[Quotes courtesy of – http://www.theasc.com/site/blog/parallax-view/totino-laments-disappearance-of-craft/ & http://nofilmschool.com/2016/07/jeff-nichols-midnight-special-cinematography-anamorphic-lenses]
In the last post, we discussed how the accessibility of digital makes it, by default, the primary option for many filmmakers. In this post, however, we’ll discuss an area where film is superior.
“Film is better than digital in…Craftsmanship!”
It’s not that film automatically makes someone a craftsperson in as much as digital, has de-emphasized some of the basic tenets of being a craftsperson. How so?
Self-promotion With digital, anyone who can pick up a camera is all of a sudden a filmmaker/cinematographer.
Think of this, just because someone has a license to drive does not make them a race car driver. Similarly, being a cinematographer is more than name or title; it’s about an experience level, a manner of approach, and attitude towards the craft.
I started in the production field as a grip/production assistant. After that, I spent time as a gaffer. Both these jobs required hard work, sometimes the unglamorous kind, but “you know what?”, I don’t think I would be the same cinematographer today if I did not experience all that!
“I think our society right now is moving in a bad direction. There’s so much entitlement. I promote from within, and I really believe in the apprenticeship program…” – Salvatore Totino, ASC, AIC.
Immediate gratification. Video can easily become about, the “here and now”. This can develop a mentality that’s its ALL about the results, the end product.
With film, you can’t immediately see the results. Film helps develop patience, it forces you to focus on the process, the act of creation and not simply the end product. Additionally, it forces you to “visualize” and foresee the final result, which can develop a stronger vision.
“I think the craft is disappearing, and it’s sad,” he says.” – Salvatore Totino, ASC, AIC.
Etiquette. In this day and age of text messages, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter; it is sometimes easy to forget that a movie set is a workplace. We’re there to get a job done the best way we possibly know how. There needs to be a certain level of professionalism.
“When you are shooting on film, actors are like, “Oh, crap, this is film.” It focuses people in a positive way.” – Jeff Nichols (Director of Midnight Special & Mud)
Gear “Craziness”. There are so many websites out there that focus primarily on the never-ending parade of gear, but very few focus on the craft itself. Don’t get me wrong, sites like those have their place and can be very helpful, but after a while they all start to sound like an online shopping network for gear.
[Update 06/27/17: The statement above about sites that focus on gear is by now way a dig. In fact here is a list of site I regularly keep up with to help keep up-to-date with what’s new: http://www.fdtimes.com, http://www.newsshooter.com, https://www.cinema5d.com, http://www.redsharknews.com, http://cinescopophilia.com, https://www.provideocoalition.com ]
I think this reflects the state of our craft, it has, become “gear-oriented”. It’s become more about, “what you have, than what you know.”
Is it possible to avoid these pitfalls while shooting digital? Absolutely! How? Change you mindset!
Invest in yourself, not gear! Instead on getting caught up with “the latest and greatest camera, lens, gimbal, this or that”, invest in yourself! Study art, psychology, photography, etc. This is a far better and longer lasting investment!
“A ship engine failed, no one could fix it. Then they brought in a man with 40 yrs. on the job. He inspected the engine carefully, top to bottom. After looking things over, the guy reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. The engine was fixed! 7 Days later the owners got his bill for 10k. ‘What?!’ the owners said ‘You hardly did anything. Send us an itemized bill. ” the reply simply said Tapping with a hammer, $2. Knowing where to tap, $9,998. Don’t Ever Underestimate Experience.” – Unknown
Become “Technically” Competent. You don’t have to be a walking camera manual or an electronic engineer but as a cinematographer, you should understand what’s affecting the image in front of the camera, inside of the camera, and later in POST. A cinematographer must be both artist and technician. Learn to focus on the process, as much as the end result.
“A painter can’t just start painting and be a master. You have to learn about the pigment and how to mix colors, and how to make charcoal cartoons on the wall and outline that into plaster. My point is that there is a process, and it’s really important to learn that process…There’s a lot more involved in creating images than clicking buttons on a computer. It’s an art, a feeling, an emotion, and it comes from within. ” – Salvatore Totino, ASC, AIC.
Have a Vision! I’ve worked with directors who will simply let the camera run, “on and on and on.” When asked if any adjustments need to be made on camera or in the performance, the answer? “Nothing, I just want to go again.” There’s a fine line between a discovery process and being just plain lost…I think digital can cloud the difference.
“Something happens on a film (shooting on celluloid) set, even in terms of the actors—they just understand that they’re there working with this finite resource.” – Jeff Nichols (Director of Midnight Special & Mud)
Be Professional! Whether you’re on a movie set or a wedding ceremony, have fun and enjoy yourself! But, don’t forget that you are a professional, so conduct yourself like one!
Here’s a quick recap of “Part 2: Capture Medium – Film vs. Digital”:
- Advancements in digital capture have made the debate between film vs. digital more a matter of “process and experience” than outright image quality.
- The availability of digital makes it a superior format, in that, it opens the door to filmmaking for all!
- Film engenders a more methodical and “craftsman” like approach.
[Update 9/13/16: Here is a short but very informative video on Film vs Digital that I think emphasizes many of the points discussed above.]
In Part 3, we’ll discuss the next decision you’ll need to make – Capture Format! So, stay tuned for: “Part 3.1: Capture Format – What is It?”