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Alex Anstey

"The cinematographer of Knives Out wants to end the film-vs.-digital debate”

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"The cinematographer of Knives Out wants to end the film-vs.-digital debate” - https://www.polygon.com/2020/2/6/21125680/film-vs-digital-debate-movies-cinematography

[WARNING - LUDDITE ALERT!]

I think there’s something quite sad about this - it really could be the nail in the coffin for celluloid in cinema in the next few years?

One aspect the article misses is that part of the greatness about shooting film isn’t the look, it’s the discipline. I’m working more and more on movies where a level of discipline has gone out the window. Reams and reams of material shot because you can just ”keep rolling”, even between what would once have been separate takes (literally hours of hair and make-up touch ups, etc). Really painful, often completely mindless and, as an editor dealing with so much material, ironically it often results in us missing good moments. I don’t think all that extra coverage necessarily means better performances, there’s a heightened feeling on set when film rolls - all departments and cast rise to that.

I love celluloid, love the look, the idea and the ideals behind it. It’s a bit of a shame emulating has become such a thing -  the water colourists trying (and now succeeding) to emulate the oil painters.

Times change, things evolve, I totally get that. Digital film making has a host of advantages over film - and it can now look truly beautiful (although the ever marching desire for more ‘k’ is getting dull and possibly a bit wasteful as cameras are used and disposed of way too soon - hello new Ursa).  I'm sure the Kubricks of the world would have lept at the advantages that digital cinematography brings...

But film… I know it’s a pain in the arse, I know it’s bulky and heavy and expensive and slow to process (not necessarily a bad thing - thinking time) but it’s magical and I can really now, finally, see a world where it will no longer exist and that really is sad.

 

 

 

 

(apologies for yet another digital v film thread)

 

Edited by Alex Anstey
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Posted (edited)

We are living in an age where you can get an AI make digital look-a-likes of paintings by famous painters. Probably you could get someone also to make a 3d printer that paints with actual paints according to a digital file. The end product could technically rival those painted by the actual artists.

Or one can bypass that tedious painting part and just be happy with the digital file that looks like a painting.

For some reason I doubt that art lovers and auction houses are going to be filled in the future with such works. Why? Is it day dream like "nostalgia"? Not seeing the easiness of new digital way of making things? Perhaps. Perhaps the same is also true for seeing theater -- how tedious, those actors have to act every night, again and again! Why not just video it and show that same, perfected show every time? And why do people care whether or not something is happening "live" on television? Isn't the end product the same? Is it just the misguided feeling of belonging, being part of something that is happening -- even if you are in your own living room, separated by hundreds of kilometers of what is happening.

I like to shoot on film. Perhaps the viewers don't care about with what it was shot. But to be honest -- do they really care about color science, 12K, all the lpmm? To some extent all of that is a game we like to play. And perhaps it does make a difference. Perhaps they do care whether or not the painting was actually painted and not just done in Photoshop.

Is that a good enough reason for choosing film for a production? Might be or might not be. Choose what you want (and your producer is willing to pay).

Edited by Heikki Repo
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Posted (edited)

It's an interesting discussion. 

It's almost a matter of ontology vs phenomenology.

Except I don't think you can separate the two in practice. What you're watching is the collective result of the process. And while two complex processes could theoretically return the same result, more often than not they don't. The Alexa shots in Jedi fooled me (they didn't fool everyone), but they were also shot and lit similarly to the film shots and presumably graded against an exact reference taken from other coverage. Many of the qualities Yedlin is emulating are dialed in by eye–if you watch the full demo, certain colors don't correspond surjectively between film and Alexa and halation, for instance, has to be dialed in based on the presumed brightness of the blown out source if highlights are truly clipped.

But these are almost irrelevant considerations relative to how differently a set is run when shooting one medium or the other.

I had a strange experience–I watched The General and Transformers in theaters with a similar audience and the train sequence elicited more of a response than any of the action in Transformers. There's a lot of expertly shot practical stuff in Transformers, but it's almost diluted by the addition of CGI and motion control calling into question what's real. The excellent CGI and compositing in a way detracts from what's real, but of course what's real contributes to the CGI and compositing... Transformers held up imo. Just an odd experience.

