .

 

I feel that you literally fall into people. You don't have your own ground to stand upon, yet. That's no shame, millions behave like this. I am pushing you back and am doing this with a helping hand. Teaming, yes, teasing, no. That's where I am today.

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O. K. (Otto Kaiser, final checker with Ford Automobiles), kannst du dir vorstellen, can you imagine that someone like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec or Vincent van Gogh or Sonja Delaunay has had an idea of how society should be or could be. Joseph Stalin for sure had an idea about life, hadn't he ? Where are you, that is the question. Uhm, republican, democrat, socialist, communist, opportunist, philatelist, anarchist, anti-anti-reformist, uhm, Marksist . . .

 

I feel that you literally fall into people. You don't have your own ground to stand upon, yet. That's no shame, millions behave like this. I am pushing you back and am doing this with a helping hand. Teaming, yes, teasing, no. That's where I am today.

 

I think that makes more sense. So, basically, it's all about your idea of what life is. That's what I'm getting at.

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And finally, no, I won't make shorts. Why? Nobody buys shorts! Go ahead, call me mad as Howard Beale, but I will not take this shorts route anymore! If you're going to make movies, make movies. Period.

 

 

Maybe people make shorts to practise their *craft* ? Seeing as you've never directed anything do you expect to be able to walk straight onto a feature film and direct ?

 

jb

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Maybe people make shorts to practise their *craft* ? Seeing as you've never directed anything do you expect to be able to walk straight onto a feature film and direct ?

 

jb

 

News flash for John: Filmmaking is a BUSINESS!!!!!

 

I don't have the time to explain why, but quite honestly, if nobody buys a short film, you're gonna have a hard time making it into the business because Hollywood only wants something that will sell. Shorts are too short and no studio is going to buy those. Besides, I'd be wasting money on 10-30 minute shorts nobodys going to see, which would mean I'd never make it into the business (and thus, ruining my dream too.). And besides, I'm better at 90-120 minute ideas than 20 minute ones. Another reason out of many I'm not doing shorts.

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