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Stephen Perera

Is 16mm more 'filmic' and thus THE look of film now?

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In my opinion the look of 16mm Kodak film is the most unique look in movies......with DCP projection obviously.....and thus I would call it THE filmic look bar none.

 

....digital is nowhere near looking like 16mm as opposed to digital being used alongside 35mm in many films and more successfully copied by Arri Alexas etc with all the subsequent manipulation in post. I read it all the time in American Cinematographer how DPs want to mimic film look etc when not allowed to use film for whatever budget reasons etc.

 

For fun I watch movies and determine what they were shot on checking IMDB for confirmation.

 

To me Arri Alexa stuff all looks the same (big generalisation but I'm sure u know what I mean) and 35mm stands out to me with colour palette mainly plus the way highlights look....65mm I can't tell the difference in the small cinema screens where I come from and less still on my TV.....but 16mm screams out at me as unique and unmatched no matter how big or small the screen.

 

Don't pick out my generalisations and argue them but rather the spirit of the debate I am hoping to start.....

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With that last sentence, I'm not sure there will be a debate to start honestly :D I guess 16mm is the most unique simply because the grain is so present and thick, the image so soft that you can't mistake it for anything else if you're someone who has trouble determining what the format on a movie is. 35mm film for me is what I'd call THE film look even though no matter which film format, it'll be there.

 

I quite like 16mm but I don't love it nearly the same way I do 35mm, I love the density, grain structure (whether 2 perf, 3 perf, 4 perf super 35, anamorphic 35mm (my favorite) ), and texture of 35mm. I dig 65mm a lot as well but it tends to be too clean at times for me. I want to feel the texture, the grain, that veneer. 16mm can also look a bit too homemade film if not done right.

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Sure, by the logic that 16mm is more clearly film because it grainier and softer, then Super-8 is even more obviously the look of film!

 

There are degrees of subtlety in filmmaking in terms of the visibility of the process or technique, there isn't a one size fits all approach.

 

Though if anyone thinks that Stephen is being too single-minded, I think the general view of most filmmakers and viewers is that the "correct" way for movies to look is sharp, clean, saturated, technically perfect, etc., which I also think is a limited view of art. Surely a range of approaches is the most interesting.

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Maybe because this is a forum for camera people what there its much pixel peeping and love of this or that depending on what camera we own/use.. and want to justify .. myself included ... maybe we need a few directors to say the truth.. the camera work should never out shine the film... its there to serve it.. the audience shouldn't even notice it... my guess is the best DoP,s are the ones that can shoot to serve the story.. not add to their showreel or get plaudits from their peers .. nothing is better than anything else .. can you imagine The Blair Witch Project shot on Alexa 65 with techoncrane .. or Lawrence of Arabia shot on Hi 8 hand held..

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There are all kinds of movies and all kinds of audiences, so I don't think that every movie has to attempt an invisible technique that is completely subservient to acting and narrative -- there are movies that are more like visual tone poems at times, where at any moment, the music or the photography or the editing will step forward. This is why I think degrees of obviousness or subtlety are fine, it depends on the project. Some may just want the hint of grain to evoke an older period or time but working on almost a subliminal level.

 

I'd say though that the one problem with resolution / grain / diffusion, etc. is that the visibility is affected by viewing size and display resolution, and you can't shoot a movie with every possible viewing condition in mind. 35mm grain is visible in movie theater screens but really gets hard to see on some monitors. But even 16mm grain is hard to see on some iPads and iPhones... Not to mention UHD HDR presentations, where grain can be more aggressive-looking than in HD SDR.

 

It's also interesting sometimes to shoot in the opposite way of expectations, to shoot in interior drama in 65mm or 3D, let's say, but an epic war movie in handheld 16mm -- "Lawrence of Arabia" could have been shot in 16mm b&w in a documentary-style, more like Peter Watkins than David Lean; it would have been a completely different movie of course, and maybe less successful a way to shoot Robert Bolt's script, but it might have worked. Of course, it wouldn't make sense for a "found footage" movie like "Blair Witch Project" to have been shot in 65mm film.

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Sure Im not saying the camera work can't be unusual ,experimental, standout etc .. if it works for the film as a whole.. not an isolated element because we all want to make really amazing stunning images all the time.. a film like The Sheltering Sky.. was a tour de force of camera work.. but totally over powered the film.. every single frame could have been a poster.. everything in the end has to work for the film itself.. camera,acting,edit sound..the job is to serve the look the director wants.. so the idea of one best "filmic" look for everything is nuts IMHO.. I think Roger Deakins really personified this ethos ..when you read about how he deals with shooting a film from reading the script ..from massive rigs to one light..to night vision lenses ..

