Is Film Dead?

Lets see now. Will we really miss scratches, cinch marks, edge fog and hairs in the gate? Torn perfs, Fujifilm, neg lost in transit, 500 asa? Dailies on new print stock and the Kodak Rep? Accidental fogging, unsteady plates, reloading, and having to carry multiple film stocks? Stock defects, Eclairs, shutters out of phase, squeaky mags, hot splicing, A&B Rolls and having to use the lowest bid laboratory – in Bulgaria?

Hmm. Still nostalgic for film?

Please look at it this way. As a Cinematographer, true creative ownership of the image was ours when we photographed on film. All of those headaches mentioned above, were just part of the job. Digital imaging allows not just the camel’s nose under the tent, but the whole herd.

There’s a good chance I may never shoot on film again. What I’ll miss most is the precision of getting it just right. Knowing an emulsion inside and out, pushing the limits of exposure and seeing just what you planned for in dailies. There was also the fear of making a big mistake, playing fast and loose or blowing a shot unknowingly. Was my meter set up right? Did I compensate for the Pola AND the enhancer? Was there a filter behind the lens I didn’t know about or will the HMI’s flicker?

In other words, we really had to pay attention.

The Cinematographer’s creative authorship will most certainly be diminished when film is gone. Not too long ago, the person with the meters held all the power, but now, I can’t get replacement parts for my spot meter. Can you imagine some young DIT advising the late Conrad Hall, ASC or Russell Boyd, ACS that he thinks they might want to “open up” a little bit, or maybe add a little fill? Or the flipside, where I’ve heard a young DP say, “Hey, I’m shooting Raw man. I can do what ever I want with it later on”. Hey Dude! You’re the DP; and we want to hear about your “Vision” now, just in case you can’t make it to the D.I. session. The point is, anyone can come up with a look now, so I’m worried that in the future, the DP may not get “Final Look”, as in, “Final Cut”. And THAT should concern all of us.

With film you could expose for a look that wasn’t easily tampered with, particularly in the “toe” of the exposure curve. No one would dare attempt to print a shot “up”. You know why… because it isn’t possible.  Now that’s power.

Is Film Dead? Just about. And when it is finally gone, we will lose far more than just a superior image.

Mark Vargo, ASC

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