07 September 2007

16 mm film intensive week

Since this week was pretty intense, I am going to make one entry out of the whole week, even though I was doing different things every day. Well, I was 1st AD overall for my group (we were split into a morning and an afternoon group) for the week as well, but since that just consisted of organising the transport schedule from hell - why does everyone’s car break down at once? - I shall concentrate on talking about the experience of shooting film and my roles.

To be upfront, I still don’t see the point of shooting film in this day and age for the work that I want to do and see myself doing in the near future. So there. Unless you have access to a professional crew and a lot of money there is really no point.

Shooting film is expensive, and that makes it limiting to creativity, when you have to think all the time how much footage you have already used and whether it’s worth it to shoot another take. Then comes the worry about whether the focus was right, the exposure, the camera movements, etc. There is no way of knowing until you get into the screening room, because frankly it’s pretty hard to see anything properly on that monitor or the eye piece and there is no rewind button.

Next comes the issue of having an experienced crew. We are not experienced, which means we fog film by accident, we are not good at keeping the actor in frame, we take a long time to light a scene, not even to talk of trying to keep focus.

So unless you have a crew that you can rely on to produce great technical results you know that you will lose a lot of shots because they are soft, or badly framed, or poorly lit. And you wont know that you have lost these shots until it is too late to re-shoot. If film was all there was, fine, but it isn’t the only medium anymore.

And yes, film still beats digital in terms of quality - i.e. resolution, exposure latitude, colour fidelity - but that is just a matter of time. Like in all areas of technological advances there will come a time when the new technology overtakes the old in all areas from accessibility to quality. And film making is always a balancing of options a compromise between what we want to do in our dreamshoot and what we can do in this reality of financial restraints.

But the one thing that we can always maximise is story and character, and there it almost doesn’t matter what the picture quality is. As far as I am concerned I’d rather watch “The Remains of the Day” shot on a cellphone than “Die Hard 4.0” shot in 70mm. And as a new film maker without funding story and character is all I have.

I want to make the best possible pictures, create to most beautiful visuals, because that is how a story is told in a movie, but when that impinges on my ability to be creative on set because I see the money running through the mag or have to cut scenes because it takes to long to set up the beast of a cast-iron film camera, then I know that digital is the way to go for me. Phew, what a rant. And I haven’t even talked about my roles this week, which were camera operator, director, gaffer and clapper loader.

But I guess my observations above really describe the essence of the week for me, where we did have a fogging accident that lost us enough footage to shoot all afternoon; where 2 of 3 mags were broken which meant waiting for the loader to re-load the mag; where we physically couldn’t do shots because of the weight of the camera when it was hand-held; where shots were soft and badly framed. It was a frustrating and sobering experience.

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