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Ohh a found footage movie shot on 65mm... hmmmm

 

"Filmmakers producing a large budget movie were found missing and within the 9 minute roll of camera negative will be the answers"

 

hahahahahah :P

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I love the look of 35mm 3perf cropped which is less grainy compared to 16mm but you can still feel the grain without it being obvious. My last short was shot 3perf on Kodak Vision 3 200T and scanned at 4k, then cropped top and bottom. There's a wonderful painterly feel to it and fits the kind of stories I'm interested in extremely well. Wish I could share a few stills but not sure how...

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I love the look of 35mm 3perf cropped which is less grainy compared to 16mm but you can still feel the grain without it being obvious. My last short was shot 3perf on Kodak Vision 3 200T and scanned at 4k, then cropped top and bottom. There's a wonderful painterly feel to it and fits the kind of stories I'm interested in extremely well. Wish I could share a few stills but not sure how...

I've shot stuff on 35mm that's grainless after scanned. There are a lot of variables from age of film stock, how fast you process the film and how you expose it. I generally like to over expose a tiny bit to help reduce it.

 

Ohh and if you put the images on dropbox you can share a link here to the folder.

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I've shot stuff on 35mm that's grainless after scanned. There are a lot of variables from age of film stock, how fast you process the film and how you expose it. I generally like to over expose a tiny bit to help reduce it.

 

Ohh and if you put the images on dropbox you can share a link here to the folder.

Thanks Tyler! Trying the drop box thing:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/kdet50qqbu7lnyu/From%20Life%20publicity%20still%203.jpg?dl=0

https://www.dropbox.com/s/6eskxal0gpt6zy4/From%20Life%20publicity%20still%202.jpg?dl=0

https://www.dropbox.com/s/r09vufyvk448icu/From%20Life%20publicity%20still.jpg?dl=0

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I think in film origination there's The Great Three that are right up there with keeping that 'real film look': Super 16, 2 perf, and 3 perf. Choose the one you're happiest working with. 4 perf Scope looks amazing too of course, though these days it's more difficult to tell even on the cinema screen if it's shot on film, or on an Alexa.

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Posted (edited)

"The Old Man and the Gun" was shot on 16mm because the director thought it looked more obviously like film than 35mm, which can be pretty sharp and not THAT far off from digital, depending on how it's shot.

 

https://nofilmschool.com/2018/09/david-lowery-directing-old-man-gun

 

I think what I'm looking for is something that does feel warm, handmade, like a blanket or a quilt. One of the ways to do that is to make sure that the film itself has a very intimate texture to it, a handmade texture. A great way to achieve that is to shoot on film, because it's got that warmth to it. It's got that life to it, that organic quality.

Now when you shoot on 35mm these days, the shots are so refined that its very easy to forget that you're looking at film on a conscious level. On a subconscious level, I do believe that you're always somewhat aware of it, but it's still closer to HD than it used to be, whereas 16mm stock now looks the way 35mm did in the 60s and 70s.

It made sense to shoot on Super 16mm to use as little resolution as possible so that grain really was an omnipresent factor in the aesthetic of the movie itself. It's part of the image that you're never going to get away from. That gives it that really lived-in, beautiful handmade quality that I'm always after in one way or another.

Edited by Ravi Kiran

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It's important to consider that 500asa 16mm specifically will often produce a distracting amount of grain for a lot of people, compared to switching to 200 or slower stocks. I think when someone says this or that was shot on 16mm, it can mean very different things depending on speed. In my own testing before a feature project, with new film and normal processing/2K scans, showed a very noticeable jump in most situations when using 500 stocks. The 50D stock looked a lot like 35mm in the color suite as far as grain went. A DP I know who saw it even asked me if we switched to 35 for those shots.

 

You can see the heavy grain in several larger features that went with mostly or all 500asa film and this can confuse what's possible with 16mm to the new-comer. If someone wants film's texture/color without the overly heavy grain, you can stay with 200asa 16mm assuming lighting isn't an issue (a horror movie set at night may not be economical) although I'm always surprised at how well the V3 200 stock does in just about all but dark conditions.