I remember being disappointed that the new Twin Peaks series moved to Alexa rather than film, but ultimately it's largely a show about the failures of nostalgia and, ironically, I think shooting on 35mm would have been a nostalgic failure. I agree Kubrick would have moved to digital (what do I know, though). And there's nothing wrong with that.

The biggest disappointment for me is that digital, especially Alexa, is primarily just different levels of a "film look" filter. A lot of earlier digital didn't try to look like film, and is more interesting for it. (From von Trier to Speed Racer to Miami Vice.)

Just because two processes can result in the same result doesn't mean they will. Usually the monkeys won't type Shakespeare. I think you have to go with what feels right. But for me, I'm surprised to find digital feels better than it used to. S16 is still particularly interesting to me. Makes me wish I had more money.

I still need to watch Irishman, but I'm not sold on de-aging. Then again I'm also not sold on the bald cap in Taxi Driver.

Edited by M Joel W
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Pretty much everything has been said about the subject. The only thing I want to add at this point is:

Shoot whatever format makes you happy. If you love film, don’t wait - shoot as much of it as you can afford to now, because it won’t be around forever.

Now if you will pardon me, I need to go stock my freezer with more Kodak 5219!

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One could also say that shoot film now, because you never know if you'll be around to shoot it tomorrow...

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To simply say the words "film" and "digital" is sort of generalized is it not? I'm afraid as of late it is the format that matters wether Mr. Yedlin agrees or not. You are talking an image essentially stamped onto a piece of physical material through a chemical reaction with light, as opposed to a digital sensor stitching an image together through sequential scans, which by the way, vary based on camera model. I'm sure in the fairly distant future this will change and there will be a gold standard of production on digital cameras that will match the very essence of film, rendering motion picture film useless, but from the looks of the article, that's about a decade or so away since film emulation is just starting to become mainstream as of the past three years I'd say. So If you are talking future, talk future, but I'm afraid in present tense there is no debate. They are visually much different until you apply a grade to the digital photograph, which by the way requires a side-by-side image shot on film for comparison anyway. Otherwise we're talking in circles.

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2 hours ago, M Joel W said:

The biggest disappointment for me is that digital, especially Alexa, is primarily just different levels of a "film look" filter. A lot of earlier digital didn't try to look like film, and is more interesting for it. (From von Trier to Speed Racer to Miami Vice.)

This bugs me too - a lot of opportunity to create a new film look but so much energy goes into emulating something that already exists!

But all good points. Ultimately, content and story are really what's important, everything else is a tool to help convey that, but we will eventually lose celluloid. It will come down to a business decision by Kodak that film is no longer viable and that will be that. Fully aware this debate has dragged on and on, but it seems like this could happen quite soon now (which will be devastating for the annual film vs digital debate!).

As Satsuki and Heikki say, better go shoot some film before it goes!

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Posted (edited)

It'd be nice here to point out that in fact the economical viability of film has been getting better in the last few years ( https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/eastman-kodak-strong-increasing-demand-for-movie-film.172406/ ) but since some panic induced buying can be a good revitalizing of Kodak at the time of COVID19, please forget that I said anything and make movies on (fresh) film like it was going to be axed tomorrow! 😇

Edited by Heikki Repo
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1 minute ago, Heikki Repo said:

It'd be nice here to point out that in fact the economical viability of film has been getting better in the last few years ( https://www.photrio.com/forum/threads/eastman-kodak-strong-increasing-demand-for-movie-film.172406/ ) but since some panic induced buying can be a good revitalizing at the time of COVID19, please forget that I said anything and make movies on (fresh) film like it was going to be axed tomorrow! 😇

Haha - would love to single-handedly prop up Kodak's movie division. All excellent news of course, long may it continue!

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I had to do a double take on this thread because we've been discussing this for well over a decade and Yedlin's excellent demo's have been around for years. 

