Film or digital? This is a conversation that has permeated movie geeks for the past 15 or so years. Ever since the early 2000s when Robert Rodriguez shot Once Upon a Time in Mexico on film, and when George Lucas started pioneering the format, the debate has taken over. Which is better, and can anyone really tell the difference? Time has seen digital quickly take over the landscape, with everything from indie flicks to big Marvel Studios blockbusters shooting digitally. From a process standpoint, it tends to be a lot faster, and from a financial standpoint, a bit cheaper. And when 95 percent of the audience can’t tell the difference, why even bother going to film, right?
Filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, however, have been fighting the good fight, doing what they can to ensure that film survives in today’s growing digital landscape. Nowadays, it seems like it’s now turned into a creative choice, more than a financial one. What sort of feeling do you want from your movie, and is it something that is easier to achieve on film?
That was the case with Wonder Woman, and speaking with Kevin McCarthy in an interview, director Patty Jenkins discussed her love of the film format, and why it was important for Wonder Woman, it being an epic film and all. Interestingly enough, when going into Warner Bros., Jenkins was ready to argue her case as to why she preferred film, but the studio response to her statement was, “oh, good, because we really believe in that here.”
Jenkins then went on to discuss why she believes film is such a great medium to shoot on.
“[Filmmakers like Tarantino and Nolan] have singlehandedly kept film alive. The reason why, I’ll say — so I’ve come up shooting film, and working on films for a long time. Digital has come a long way. Digital does a lot of great things. There are things I really like about digital. But they are not the same. And there is some sort of strange myth that, ‘oh you can do everything now on digital.’ Well, if that was true, why do all the great, great, great filmmakers still shoot on film? Is it because they know less? Is it because they’re more haphazard? Is it because they can’t move on to new information?
“No. It’s because there is a certain kind of epic grandeur escapism that film gives you that you will struggle very hard to get on video. It is what it is. And so, I think it would be the greatest tragedy if film were to go away… You can’t transcend the real world as effortlessly as you can [on film]. It ends up looking like a cheap — you can look like a cheap romcom, or you can look like a Coen Brothers movie, it’s about the world that you put in. So if you’re willing to pay very little more for an A-list actor versus someone who’s never acted before; if you’re willing to pay more for a better set than a cheaper set, why on earth is it such a big deal to pay a tiny bit more to shoot on the greatest medium in history — film? I’ll never get it.”
To play devil’s advocate, the argument seems to come back to the diminishing returns of film. While film nerds and filmmakers can sometimes tell the difference between film and digital, by and large, few people can actually tell the difference in side-by-side comparisons. As someone who went to film school (though admittedly not for cinematography), I have a hard time telling the difference between the two. Is it generally worth it to spend the extra money?
It depends on the film project, on the vision of the director, and on numerous other factors. Luckily nowadays, filmmakers are given more options than ever before on how to shoot their movies, so we’re able to experience the best of both worlds.
Which format do you prefer? Can you tell the difference between film and digital? Let us know your thoughts down below!
Wonder Woman hits theaters on June 2, 2017.
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SOURCE: Kevin McCarthy (via Twitter)