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film and video and nature and nurture


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#1 Keneu Luca

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Posted 21 November 2009 - 02:40 AM

Reading this month's MOVIEMAKER magazine, there's a section where 10 cinematographers briefly explain why they continue shooting film and are not under the influence of HD.

My mind began to wander on this never-ending topic, and I considered something I havent before. Nor is it something Ive heard anyone else mention.

The issue of film vs. video is much like democrat vs. republican. Or the faithful vs. an atheist. As much as all human beings have in common, ya know, being human....we are all individuals, mentally, biologically, and emotionally. On the surface we are all pretty much the same, but the tiny pieces of our bodies individual puzzle are vastly different. And most of these puzzles pieces CANNOT be changed. Its just not going to happen. And this is a good thing. We should all embrace the fact that we are all unique. We are different fundamentally. Much of it was developed early on in our lives and beyond our control, and then only later do the actions and thoughts of these differences make themselves known to each of us. But of course, many of us never know their origins - they are just there.

Obviously this is nature vs. nurture territory. And as mysterious and unexplained as this phenomenon is, the best we can do is acknowledge it does in fact exist, even if we dont know the why's and how's. By doing so, you can save yourself the wasted energy of a pointless argument.

I dont know how well I am articulating all this, but I imagine most if not all of you know exactly what Im talking about and share the same or somewhat similar understanding of why humans have different preferences and why we are "stubborn" with many of them. These are the very convictions that shape our individual identities. And many of them are involuntary.

What really makes this tough to nail down is how we all, randomly, are able to shift and sometimes reconsider our ideals and tastes and preferences. Yes, MOST of our puzzle pieces CANNOT be changed....but some can. Some. But they are so friggin random.

Im going to switch gears now and get into what the MOVIEMAKER article made me think of. There are exceptions to what Im gonna talk about here. And please, if I am just dead wrong on this, tell me. But with people who continue to predominantly shoot film, it seems that they are not only interested in the highest quality of film (and even THAT is subjective). 35mm. Super 16mm. 65mm. Even super 8mm...each stock provides a unique look and feel that really doesnt serve a hierarchy.

However, with those who shoot video, if they can get their hands on the latest video technology, the more satisfaction is gained. Is vhs or hi 8mm often considered? I suppose the PXL2000 is. But considering all the video formats out there, are they respected as being different tools that provide their own unique look and feel....or do they primarily exist in a very ordered hierarchy where the king is only the king because the next technology hasnt de-throned him yet?
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#2 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 21 November 2009 - 09:55 AM

Reading this month's MOVIEMAKER magazine, there's a section where 10 cinematographers briefly explain why they continue shooting film and are not under the influence of HD.

My mind began to wander on this never-ending topic, and I considered something I havent before. Nor is it something Ive heard anyone else mention.

The issue of film vs. video is much like democrat vs. republican. Or the faithful vs. an atheist. As much as all human beings have in common, ya know, being human....we are all individuals, mentally, biologically, and emotionally. On the surface we are all pretty much the same, but the tiny pieces of our bodies individual puzzle are vastly different. And most of these puzzles pieces CANNOT be changed. Its just not going to happen. And this is a good thing. We should all embrace the fact that we are all unique. We are different fundamentally. Much of it was developed early on in our lives and beyond our control, and then only later do the actions and thoughts of these differences make themselves known to each of us. But of course, many of us never know their origins - they are just there.

Obviously this is nature vs. nurture territory. And as mysterious and unexplained as this phenomenon is, the best we can do is acknowledge it does in fact exist, even if we dont know the why's and how's. By doing so, you can save yourself the wasted energy of a pointless argument.

I dont know how well I am articulating all this, but I imagine most if not all of you know exactly what Im talking about and share the same or somewhat similar understanding of why humans have different preferences and why we are "stubborn" with many of them. These are the very convictions that shape our individual identities. And many of them are involuntary.

What really makes this tough to nail down is how we all, randomly, are able to shift and sometimes reconsider our ideals and tastes and preferences. Yes, MOST of our puzzle pieces CANNOT be changed....but some can. Some. But they are so friggin random.

Im going to switch gears now and get into what the MOVIEMAKER article made me think of. There are exceptions to what Im gonna talk about here. And please, if I am just dead wrong on this, tell me. But with people who continue to predominantly shoot film, it seems that they are not only interested in the highest quality of film (and even THAT is subjective). 35mm. Super 16mm. 65mm. Even super 8mm...each stock provides a unique look and feel that really doesnt serve a hierarchy.

However, with those who shoot video, if they can get their hands on the latest video technology, the more satisfaction is gained. Is vhs or hi 8mm often considered? I suppose the PXL2000 is. But considering all the video formats out there, are they respected as being different tools that provide their own unique look and feel....or do they primarily exist in a very ordered hierarchy where the king is only the king because the next technology hasnt de-throned him yet?


