A Film Rant!
The argument that film is being beaten into extinction by an overtaking flood of digital capturing systems is reaching a climactic crescendo of sorts. More and more we are seeing the replacement of traditional film projection systems with new, state-of-the-art digital projectors and...
...I'm sorry, this was going to be an eloquent and well researched piece that presented solid facts and reasoned opinions in an even-keeled manor but, quite frankly, I'm fed up with it. I do not apologize for what I am about to say, nor am I shy in stating my opinion of an industry that has seen a power shift in the last five years from the hands of the creative to the hands of the inept, the irresponsible, the ignorant, and the scared.
Here we go.
My name is Phillip Matarrese and I have been lighting movies since 2006. I have seen a lot, tried a lot, failed more times than I have kept track of and worked all around the globe. I love lighting. I love making a beautiful image. I have weighed in on the film vs digital debate many times, always on the side of film, and have voiced opinion to anyone who will listen.
Sure there are a million technical reasons why film is superior to digital: the simplicity, the flexibility, the standardization, the ease of use, the image quality, etc. There are also many non-tangible factors that make film a superior medium such as the discipline it takes, the fast learning curve for the filmmaker to improve as an artist, and the one-to-one transference of information. You can see more about this here: http://phillm.blogspot.com/2008/11/f...evolution.html.
What I'm really mad about is how far from quality and integrity we've come with our filmmaking. It's fucking pathetic. In the past 6 years or so I've seen people go from shooting on film to shooting on digital; from drooling to shoot film because it was a raised bar to being replaced by a complacent, sheep-like blindness of taking whatever digital camera the manufacturers say is "hot" at the time. When did we become moron consumers who accepted whatever sales pitch some manufacturer gives us instead of leading industry professionals who tested the latest technology in comparison to the current industry standard? When did our standards get lowered?
When did the art of cinematography become so convoluted that now any piss-ant kid with a camera has the nerve to call themself a “Director of Photography”. I had a DP once look at me like I was an alien from another planet when I asked him what f-stop he wanted to shoot at. What f-stop he wanted to shoot at!?!?! I have lost faith in the art of the cinematographer because it seems that they are a dime-a-dozen now and nothing separates one from the other. What happened to being bold?
And, I'm sorry, but when did it become acceptable that when an inferior product breaks on set that we can explain it away with phrases like, "well, you know... it's the RED..." or, "what do you expect when you shoot a movie with a DSLR?" When did we loose our balls, crawl into a hole and give up rather then demand a quality product that has already gone through a complete R&D process?? We should never have to wait on set for a camera to boot up. We should never have to use ice packs to cool down a camera body when shooting a day exterior. We should never have to worry about an entire day of footage being lost when cards are swapped or hard drives are being transferred. So then why are all of these pitfalls so common place on an independent film set and worse, are now seen as normal, every-day occurrences.
So this begs the question: how did we get to this point? How did this happen? There are a lot of contributing factors involved: the economy, the shift in the consumer markets for home box office sales, less people going to the theaters so films are less profitable and the cost of production has to be lowered… etc, etc, etc. At this point it doesn't really matter; what's happened has happened.
Now the real question is what are WE going to do about it... and yes, when I say we I also include you.
I, for one, am going to start demanding more... more from the manufactures who provide me the equipment I use, more from the decision makers in the industry who ultimately dictate where the money is spent, more from the creative artists in the tools they choose, and more from the technicians and workers who handle the tools and equipment on a day-to-day basis.
I’ll start at the top, since that is where a lot of the pressures and problems are coming from: the producers. First of all, grow your balls back and demand quality equipment for the price you are paying. You’re always looking at the bottom line and asking, “how much will it cost me?” and there is no changing that. So why are you now content with half-assed, half tested products coming into your market that solve one problem but cause 10 more? Why do you sit silently and complacent when a company shoves advertising of “the hottest” or the “newest” digital camera system down your throat and you swallow? There was a time once when producers factored in the "value" of what they were budgeting for along with the price and that idea of "value" has seemed to be forgotten. Don’t let yourself be pushed around or strung along by a company promoting a product until that product has been proven.
I challenge you, the producer, to change your way of thinking from the short term to the long term... consider the long term effects of the medium for which your project will live on and ask yourself "will this film be watchable in 20, 50 or 100 years?" instead of just looking at the bottom line. And when you think of the bottom line, ask yourself, “what am I really paying for? Is this worth it for the lifespan of this project?”
Ok directors… remember when you were in film school, or maybe when you saw that one movie in the theater, or saw that video or dvd at the video store and rented it and something clicked? Remember when you discovered that someone actually made a movie and they didn’t just appear out of thin air? Do you remember the feeling of amazement, the thrill of discovery and the beautiful excitement when you decided that you wanted to make movies? You wanted to tell stories to share with people; you wanted an audience to entertain. Well imagine that your audience can’t watch your movie because of a hard drive failure. Now imagine that you’ve shot all day at the Los Angeles port and the camera grazes the sand as the crane shot rests on its final mark and the slight bump causes all the footage on the card to disappear. Also imagine that you are shooting a day exterior on a normal street in normal town USA and your DSLR keeps overheating so you need to put icepacks on the camera to keep it from shutting off. I have personally seen each of these scenarios first hand.
