Jump to content
Joel Mark Hamilton Ramsbottom

Film Cinematography Process beginning to end

Recommended Posts



I'm sure this post is trying to cover a very broad topic.


I want to learn more about workflow with film cameras.


I would like to know what film cameras (which will hold up a cinematic image, rather than quirky indie styles) are available to the enthusiast such as much myself.


How to operate and use one and everything else required to do this, what film stock to use, ect.


And then I guess how to professionally digitize the film? An arbitrary extension to this, what is the digital format film is stored in? For example, what would Christopher Nolan do with I Max film, scan in all into raw files and edit it from there ??


Is this possible for one man to do on a small scale?


I've formed this post on my limited knowledge so far in cinematography with film. I'm looking for some guidance here to aid my investigation so any input to inform anything I can take from this post will be very much appreciated.


Many thanks,









I haven't found an all encompassing resource yet.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Any 35mm camera made in the past, say, 40 years, well maintained will give you a cinematic image.

Film stock choice comes down to reality (e.g. you wouldn't use 50D for night exts nor would you really use 500t for day exts) as well as aesthetic choices (for example, using Fuji F64 for Day Ints, back when that was a thing).

Operation of a film camera is load mag, load mag to camera, light and meter your scene, find focus points (if camera/subject moving) and then slate in, roll sound, call shot, roll camera, clap slate, and then cut at the end. If it was a good take, circle it (for editing later), before moving on, check the film gate to make sure there's no hair in it (rare most of the time).

Later film goes for development and generally "prep for telecine" film is scanned at lower res, often 1080p these days to prores or whatever, sometimes as a flat scan, sometimes with corrections applied (one light for just correcting the FIRST shot of the roll or best light for going scene to scene or sometimes with a certain look). Sound could be synced in the telecine, or you can do it later on.

You edit, then you go back and rescan the film to DPX files, generally, super high quality and expensive. Then this new master is given it's proper color correction for every single shot in use and married with the finished sound design, score, and and Fxs (most FXs will be coming in during your editorial and spliced in). Then you either shoot it out to a DCP (digital) or a film scanner.

That's a nutshell of "normal ish" digital finish for a film.

If you do it optically then instead of scanning you're making workprints and then physically cutting and pasting them together with sound on a flatbead editor and then getting a neg cutter to go back and cut your camera original negative and assemble it as you edited it off of the work prints very carefully and then this is put onto inter-positives from which you make new inter-negatives and then print those in a film printer onto print film.

And yes, it's VERY expensive.

The camera are cheaper to rent these days; but the lenses still cost a ton and you're talking money per EVERY SECOND THE CAMERA IS GOING.

My best advice is to NOT worry about hollywood things at present, buy a cheap-er bolex, or some other kind of 16mm camera, pick up some black and white reversal film, shoot and get a projector and project it (after development) and you'll learn how film "works" you can also then use the cheaper 16mm film reversal and have it digitized cheaply and play with editing and making little movies. Rinse repeat for years and each time try to push a little further into "pro" territory-- use Neg film, then color neg, then shoot sync sound, then edit all that, then eventually ask for a print to be made to 16mm and project that etc etc etc.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah if you're going for as cheap as possible for cinematic image, I've noticed low ASA 16mm looks just as good if not better than Arri Alexa footage (provided you're using a higher end 16 camera that maintains a stable image).

The place I've seen everyone shout out here is CineLabs in the Boston area for processing and scanning.


Now the big question is: how much are you shooting?


If it's just a bit you'll find film to be very cost effective. I started shooting still 35mm and have been very impressed with how I can get a high quality full frame image for less than $100.


But you want cinema, not stills. You'll find some premiere 16 cameras like Arri or Aaton only run like $2000-$4000 (or rent for 1/10th of the price), however the film itself is where the real prices come in. Use this link to determine how much feet of film you'll need: https://www.kodak.com/motion/tools/film_calculator/default.htm


So once you get all of that, then process and scan the footage... you might be looking at close to $10,000 (again, depending on the length).

By the way, the Arri Alexa I mentioned in the first line of this post only goes for $9000 on eBay now... https://shotonwhat.com/cameras/arri-alexa-camera


Film is for rich guys and corporations covering the budget, don't let anyone tell you any different.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Well few things...

First off, if you're just starting out with film, I suggest buying a still camera and learning how to shoot and expose properly. The cameras are cheap, the film is cheap, the processing/printing ain't bad either. Once you understand the basics, then you can move on to shooting on motion picture film. A camera will run you $100 dollars, stock is around $12 and processing for that 36 exposure roll can be upwards of $50 with prints.

Second, I wouldn't worry about how things were done in the past because frankly, you're going to use the modern workflow. Yes I agree with Adrian, I would acquire an inexpensive 16mm camera like a Bolex and an inexpensive 16mm projector like a Kodak Pageant (easy to find, expensive and bullet proof). Then I'd go out with a simple mechanical light meter and your camera to shoot some film. Process and strike a print from what you make and then project it.