If we were to assume that the basic foundation of your ideas have any validity at all, I'd suggest that the comparison isn't one of a political nature, but rather a religious one wherein the "film" aficionados are the religious zealots, placing tradition and belief above progress and scientific advancement.

While there are die-hard traditionalists who will likely get left behind (careerwise) if they live long enough, I think that those kind of arguments in the "film vs. video" debate are overly simplistic and miss the outstanding reason people use the media they do, that being that we use the best tool for the job. Film may be "better" for some projects while video may be "better" for others. Most of us who acquire images electronically do so, not to "chase" the newest technology, but simply to work with the medium that "clients" ask for (to refuse to do so just means that we're sitting home not able to pay bills while someone else is out there earning a living being a Cameraman/woman). That suggestion is so utterly ridiculous, I can only sit and laugh. :lol: We use whatever technology brings us work, because unlike film traditionalists, we're not worshiping tools, but instead we value the craft that "camera work" entails. Lighting, camera placement, lens choice, collaboration with others on set and off... all far more important than being "faithful" to any specific tool. Film is great and electronic image acquisition can be as well. Both can also be misused by those without the training and skills necessary to exploit the best attributes while working within the parameters that each medium contains.

Back to the specifics of your argument, you list out several types of film formats (and within them are a variety of different stocks that are chosen based on things like desired look, light levels, budgets, and distribution/exhibition goals). Those exact same elements are why most people shoot the "video" formats they do. HD (or any electronic format) is just another tool, one that fits the requirements of the projects that are being created. Suggesting that people who primarily use "video" are just doing so out of some genetic desire to have the "latest and greatest" (or however else it should be worded) technology still has me laughing out loud! :P
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 21 November 2009 - 11:47 AM

If we were to assume that the basic foundation of your ideas have any validity at all, I'd suggest that the comparison isn't one of a political nature, but rather a religious one wherein the "film" aficionados are the religious zealots, placing tradition and belief above progress and scientific advancement.


And there are no digital "zealots" who look at film users as if they were dinosaurs or luddites?

I see too many people make the mistake of assuming that the newest technology is always the better technology. If that were true, the ballpoint pen would have obsoleted the pencil, and photography would have eliminated painting.

There are fanatics on both sides of the argument who have the luxury of following a belief system beyond the point of practicality. Most of use live and work in the real world where we have dozens of things to factor into our choices, financial, aesthetic, logistical, etc.

I also believe that a certain percentage of those who advocate 35mm film over digital are simply being honest and accurate that it is a superior imagemaking technology, even if you merely want to look at gross technical requirements such as resolution, dynamic range, color reproduction, lack of compression artifacts, and not get into aesthetic arguments. Sure, there are digital imaging technologies that are getting darn close or even match 35mm film in one, maybe two categories, but the honest truth is that the best argument for 35mm is not religious or emotional, it's coldly logical: it works and it looks darn good. Being the latest, newest technology is not, by itself, a good reason to use it except for educational or experimental purposes.

So I get a bit tired of people merely pointing out that 35mm looks pretty decent and works pretty reliably, so why not keep choosing it... being accused of being stuck in the past or being zealots. Sure, those types of people exist too, on both sides.

I try to keep up with the latest developments, I see tests, demos, I go see movies in theaters and watch digitally-shot movies on the big screen simply to see how they look. I try to be objective and constantly ask myself when the digital photography is better, worse, or neutral compared to 35mm. And my current assessment is that we are -- in general or on average -- almost there. Now you can also take that assessment as meaning we aren't there... or you can take it as meaning we are there 70% or 80% of the time even in a best-case scenario. But we aren't there 100% of the time, though I'd settle for 95%, the last few percentage points are going to fall under the category of fundamental differences, just like between oil and acrylic paints.

I also believe that if we don't hold manufacturers' feet to the fire and demand they improve their products, we aren't going to bridge that final gap. So many people back in 2000 jumped on the digital bandwagon when the F900 was released that if we listened to them, we'd have shot most features in this decade on that camera (I alone already shot eight features on that camera....) So why not take the high ground, image technology-wise, as long as we don't get impractical about it?
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#4 Paul Bruening

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Posted 21 November 2009 - 02:42 PM

Quite beautifully said, David.
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#5 Keith Walters

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Posted 21 November 2009 - 09:39 PM

There are fanatics on both sides of the argument who have the luxury of following a belief system beyond the point of practicality. Most of use live and work in the real world where we have dozens of things to factor into our choices, financial, aesthetic, logistical, etc.


There is, and always has been, an unfortunate "segment" of this industry (and in many unrelated industries for that matter) who seem unshakeably convinced that, simply being seen to loudly espouse whatever is currently being touted as the latest and greatest technology, is somehow going to make them be perceived as a more valuable person, completely cancelling out their lack of experience in the thousand and one other things you need knowledge of and experience in to secure any kind of worthwhile employment. :lol:

Yes there are some clever technologies being developed right now, but a large part of the art of movie making hasn't really changed all that much in the last 80 or so years. Better images and sound are only a small part of the story.