 

I also noticed a lot more grain issues with 500 speed film that was stored for a while, compared to slower stocks stored in the same (in a freezer) conditions so keep that in mind if you are dealing with short-ends, etc.

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It's a great look, but aspiring S16 filmmakers should go and see S16-shot films in the cinema as soon as possible to get a clear picture of what they look like in the initial exhibition (if they perhaps aspire to cinema release productions in any way, shape or form). Because I think it's fair to say S16 films look grainier on the big screen than on tv screens and monitors. Unless measures are made to reduce grain. And if that's the look you want, grainy or less so, then that's good. You have a clearer vision of what it is you're trying to achieve. Which is the path an artist walks.

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grain is beautiful to me.....its part of my 'visual life' and I will always associate it with the eras I have lived through watching big old cinema screens in my hometown....

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David, Love Witch, for example, for me you nailed the the technicolor thing....the saturation and contrast, brightly lit faces and scenes...the Vistavision vibe.....Im sure younger audiences related to it in different ways to older audiences....the former through Instagram filters looks for example and the older like myself the old Technicolor films.....Love Witch for me was certainly a 'visual tone poem' as you say.

 

Funnily enough I watched the first series of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel before I realised you were on it but for me that has what I call the Arri Alexa palette and look......

 

Have you seen Season 1 of the British series 'Call The Midwife' shot on Arriflex D-21, Cooke S4 and Angenieux Optimo Lenses (IMBD info) that's a lesson on how to diffuse sunlight if ever I saw one hahah and a huge 'tone poem' as you put it.....

 

There are all kinds of movies and all kinds of audiences, so I don't think that every movie has to attempt an invisible technique that is completely subservient to acting and narrative -- there are movies that are more like visual tone poems at times, where at any moment, the music or the photography or the editing will step forward. This is why I think degrees of obviousness or subtlety are fine, it depends on the project. Some may just want the hint of grain to evoke an older period or time but working on almost a subliminal level.

 

I'd say though that the one problem with resolution / grain / diffusion, etc. is that the visibility is affected by viewing size and display resolution, and you can't shoot a movie with every possible viewing condition in mind. 35mm grain is visible in movie theater screens but really gets hard to see on some monitors. But even 16mm grain is hard to see on some iPads and iPhones... Not to mention UHD HDR presentations, where grain can be more aggressive-looking than in HD SDR.

 

It's also interesting sometimes to shoot in the opposite way of expectations, to shoot in interior drama in 65mm or 3D, let's say, but an epic war movie in handheld 16mm -- "Lawrence of Arabia" could have been shot in 16mm b&w in a documentary-style, more like Peter Watkins than David Lean; it would have been a completely different movie of course, and maybe less successful a way to shoot Robert Bolt's script, but it might have worked. Of course, it wouldn't make sense for a "found footage" movie like "Blair Witch Project" to have been shot in 65mm film.

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Posted (edited)

I think in film origination there's The Great Three that are right up there with keeping that 'real film look': Super 16, 2 perf, and 3 perf. Choose the one you're happiest working with. 4 perf Scope looks amazing too of course, though these days it's more difficult to tell even on the cinema screen if it's shot on film, or on an Alexa.

 

Some folks keep saying that but it's not true AT ALL. I can tell, always. Granted, I always sit up front, or am sitting like 10 feet away from the screen at home (on a 90 inch plus screen), but I can always tell. When you sit too far away, then yeah, you don't see the texture at much although you'll still get the other benefits and qualities of film.

 

Bad Times At The El Royale is another example lately, it's 4 perf anamorphic, I rented it on Itunes, so that alone is massively compressed but still solid quality, and the grain and texture is prominent. La La Land is the same on BR, you can feel the grain, no problem (that and Linus Sandgren likes to overexpose to bring out the grain more). mid90s, Itunes rental as well, unmistakably film, obviously with 16mm.

 

There are very rare instances of films shot on film that look quite clean and pristine but it's just that, rare. The only times that can be tricky is when you watch films on TV channels and the broadcast quality is such that it wipes out the grain.

Edited by Manu Delpech

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It's a great look, but aspiring S16 filmmakers should go and see S16-shot films in the cinema as soon as possible to get a clear picture of what they look like in the initial exhibition (if they perhaps aspire to cinema release productions in any way, shape or form). Because I think it's fair to say S16 films look grainier on the big screen than on tv screens and monitors. Unless measures are made to reduce grain. And if that's the look you want, grainy or less so, then that's good. You have a clearer vision of what it is you're trying to achieve. Which is the path an artist walks.

