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  • I Ran Into An Old Friend..

    Posted on July 4th, 2010 Mike 1 comment

    I recently completed a digital intermediate project for an independent feature called “Meeks’ Cutoff.” This picture had a few rather unique characteristics: it was a period Western, it was set in – and shot in – eastern Oregon (an area not exactly known as a production hotbed, and one that as a result has not often been photographed), it was shot with an intended aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and perhaps most surprisingly for an independent production these days, it was shot on 35mm film. Considering the many harsh production conditions – wide open areas with little shade, rapidly changing skies and weather conditions, and lots of dust – that choice was a wise one. But in grading the picture, I was quickly reminded of why film survives, and why it is, in many ways, still the most robust and forgiving production format we have.

    Having worked primarily on digitally shot material – primarily for television series – for the last few months, I had forgotten just how well film handles extreme overexposure, how robust it is with regard to things like shadow detail, and perhaps most impressively, how kind it is to human faces. It’s not just about the flesh tones that it is capable of reproducing, it’s about having severely different skin tones in the same frame, under harsh sunlit conditions, and it’s about the softness it applies to the gradations of light playing on those flesh tones. There is a real beauty to those images, and the ease with which a colorist can manipulate them (given the right tools, of course) is really quite remarkable. The digital cameras we have today, particularly devices such as the Red, the F35/Panavision Genesis, and the D21 and Alexa lines from Arri, are all light years beyond what the first generation HD cameras (the F900, for instance) were capable of, but having not dealt with film scans in some time, I had really forgotten just how terrific an imaging medium modern film negative stocks truly are. In the rush to digital origination, many people not in a position to see film under proper DI conditions have either forgotten or never known just how high the imaging bar has been set for all these years. The best of today’s digital cameras still don’t quite reach those heights in areas like dynamic range and highlight handling, a fact I was rather quickly reminded of when I stepped back into the film world for a week. I was also reminded that in many ways, we’re in a kind of technological golden age, in which we have numerous choices for any given project and can select the tools that are most appropriate based on the production conditions, the image characteristics that are desired, and, yes, the budget. And based on my recent experience, I for one am very glad that film is still one of those available choices – and you should be, too.


    1 responses to “I Ran Into An Old Friend..” RSS icon

    • Film is an automatic go-to for the productions I am developing right now. The reasons are reflected in what you wrote above, and in my own feeling that digital cinema is still much too cold and plastic-like for narrative dramatic story telling where faces and often, in my case, natural scenery tells the story. My last feature was shot on S16mm and we could not be happier with its texture and overall fit for the rural, blunt storyline the film had, esp. when seen on BluRay or on a big screen.

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