Can't talk now; I have to go light the charcoal on my barbeque :rolleyes:
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#6 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 12:58 AM

And there are no digital "zealots" who look at film users as if they were dinosaurs or luddites?


Of course there are! :) But what I am suggesting is that all formats are merely tools. While film does have positive attributes and may look "better" in 90% of the cases, it is NOT always the best choice for every situation for this reason:

Most of use live and work in the real world where we have dozens of things to factor into our choices, financial, aesthetic, logistical, etc.


Shooting film in some instances is entirely impractical given the sheer amount of equipment necessary and relatively short running times (400 or 1000' rolls) and the need for extra crew just to keep the day feasible.


The original post made the assertion that those who shoot video do it primarily out of some genetic need to only use whatever is newest. That's clearly ridiculous in most cases. Naturally, there are extremes in both "camps" (film and video).... film 'zealots' who see film as the end all and be all of image acquisition no matter what and video geeks who get their jollies out of every new gadget that comes down the pike. How many people in each camp? Who knows.

But it really doesn't matter much because it's more likely that those in the middle are apt to choose and use the appropriate tools that fill the requirements of each project in order to make a living. The extreme "film only no matter what" zealots will likely lose work every now and again because projects will require digital acquisition while "newest gadget" zealots will also lose work because they too are more interested in specific tools rather than using what it required for a specific job.
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#7 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 05:24 AM

Personally I can't shift the impression that the people most likely to bang on about shooting 35 are those who are least responsible for looking after the problems it causes.

This mainly comes down to feature and television DPs who - and no offence intended to these people - do not have to pay for it, administer it, load it, focus it, operate temperamental, largely mechanical cameras with flickery viewfinders, unload it, log it, then drive it around between shoot, lab and telecine suite. If you do not have to generally deal with the problems and difficulty incurred by photochemical capture, if your only real exposure to film is taking a light reading and watching nice-looking dailies, then I'm sure it's pretty easy to love.

P
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#8 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 07:15 AM

This mainly comes down to feature and television DPs who - and no offence intended to these people - do not have to pay for it, administer it, load it, focus it, operate temperamental, largely mechanical cameras with flickery viewfinders, unload it, log it, then drive it around between shoot, lab and telecine suite. If you do not have to generally deal with the problems and difficulty incurred by photochemical capture, if your only real exposure to film is taking a light reading and watching nice-looking dailies, then I'm sure it's pretty easy to love.


Though I'm certainly not the most experienced person in the world - out of all the digital and film shoots i've been on, its the digital cameras that come of the most temperamental. If a film camera tears a perf, the whole set knows about it as soon as it happens, hair in the gate isn't really that common as everyone thinks and you know right away providing you rightfully check - and its immediately fixable. When something goes wrong on a digital shoot its: hang on this will take a few minutes and the whole set watches in angst, as they wonder if they need to do it again. That's why the job of a DIT or digital loader is far more stressful than that of a film-loader.

Plus digital cinema cameras need as many staff as film cameras do at least on set, they still need focusing (far more even) they still need somebody to load or down-load, they still need someone to build up a dolly for them. Okay digital footage doesn't need to go to a lab but it may still require a fair bit of post work, which can either surprise the production or force the poor post-house staff to work nights on.

Infact my hands have never look so worn after digital shoots (even for somebody who does barbell training). On a 35mm shoot you can easily shoot off 1 maybe 2 batteries in a day, on an Arri D21 you can easly get through 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or even 12 batteries per day per camera - and its no picnic running block batteries back and forth from a charging point.

Each format certainly has its technical flaws and pitfalls and is at risk from humane error but personally I would say 16 and 35mm film cameras are more robust to deal with hard times wet-weather, extreme heat, rough shooting conditions, being on vehicles etc.

Though personally I hate the telecine process of film - the cost of it and the communication factor.
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#9 Paul Bruening

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 01:04 PM

Hello Keneu,

I've been thinking about your question/s or more accurately, your theories. This matter of how much each human's choices and preferences are locked into our genes has raged on since Gregor Mendel's work became popularly accepted. I'm no expert on the subject. But, the last I heard was that not much of random stuff like cine medium was genetically determined. Though, a surprising amount of stuff I learned as chapter and verse when I was young has now changed.

Now, what might contribute is a genetic strength in the abilities associated with seeing a clear difference between the qualities of various mediums. That would be something that one person's sensory and computational powers might exceed others.

I am inclined to lean in favor of familial and social programming for much. Of course, personal experience must account for the greatest part of it. Even the most irrational defenders of one medium or another have made the best weighed choice that their processing powers are able to apply.

So, no, I'm not inclined to put so much weight behind your idea that cine mediums are locked into our genes. Sorry.
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