35mm rawstock and the emerging technologies of movie production

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I will be honest with you, we are in for a beating as artists with respect to the new technologies, which are designed to turn every consumer into a movie maker, with total disregard for the fundamental qualities of what makes a great filmmaker. Filmmaking is the most incredible art form essentially invented in America, it is our gift to the world, a way of seeing things from the liveliest, most empathic viewpoint. Video and its immediacy are deceiving, because a video production lacks the long term perspective of a well-considered film. Video has been with us for over fifty years; you have heard of classical movies, but have you heard of classical videos? If you have, then your experience of films has been through such outlets as Blockbuster primarily, "and there is nothing wrong with Blockbuster!"

Now I like the Jerry Seinfeld show too, and the show was rated the number one in popularity by TV Guide recently, but is video ever classical? I do not think so. It is only movies shot in 35mm or released on 35mm that get to be classics. Maybe in the 22nd Century some HD and DVD movies will be called classical, but the audience may not even be homo sapiens. Well, that may be sour grapes, but you know what I mean. It is a long way to wait and what does it mean to you and me anyway? We are making movies now.

So, getting back to 35mm raw stock: if you are serious about making movies, consider shooting in 35mm. I know it is expensive to buy the film all at once, but there are ways of cutting costs. E-mail me, I will show you how. Film stock is past the 60 cents per foot mark and there are fewer and fewer places to process it and print it. Everything now goes to digital one way or another, straight into the computer and non-linear editing. While editing is cheaper with the computer (after you have bought it,) the real expense of transferring your edited digital movie to 35mm is still waiting for you like the guillotine, and I am not talking about the splicer. So you decide to go straight to home video anyway, but then did you ever have the chance of a theatrical? Let us be honest, it happens once in a blue moon, with a lot of hype, with some horror film or sex flick. At least if you edit your movie in 35mm you have the possibility of a 35mm interlock screening for some distributor. Most studios will honor the filmmaker with a screening if he or she walk in with a 35mm print under their arm.

You might say, "but suppose they do not want to distribute your 35mm movie? You have gone to all that expense..."

You can still go to a video release and you have spent maybe $20,000 more than shooting digital anyway, and that is a small part of the budget of the movie. However, there is no mistaking a 35mm edited feature film, compared to a straight to video movie, because most distributors when they see a video copy, they assume or presume that the film was probably all shot in video anyway, and there is no point in trying to convince them otherwise, because you showed them video and they have already been given the excuse to offer you a fraction of the money for the movie rights. If you have been there, I do not have to tell you this is so, you already know it. If you have not been there, it is an expensive lesson to learn, but sometimes that is what makes the difference in the career of one artist who makes the movies that are seen in festivals and another one who goes on working in B and C movies for the rest of their lives.

Independent filmmakers should realize that even though raw stock is becoming expensive and lab services scarce, it is still possible to find reasonably priced film stock. There are pre-tested short ends and some new processes that make it possible to use special film stocks and save big bucks. I have specialized in lab services for the independent filmmaker since 1968, when I worked the night shift at Highland Labs in San Francisco, while a film student at the San Francisco State University Film Department. Even years after I graduated with a film degree in production, I continued to work sporadically for labs in Hollywood and Burbank. I learned many processes of developing film that have not been used by commercial labs, because the Avant Garde movement never made it to technologies of film processing. Even optical houses rarely offered any services to the artistic filmmakers, who could scarcely afford the special effects prices for the blue screen process, bi-packing or blow up.

Today special effects can be achieved easier with computer editing, and one can achieve spectacular special effects for the small screen with a $5,000 set-up; however, the final product is better if one generates the production on film and then add the CGI later.

On the other hand, 16mm film is adequate for the TV screen. Most of the TV shows are shot in 16mm now and edited on computers. The film look is not the only issue, there are $500,000 Sony HD cameras now that can do what a 16mm Bell & Howell or Bolex bought on eBay for $100 can do. You will get the film look alright, but the 16mm still has better color and is still sharper than digital, not to mention the magic that only film can achieve with backlighting and a wide exposure latitude. You can shoot film for projection at 20:1 light ratio, but with video, it is still best to shoot at 2:1 and you should never exceed 4:1. It has been like that forever! It is the nature of the beast, you cannot get the best results with any video originated movie, because while video makes a new advance every few years, film is already ahead by ten, and this phenomenon might not continue forever, but then neither are we filmmakers.

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