The discussion surrounding a director’s decision to use analog film or digital to capture their movie has been given another round. As digital cameras and projectors become more prominent, many directors and cinematographers have made the switch from film to digital. But there are other directors who refuse, simply preferring film over digital, and others who switch between the two depending on the project. Notable directors who stand by film include Christopher Nolan, J.J. Abrams (who filmed Star Wars: The Force Awakens on film), and Quentin Tarantino (who not only shot The Hateful Eight on film but used rare 70mm print for his vision to recreate a special roadshow presentation).
Now, James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) has entered the debate. As we reported yesterday, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 will be the first film to shoot using the RED Weapon 8K camera. As the release states, the 8K Weapon “captures 8K at 75 frames per second, 6K at 100 fps, or 4K at 150 fps with REDCODE® RAW,” and features “interchangeable lens mounts, an intelligent OLPF system, and in-camera 3D-LUT outputs.” This translates into an enhanced resolution and higher frame-rates, making the movie appear clearer.
Apparently, not everyone was excited with the news, as Gunn has taken to his favorite social media format- Facebook- to share more about his decision. It is a very heartfelt and thoughtful response that touches upon several of the points in the debate, specifically preference. What follows are some key quotes, but you can check out the whole message here.
When you’re shooting a film at the level of Guardians of the Galaxy, the cost of film vs. digital is negligible – for me it’s an aesthetic and creative choice.
Firstly, I believe when shooting on a format like the Red Weapon 8K or the Alexa 65, the amount of data is so massive – certainly more so than on a strip of film – that it gives you more freedom in production and post production to create exactly the film you want to create than actual film does.
Such high resolution gives me the ability to control ever(y) single bit of data (to do so would take a long time, but at least the knowledge comforts me). Many filmmakers look to essentially replicate the look of film, but I don’t share that interest. I believe that innovations in camera and shooting technologies as well as visual and practical effects gives us the ability to create a new aesthetic of film, one different from what the past has offered but equally beautiful – perhaps even more so.
I respect many of the filmmakers who continue to shoot on film – and some of the most gorgeous movies of 2015 have been in that format. But I think sometimes that the love of actual film is based in nostalgia more than it is in objective beauty. Many filmmakers remember the films of their youth and want to replicate that magic. For me, I’m interested in being one of the many who help to create a new kind of magic that will usher the cinematic experience into the future. What will the children of today think of fondly with nostalgia?
As mentioned, it is very thoughtful and illuminates the discussion surrounding the ‘transition’ the industry is seemingly confronting currently towards digital and away from film. He probably didn’t need to include the line about filmmakers wanting to replicate the magic of their youth or him wanting to create a new kind of magic to make his point, but it’s an understandable observation nonetheless. As is perfectly clear, it’s a choice, made for a variety of reasons.
Gunn goes on to add what he believes are the advantages in using the new RED cameras:
1) It is easier to seamlessly incorporate massive amounts of visual, digital effects – including a digital tree and raccoon – into a digital base.
2) One of the ways I capture my actor’s performances is by doing massively long takes, over and over – sometimes up to an hour – much longer than your typical 11-minute reel of film. I find this a better way to capture the energy and rawness in a performance (and we get better outtakes of me yelling at Michael Rooker off-screen).
3) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be utilizing another new technologies I’m very excited about but can’t quite go into yet. But, for this technology, you need a camera the small size of the RED Weapon – a film camera is too big, as is the Alexa 65 (which is also an amazing camera)
When it comes to digital filming versus celluloid filming, no one is right and no one is wrong. Digital may makes production faster, makes editing easier, and makes the art of filming more accessible to people who may not have access to a camera that uses film. (But as Gunn mentions, it isn’t necessarily cheaper). Analog film is the format the medium was born into, but other than the historical precedent and ‘nostalgia’ it carries, there are aesthetic considerations, as some argue it just has a certain look. Vox recently had a nice explainer on the difference between the film and digital. But no matter what side you fall on (if you care at all), it is important for the director to at least have the option to choose. That’s why it was so great when Tarantino, Abrams, Nolan, and Judd Apatow helped to broker a deal where the major studios would buy a certain amount of film a year from Kodak, the only major company left producing motion-picture film. It would be a shame to allow film to go extinct and take away the director’s choice in bringing his vision to life.