From what I understand, nobody else has used Yedlin's "look" however. Until he sells it to other people as a plugin, there is really not much to talk about. Yes one man cracked the code, but he's the only one with the key. 

Also, Yedlin never did a full photochemical workflow. He never discussed theatrical projection and the differences between a flickering shutter and a fixed shutter. The moving grain of a film print vs the nearly static grain of a digital "recreation". In my eyes, the magic of film is the entire process, not just how it "captures" the image. 

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This debate keeps going on because some directors keep bragging about the fact that they shoot by using film. When it comes to film making you shouldn't brag, because bragging doesn't produce a healthy working environment for the artists.

 

6 hours ago, Heikki Repo said:

Perhaps the viewers don't care about with what it was shot.

Well yes they don't care, but they absolutely can feel the difference. When people know that I'm a camera assistant they usually tend to discuss movies with me. So I intentionally ask them what do they like more, the image of "Gravity" or  "Interstellar"? Most often they say "Interstellar" has a nicer image because it looks more natural.

In this day and age, technology has allowed the filmmakers  of "Gemini Man" to reincarnate young Will Smith. So we shouldn't be surprised when technology succeeds to imitate a (look).

Thinking  about film as a sacred religious matter is something that actually might harm you as an artist. As a filmmaker you should always have the option to shoot on film, and WE SHOULD KEEP FIGHTING for the sake of keeping this option available for us. But believing  that shooting on film is always the default  right choice might be an arrogant mindset. (sorry)

For example let's say that you have the opportunity to shoot the biography of Charlie Chaplin. Most likely shooting it on film would be the right choice for you. And actually shooting it digitally is a sin. But I feel that a film like "Scott Pilgrim vs the world"  should have been shot digitally because the whole style of the movie was inspired by video games. (The movie was released in 2010 and may be they shot it on film because back then digital cameras couldn't shoot in a very high frame rate, I don't know. But I hope that you got what I mean LOL)

Unfortunately in the industry those who shoot film degrade those who shoot digital. Those who shoot Raw degrade those who shoot Log. And those who have their movies screened in cinema degrade those who stream their films in Netflix. And everyone want his/her motion picture to have the aspect ratio of 2.39 because otherwise their picture wouldn't be cinematic.   

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2 minutes ago, Abdul Rahman Jamous said:

This debate keeps going on because some directors keep bragging about the fact that they shoot by using film. When it comes to film making you shouldn't brag, because bragging doesn't produce a healthy working environment for the artists.

I mean people gloat about the cameras and lenses they use all the time. I see way more digital camera and modern lens propaganda than I do anything related to film. In fact, outside of Hollywood, it's rare to hear anyone even discuss motion picture film. 

When you're trying to sell your film to the market and the sale agent is going to bat for you. What's better? "We shot it on the same camera everyone else uses" or "We shot it on 35mm". I think you can guess which one of those perks the interest of the buyer. 

I've been traveling the country shooting a documentary on 16mm and 35mm. I can't tell you how many people have walked up to me and engaged in lengthy conversations about my project, just because it was shot on film. I've had former Panavision employees in the middle of Washington state discuss their history working on cameras. I've met other filmmakers who had never seen a motion picture film camera, getting the opportunity to put one on their shoulders for the first time. I met a former Steadicam operator who use to fly 70lb Panavision Gold rigs, laughing at how much "fun" life was back then. Countless discussions, so many great people who recognized what we were doing is different and unique. All of whom will tell their friends and their friends tell their friends and before you know it, you've got an audience that doesn't even know what your movie is about. Meanwhile, there were people with Alexa mini's and Red Dragon's shooting at the same places I was, nobody bothered them. 

So in my eyes, it's that uniqueness that plays a critical role and it's not about bragging, it's simply about expressing the excitement of using old technology to tell new stories. It's like doing a direct to disc recording and making pressings right off the master. The best of the old tech, being used for modern music and I love that stuff. 