I challenge every director to really think about their audience. Directors don’t think about their audience the way they used to. How will your audience see your art? Art is worthless if there is no audience to see it, so why are so many directors enamored by a medium that adds so many more hurtles between their art and the audience? Why not choose a medium that you can watch with literally a light bulb and a darkened room? Why not choose a medium that is harder to pirate illegally? Why not choose a medium that can last for over 100 years if properly maintained AND costs less to maintain for that 100+ years? And why not choose a medium that will separate you from the growing sea of mediocrity of digital filmmaking and embrace something that the movies you saw that got you into film were all captured on?
And as for you, the cinematographer… shame on you. Yes, the decisions start at the top but the greatest challenge and the greatest responsibility rests with you. I challenge you as a cinematographer to shoot film on your next project. I dare you to have the F-ing guts to stand up for your integrity as an artist in choosing a quality canvas and medium on which you work. You want to be a cinematographer that embodies the definition of the craft that you claim- then shoot film. If a producer says it's too expensive then crunch the numbers yourself. I've seen cinematographers do that and prove that it was the same price(or sometimes even cheaper) than getting the new top-of-the-line digital camera.
Telling an artist to shoot on digital is like telling Michelangelo to make his statues out of clay. "Hey, Mike, why are you still carving marble? Why don't you just make David out of clay, it's easier, cheaper, a lot faster and it's all the rage down in Rome I hear." Anyone who makes art simply because it's easy in no artist at all.
Stop whining and using the excuse, “if I COULD shoot film I WOULD.” That’s bullshit… you CAN shoot film, it just takes a few extra hours of research and something that seems to be lost these days in the industry professionals, building solid relationships with companies like Kodak, Panavision, Deluxe, Technicolor, Fotokem and others. Get out there and be the cinematographer you want to be, someone who is an artist who continually challenges him or herself to do better and someone who is proud of their work.
And as far as the quality of the work coming out of cinematographers these days, the greats like Freddie Young, Nestor Almendros and Laszlo Kovacs would turn off the TV or walk out of the theater. There is no excuse for black tones that look green, unintentional blooming highlights due to lack of dynamic range, or pixilated movement when an actor takes a step or you pan the camera. Demand more from yourself and from your peers AND from your tools and follow in the footsteps of some of the greatest contemporaries of today like Wally Pfister, Emmanual Lubezki and Robert Elswit.
I am disappointed in some of the leading cinematographers for pandering to hype rather then sticking to their integrity.
And finally the everyday workers who use the equipment: the camera assistants. In any other industry if a worker was provided the latest, state-of-the-art tool to work with and the tools had flaws that made it hard to work with then the people using those tools would stop using it and they would demand a better tool. It’s very simple logic- demand quality tools and don’t use a tool that’s hard to use and adds to your workload. So why aren’t camera assistants demanding for better tools? In the hierarchy of a film set, complaints travel up but the decisions travel down. I, for one, am perfectly fine with complaining to the people above me if a piece of equipment that was forced upon me doesn’t work. There is a reason that I ask for the lights, the cable, the boxes and the stands that I do- so I can do the best job that I can with tools that are reliable. Don’t be afraid to demand quality, especially in a time where quality seems to be an undervalued commodity in independent filmmaking.
One person once said that I can’t compare a RED camera or a Canon DSLR to an Arri or Panavision 35mm camera. Why the fuck not, since people seem to be equating them already and using them to try and make the same type of product? You’d use a different type of concrete to anchor the footing of your new backyard deck than if you were building a freeway interchange right? Different rope would be used to lace up your climbing shoes then would be used to tether you to the carabineer on the face of the mountain, correct? So then why are people trying to make theatrical motion pictures with cameras that are nowhere near the quality of the tried and true film camera? Once people stop using DSLRs to make a movie intended for theatrical release, I’ll stop preaching about how film will blow those cameras out of the water.
Do the words “research and development” not hold any value to the technicians of this industry anymore? Shame on you, the camera assistant, for not voicing your concern and for not demanding quality tools to do your job.
In closing… we can do better. We should hold these truths to be self-evident and hold ourselves, and in doing so we hold our peers, to a higher standard of quality filmmaking. From this point onward I am holding myself to the standard that I just laid out and promise to call out others on their lack of standards. It is the professional thing for me to do in an industry that is slipping closer and closer to verge of boringly low standards, idiot producers and web junkies. You will either meet these standards and prove me wrong or you will fail miserably and prove me right. I hope the former is the case.
I got about 1/4 in and stopped reading. It sounds impassioned enough, though I don't know enough about the medium to give much more input than that. Though I have heard/read film is better than digital, so within your first few paragraph's, I know why now.