The cost to get setup with this equipment would be = $600 - $1000 for the camera, $250 - $400 for a working projector and $80 for a light meter. Film for that camera is around .38/ft (foot), processing is around .18/ft and making a print is around .50/ft, transferring to video is around .50/ft. With 16mm, it takes around 36ft to = one minute of run time. So you can do the math and figure out how much the price of admission would cost. Remember the camera I suggest takes 100ft rolls of film, so that's around 2.5 minutes of run time. This is also "retail" pricing, if you're a student you can get lower pricing for sure.

So today, nearly everyone does a "digital" finish. Original camera negative is transferred through a telecine, which is a film transport movement that slides the film across a video camera at real time speed (many are actually Kodak CCD driven funny enough) and frame samples are taken of each frame as it goes by. Those frames are converted into digital data and either sent to an external recorder or today, stored as digital files, usually a format called DPX first, then transcoded into a format more suitable for client playback (Pro Res, DNX, etc). These machines give a perfectly decent quality capture of your film for editing purposes. Once the film is edited, generally films will then be scanned, which is much slower process that creates complete RGB profiles of each frame. This allows the colorist to manipulate the image much more in post then the image coming off a telecine. It also delivers higher quality image because generally the modern imagers have higher dynamic range and resolution then a telecine would. It's quite common for 35mm features to be scanned at 6k and finished at 4k for example.

Here is a quick workflow breakdown of the film process:

- Original Camera Negative (OCN) is shot on set and delivered to lab with set audio
- Film is processed and prepped/cleaned for telecine
- Film is transferred via telecine and automatically synched with audio using the timecode slate
- Dailies are sent to the post production house for editing

- In some cases, one light prints are struck from OCN for viewing purposes. This is quite common for Christopher Nolan movies.


( This process will happen the same way until the film has finished post production. Generally film is sent once a day because labs don't process 24/hrs a day anymore like they did in the past)


The next process is different for digital post and film post.




- The OCN will be conformed/cut using keycode numbers on the edge of the film, to match the digital edit of the movie.

- Any visual effects shots will be lasered back to film and inserted into the cut negative of each reel.

- A print will be struck from the cut OCN to insure it matches the digital edit.

- The cut OCN will then be scanned into the computer for the digital releases.

- The OCN print (answer print) will then be screened and minor color changes made to it. These changes are written onto ticker tape which is fed into printer.

- The OCN will be threaded up along with interpositive stock and a colored IP will be made. This will be the (protection) element for the camera negative as it's only one generation removed.

- The IP will be threaded up with the soundtrack elements and an internegative will be made with those elements. These (IN's) will be used to strike theatrical prints from.

- Prints are struck and shipped to theaters on 20min rolls and then re-assembled at theaters onto a platter for continuous playback.


In some cases, the original camera negative will be used to strike limited release prints as well. With films like Dunkirk, all of the 5 perf 70mm prints were struck from the original camera negative. Since there aren't so many 70mm prints being made, generally 70mm prints are made from the OCN.




- The select finished shots from the OCN will be scanned.

- The EDL (AAF/OMF) will be put into the coloring software and everything will be re-linked to the newly scanned media.

- The film will be colored, visual effects added and the finished audio will be added to the output.

- A DCP (digital cinema package) will be made and sent out to theaters


Until January 2014, movies were then lasered back out to 35mm film for theatrical runs. After January 2014, the currently entirely digital outside of the very rare releases who still have prints made for theaters who haven't converted to digital yet. There are only a hand full of movies each year printed to film sadly and that list gets smaller every year.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


The place I've seen everyone shout out here is CineLabs in the Boston area for processing and scanning.


I'm guessing OP is in the UK, not Tennessee.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites



Frame 24 sell stock and do all inclusive packages of stock, processing and digital scanning.


You'd probably be in the ball park of just over £200 for a 400' process paid roll of 16mm, which would run about 11 minutes


The also have clearance stock short ends or re-cans which can be cheaper.


I think film is very difficult to do on an enthusiasts budget, particularly if your shooting drama. You have to have a very specific reason to want to work on film.


Personally, I'd keep working on digital, since trying to do film on a shoestring is stressful and expansive. I'd only really work on film, when I'm not personally paying for the production and I can convince the client/funder its worthwhile. But when your starting out you can end up paying large sums for a film workflow, with minimal improvement on the final output.


I don't think its the case that film automatically looks better. For instance high 500 ASA Super 16 looks pretty grungy next to high end digital like the Alexa.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

All great advice here. It can be expensive, but don't let that put you off, the costs of film seem to preoccupy a lot of discussions around using film. Using film doesn't have to be expensive [like it's been already said here] it all depends on how much you shoot, what you shoot, is it drama, observational etc, is it colour or black and white and are you prepared to process and scan yourself. The main costs are film, processing and scanning, the equipment isn't that expensive, but lenses can be. You could get a basic 16mm camera, the best thing is to get any 16mm camera and shoot [as has been said], get the feel for film, you'd know if it's for you. If you're a student ask your college/university to run a film workshop.



Edited by Pavan Deep

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Just Cinema Gear

    Paralinx LLC

    Serious Gear

    FJS International

    Wooden Camera

    Rig Wheels Passport

    Tai Audio

    Media Blackout - Custom Cables and AKS

    G-Force Grips


    Visual Products

    Gamma Ray Digital Inc

    Abel Cine

    Broadcast Solutions Inc

    Metropolis Post


    Ritter Battery

    New Pro Video - New and Used Equipment

  • Create New...