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Posted (edited)

As a process, shooting on film and then digital post and exhibition, yes if the whole cinema business that deals in celluloid photography stuck only to that process then film might die. Then again, if Kodak folds someone else might step in to fill the place.

But as Tyler wisely points out a lot of people seem to forget about cinema projection. That's a huge point. All of Mr Yedlin's great achievements really just to me seem a moot point once you talk of celluloid projection. My dear friends, as you well know ..... there's no comparison to what one can shoot on digital and exhibit on digital, and film projection. But sure, all film might die out one day but I like the point that so will we. Yep, shoot film and if you can, project it too. That could save film, maybe. I think film will survive, actually. But what do I know?

Edited by Jon O'Brien

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I can't tell you how many people have walked up to me and engaged in lengthy conversations about my project, just because it was shot on film. 

If I saw someone shooting film, I would literally beg that person to attend the rest of the project so I may learn form him/her and get a new experience. And of course people are interested to see film's shootings.

I'm not questioning the prestige of film. but its superiority!

Edited by Abdul Rahman Jamous

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4 hours ago, Abdul Rahman Jamous said:

'm not questioning the prestige of film. but its superiority!

Is acrylic paint superior to computer drawings? 

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15 hours ago, Matthew J. Walker said:

 So If you are talking future, talk future, but I'm afraid in present tense there is no debate. They are visually much different until you apply a grade to the digital photograph

There are significant numbers of well known cinematographers who would disagree.

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Stuart Brereton said:

There are significant numbers of well known cinematographers who would disagree.

There's also people who think the Earth is flat.

Edited by Matthew J. Walker

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Gate weave is the slight unsteadiness from frame to frame caused by tiny movements in the film itself. For extreme versions, think of stereotypical old-timey silent films, where the image jumps around, or how old movie titles appear to vibrate.

That is perfect BS. Film projection was of better steadiness in the twenties in general or statistically compared to the 1980s. The positioning distance, the distance between the optical axis and the perforation hole pair by which the print is brought to a halt after each pulldown was shorter with silent projectors again in general. The sprocket drum had to be moved further down when behind-the-film shutters came in use. Parallel to that in the silent era step printers were widespread, perhaps more so in Europe than in the U. S., whence titles didn’t vibrate. A movie shot with a Bell & Howell Standard camera or a pin-registering Mitchell or a Debrie Parvo L, intermittently copied, and screened with not clapped-out projectors stands like nailed-on. A very false image seems to have settled in some heads of what film technics were a hundred years ago.

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Some of that unsteadiness seen now is either due to uneven shrinkage over time or poor duping, maybe from 16mm dupes...

Film projection today can be all over the map -- I saw a screening of "The Love Witch" in 35mm and was disappointed to see the end credits fluttering / ghosting.

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On 7/17/2020 at 10:55 AM, M Joel W said:

The Alexa shots in Jedi fooled me (they didn't fool everyone), but they were also shot and lit similarly to the film shots and presumably graded against an exact reference taken from other coverage. Many of the qualities Yedlin is emulating are dialed in by eye–if you watch the full demo, certain colors don't correspond surjectively between film and Alexa and halation, for instance, has to be dialed in based on the presumed brightness of the blown out source if highlights are truly clipped.

My understanding of Mr. Yedlin’s method only comes from watching his demos. But from what I could gather, the purpose of his footage prep method (which he does regardless of format) is to convert everything into a common starting point without any subjective grading. That’s his secret sauce. He processes the Arriraw footage to his preferred standard base look, and the 35mm DPX film scans to the same look, using his pre-built LUTs and effects nodes. He can only do this because he has based these presets on his sensor data measurements for the specific cameras and film scanners. Once the footage has all been brought to a common point, then he grades them the same way. 

If this is correct, then that’s a rigorously scientific way of working that’s very specific to him. Almost nobody else works this way (though I guess you could argue that labs and post houses should work this way). He doesn’t want ‘happy accidents’ - he wants to know exactly what he’s getting. I think the downsides of that approach might be that you’ll never be surprised by something better than what you initially imagined.

