As progress in digital sensors has narrowed the gap of noticeable resolution difference between video and celluloid film to nearly equivalent in comparison, most of Hollywood has opted to let go of the nostalgic days of the past in favor of the cost and time effective benefits of digital media. Standard monikers in old Hollywood, like Kodak and Panavision, are suddenly being replaced with names like RED and even Canon’s Prosumer 5D series – with some exception, of course. There are a few diehard celluloid enthusiasts who continue to passionately embrace the harder way of doing things.
The patriarch of modern blockbuster cinema, Spielberg is known for backing (and even inciting) the latest technological advances that move cinema forward. Except for the actual medium he utilizes, it seems. He has continued to shoot on film stock for his last several films (minus The Adventures of Tintin, his animated co-venture with digital enthusiast Peter Jackson), and states that he will continue to shoot until the last film-lab closes (which he has desperately noted could be within the next 10 years).
Woody Allen is also meeting the digital revolution with incredible resistance. Just as with the rest of his canon, his most recent film, To Rome With Love, was shot entirely on 35mm. When interviewed by Huffington Post about her experience on working with Allen, the film’s co-star, Greta Gerwig, spoke in admiration of the medium: “It might be the last time I ever get to shoot on film. Nothing is shot on film. Really, nothing is shot on film anymore. I met with a director who said, ‘There’s no reason to shoot on film anymore. It would be like having a television with the big back. You don’t need it.’… It made me feel like I was in the studio system. It was super cool.” Certainly, Allen still grounds himself in the cinematic authenticity of using film.
Although her father, Francis Ford Coppola, has not maintained Allen and Spielberg’s reluctance to give into the newer technologies, Sofia Coppola embraces the purist nature of shooting on celluloid. Having been raised in the Hollywood system likely has had its influence on the more traditional methods of lighting and photography, and it shows in her films. All of her features are shot on film. Interestingly, her only credit as cinematographer is pure video: a mockumentary of the dance troupe from her former husband Spike Jones’ music video Praise You.
Oliver Stone is rampantly seeking film stock for each of his films under the burgeoning foothold of digital. As he pauses for several years between each of his more recent features, it has become increasingly difficult to secure the dying format. Coupled with Stone’s knack for using several types of film stocks and sizes within various scenes in each of his movies, he fights desperately to avoid an inevitable artistic dilemma. Surprisingly, he remains enthusiastic about what digital projection holds for the future of film, but insists that the contrast and brightness of film remains superior to even the latest in digital cinematography.
Perhaps the most popular example of celluloid enthusiasts is one of Hollywood’s newest champions, Christopher Nolan. Having chosen University College London specifically for its filmmaking facilities (which consisted of a Steenbeck reel-to-reel editing bay and two 16mm cameras), Nolan studied English but developed a direct love of the (relatively) vintage film making techniques. He has shot multiple films with scenes on 65mm IMAX, which has only recently been threatened by the announcement of a new 3D digital IMAX camera. However, Nolan’s Batman series has inspired the makers of IMAX to continue to embrace the celluloid medium, as IMAX president Mark Welton states: “Both Chris Nolan and IMAX thought it was a great idea to have as many film-based screens as possible to take advantage of this powerful presentation. So we worked with another partner on developing a rail system that allows us to move the film-based equipment in and out again if there’s a digital-only release.”
Although most true film buffs and filmmakers alike can agree that film still produces warmer, richer tones and feel, it seems inevitable that the industry as a whole is moving forward into digital. Even Kodak (the originator of digital photography) and Panavision have changed their business plan to focus on new, evolving digital divisions. Those directors who choose to stay with film do so because it is a treasured medium, an element that is becoming too costly and impractical to contend with changing times, but one that has its roots deeply engrained in the process and tradition of a beloved art form.
Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast and owner of www.movieroomreviews.com and writer of movie reviews about movies such as The Adventures of Tintin. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.