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6 Things to Know When Shooting on Film

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INFLUENCER: Matt McManus, EP at Carbon, on the key differences to be aware of when working with film in 2017

6 Things to Know When Shooting on Film

What is old is new again. The digital revolution has pushed artists to search for rejuvenation in analogue practices and celluloid film is making a comeback. Four of the five films nominated for Best Cinematography at the 2017 Academy Awards were shot on film! Kodak has recently announced an 8mm camera for the digital age where processing, scanning and digital delivery are included in the price of the film stock.

Here at Carbon we too have felt these changes. We recently collaborated on a Blue Moon campaign where both spots were shot on film. This project led me to reach back to my past experiences of working in that medium and to compare the differences in workflow and process from digital to analogue. Since the analogue to digital revolution happened in the early 2000s, a whole new generation of filmmakers, artists and producers have emerged never having touched a piece of film. They haven’t had the experience of rushing to the lab to make the night bath cutoff time or watched an editor tape splice on a Steenbeck Bed. While the Steenbeck days are over, there are some key differences to be aware of when working with film in 2017.   

Here are my top six things to know when shooting on film:

1. Video Assist is just a reference. The reference tap from a film camera to the monitor does not illustrate accurate colour levels and focus. Digital acquisition allows video village to more precisely portray what is being captured, whereas on a film shoot, you can only count on the monitor as a reference for framing and performance. All else is entrusted to the DoP.

2. Frame for 35mm. Even though deliverables will still be HD and a 1.77 aspect ratio, 35mm is a native 4:3, which is squarer. To achieve the desired 1.77 aspect ratio, you will crop in the middle, meaning you should plan to have more information on the top and bottom of the film on the shoot day.

3. Embrace the Grain. Film has film grain. The grain is one of the reasons the image is softer in its tones compared to digital. Digital acquisition has yet to match the softer tones only available when shooting on film.

4. Black is Black. Digital film, whether it comes from an Arri Alexa or an iPhone has limitations on the high end of the luminance spectrum. If the image has a blown out white skyline, the digital image cannot 'pull' the whites down. In film the whites can be brought down, but blacks will remain black. With dailies the colourist typically sets the colour for the first shot on the reel, as the light changes the colour setting does not. The image can be adjusted in final colour, but the dailies image is typically much darker than the film represents.  

5. Scan the entire select and scan at 4K. Scanning the entire take will enable flexibility in moving the edit around and making sure the edit points are correct. Scanning in 4K will prevent you from rescanning down the line and will give you a digital master of select material that can be used in any of the current delivery formats: HD, 2K Cinema, and 4K.

6. Plan and Inform. Shooting on film doesn’t offer the same sort of immediacy as digital. It’s important to build a reasonable schedule considering processing and scanning, and then to have conversations with your client(s) up front to set expectations on the differences between film and digital. This could save potentially difficult conversations later. 

Shooting on film can be a rewarding and beautiful experience as long as you’re aware of the key differences between analogue and digital, hopefully the above list helps. Good luck!



Matt McManus is EP at Carbon LA

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Carbon, Fri, 07 Apr 2017 14:57:17 GMT