 

16mm these days holds surprisingly well on the big screen really. I expected to be shocked in a bad way by First Man in IMAX (biggest screen in the country here) and it held up so well, so well that I wondered if Linus and Natasha Leonett had applied some noise reduction

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Do you think DI and digital projection have made 16mm look better on the big screen? I don't recall seeing any 16 to 35mm blow-ups, so I don't know what they generally looked like.

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When you sit too far away, then yeah, you don't see the texture at much although you'll still get the other benefits and qualities of film.

 

 

 

'The Force Awakens' to me looked very similar to 'Rogue One' on the big screen just going by things like cleanliness/grainlessness of image. However, when I went to see 'Darkest Hour' at the cinema it was as clear as a bell to me that the movie had been shot on a digital camera. The movie looked good, but it was easy to see it wasn't shot on film. I usually sit a fair way back from the screen. One thing I don't understand with S16 destined for the cinema is reading about creative decisions that seek to increase grain, but that's what the makers want so fair enough. I think I'd try and increase the 'film' look of 4 perf anamorphic (eg. with grain) but with S16 on the big screen I think I'd be bending over backwards to try to reduce it. When grain on the big screen starts to take on a darkish noise somewhat similar to coffee grains it's gone too far in my opinion and typical 70s/80s photochemical 35mm prints didn't really look like that (in my opinion).

 

So in S16 I'd try to reduce that, and from what I've read I believe it can be done. I base this all of course as an audience member who likes the look of film. I have a background in art and come from a family of several painters, so tend to have strong opinions on the look of a work of visual art which can get me into in-depth conversation at times. People can get offended. I often come away thinking, oh just like what you want and I will like what I want. Or I keep my opinion to myself - a trick I've learned. But here, I'm genuinely interested to learn about the technique behind filmmaking as I get more into it myself. My outlook is that 2 and 3 perf is an interesting possibility, nestled in between S16 and anamorphic 35mm, for films destined for the big screen. Like everyone else I'm on a journey of learning.

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Posted (edited)

And as Robin said earlier, I think there's a general tendency to want to defend our 'pet' format that we have invested money and experience and research time into. I do it. But really we should all be open to many different ways to film a movie. Any format that suits that production. When's the first feature movie on Super 8 coming out? I promise, if it's good I will go and see it.

Edited by Jon O'Brien
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When's the first feature movie on Super 8 coming out? I promise, if it's good I will go and see it.

There have been dozens of features shot on Super 8. I'm not sure if any got a theatrical release, but they do exist.

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Posted (edited)

Oh, I know. I should have been more clear. I meant new ones. As in, first one for 2019 ... and shown at the local cinema.

Edited by Jon O'Brien

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Do you think DI and digital projection have made 16mm look better on the big screen? I don't recall seeing any 16 to 35mm blow-ups, so I don't know what they generally looked like.

I do think DI does help with 16mm because to make a 35mm print, requires a optical enlargement process which in of itself can reduce quality. The most recent film I know of to be optically done like that is Hurt Locker.

 

So with DI the workflow is:

OCN>Scan to 4k

Edit/color

Laser to 35mm IN at 4k

Strike prints from IN

 

With Photochemical workflow it's:

Cut/conform A/B OCN

Blow up to 35mm IP (this is when you color the film)

Make IN from IP

Make prints from IN

 

The losses from the photochemical process are pretty high, you'd be lucky to get a 1200 line of resolution (around 1.2k) print when finished.

 

By contrast, you COULD laser out directly to 35mm print film in 4k and have a 1:1 resolution of your 16mm original camera negative, but on 35mm. Most people make an IN tho because the cost to keep making laser out prints is too high. So they make an IN and strike prints from that.

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Oh, I know. I should have been more clear. I meant new ones. As in, first one for 2019 ... and shown at the local cinema.

Na, never gonna happen. With 250D, Super 16 can resolve around 3k of resolution (500T is more like 2.5k), which is ample for a theatrical release. At best super 8 is around 1k, even with 50D and of course is 4x3 which doesn't meet any modern projection standards. With studio's already going crazy about the resolution game, I don't think we'll ever see it.

 

With that said, streaming movie? Shot on the Logmar in Super 8? Yea... that's kinda being done right now I've been told.

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