One last holdout from the era of celluloid has given in to the digital age—at least temporarily. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have continued to shoot their films on traditional celluloid film even as the industry has shifted towards digital photography, but for their next project, the Coen Brothers are making their first foray into the digital realm. Variety’s Kristopher Tapley reports that the upcoming Western anthology Netflix series The Ballad of Buster Scruggs was shot on digital, and thus will be the first Coen Brothers production not shot on traditional film.
The curious aspect here is that on Buster Scruggs, the Coen Brothers have not been working with their regular cinematographer Roger Deakins, but instead with Bruno Delbonnel. Deakins—quite simply the best cinematographer of all time—has been collaborating with the Coen Brothers since 1991’s Barton Fink and shot films like The Shawshank Redemption and No Country for Old Men, but he made the switch to digital with 2011’s In Time and continued working with that format on films like Skyfall and Sicario. When Deakins reunited with the Coen Brothers for 2016’s Hail, Caesar! he asked the filmmakers about shooting digitally, but for the Old Hollywood-set comedy the duo felt strongly the film should be shot on celluloid, so they went that route.
This is not the Coen Brothers’ first film without Deakins, and indeed Delbonnel shot the duo’s masterful Inside Llewyn Davis to terrific results. Deakins was busy working on Blade Runner 2049 when the time came for Buster Scruggs to start up, so that accounts for his absence on this Netflix project. Deakins is currently shooting Brooklyn director John Crowley‘s adaptation The Goldfinch.
As for the format switch, many wondered if the Coens would go digital on Buster Scruggs given that it’s a Netflix series, and TV show schedules are far easier to manage when shooting digitally. We don’t know too much about the show just yet, other than the fact that it will consist of six Western-tinged tales and boasts a stellar ensemble that includes Liam Neeson, James Franco, Zoe Kazan, Brendan Gleeson, and Tim Blake Nelson as Buster Scruggs.
Delbonnel is currently in the Oscar race for his work on Darkest Hour, as is Deakins for his astounding photography for Blade Runner 2049. Celluloid film nearly died out a few years ago, but high-profile filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright, and Judd Apatow have kept the format alive by continuing to use it. It’ll be interesting to see if the Coen Brothers go back to celluloid when they make another movie, but for now I’m mighty curious to see the fruits of their first digital collaboration with Delbonnel.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs will premiere on Netflix sometime this year.