I suppose he thinks the risks of getting subpar footage isn’t worth taking a chance on happy accidents. And he might be right - there are so many uncontrollable variables on set that it must give him peace of mind to know he can at least control the image down to the pixel level after it enters the lens. But I do think the level of control he’s reaching for is a bit like using autotune and click tracks. Sure everything is on-beat and in-tune, but it doesn’t swing as hard, at least to me. 

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Posted (edited)
53 minutes ago, Satsuki Murashige said:

My understanding of Mr. Yedlin’s method only comes from watching his demos. But from what I could gather, the purpose of his footage prep method (which he does regardless of format) is to convert everything into a common starting point without any subjective grading. That’s his secret sauce. He processes the Arriraw footage to his preferred standard base look, and the 35mm DPX film scans to the same look, using his pre-built LUTs and effects nodes. He can only do this because he has based these presets on his sensor data measurements for the specific cameras and film scanners. Once the footage has all been brought to a common point, then he grades them the same way. 

If this is correct, then that’s a rigorously scientific way of working that’s very specific to him. Almost nobody else works this way (though I guess you could argue that labs and post houses should work this way). He doesn’t want ‘happy accidents’ - he wants to know exactly what he’s getting. I think the downsides of that approach might be that you’ll never be surprised by something better than what you initially imagined.

I suppose he thinks the risks of getting subpar footage isn’t worth taking a chance on happy accidents. And he might be right - there are so many uncontrollable variables on set that it must give him peace of mind to know he can at least control the image down to the pixel level after it enters the lens. But I do think the level of control he’s reaching for is a bit like using autotune and click tracks. Sure everything is on-beat and in-tune, but it doesn’t swing as hard, at least to me. 

I'm sure you're right. All I'm getting at with Jedi is that they were also able to match by eye to other coverage shot on film and that the set was lit with film in mind. Maybe I'm trying to forgive myself for being fooled. In the original demo he posted, it's all extremely close but certain colors don't land in exactly the same place and would require further adjustment to match exactly. You can profile the output from the sensor and from film, but the sensor and film aren't perfect instruments and might respond differently to sodium vapor lighting or a particular odd color or near-IR. And highlights past the clipping point aren't "measured" accurately by the digital sensor, either, while film measures them accurately in terms of how much halation there is, even if halation is a flaw.

As rigorous as his process might be, I doubt it's perfect because the instruments aren't perfect. Regardless, whatever he does works incredibly well and better than any "film look" plug in or LUT I've seen and it's a fascinating approach. I suppose ACES is similar conceptually, but I'm ignorant of how it works in practice, having never used it.

At the very, very low level at which I work, there's no place for this level of calibration, at my level it's mostly glorified home video so a lot of my opinions are more conceptual than pragmatic. If I had the resources to allow for more precision, I suppose I might embrace it. But I was always fond of DPs who pushed things a little more aggressively and experimentally. I love Kaminski's photography from the turn of the millennium. Either he's calculating everything and riding a razor's edge stacking so many diffusion filters and ENR and whatnot together–one thing to add contrast, another to remove it–or it's more intuitive and he's working from accumulated experience. I wonder what his sets look like, I suspect his lighting is higher key than it appears on screen.

Regardless, Kaminski's approach I think invites pushing things just a bit too far and hoping for happy accidents, whereas Yedlin's doesn't as much. And that's what I meant about ontology vs phenomenology–whether you hear the autotune in the voice of the singer, I'd like to think that its presence in the producer's arsenal dictates something in the end result regardless. I can't appreciate or distill the technical specificities of Steve Albini's exclusively analogue approach to production, but I'd like to think that I can still hear that his production sounds different texturally from someone else's, to extend the music metaphor.

Edited by M Joel W
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There's no right or wrong way to be an artist, and not every artist values technical consistency.  Some are a bit more "rock and roll", seat-of-the-pants types who take risks and fall-off the cliff now and then. Chris Doyle is like that, for example. Of course, they are all working with directors who encourage risk-taking.

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