My Issue With Arguing For Film Over Digital

Firstly, let me state that I love film and believe that filmmakers who want to shoot on film should be able to shoot on it. The look and dynamic range of celluloid remains a precious tool. There's also a certain magic in the process, including not knowing exactly what you're getting until it's developed. I would love to see film continue to be used for years to come. Unfortunately the economics of filmmaking have drastically changed in the past few years. For some reason, however, whenever the debate of "film vs. digital" (or "film v. digital" as Zack Snyder would probably say) comes up every couple of months, I find myself somewhat annoyed by the commentary of pro-film directors, such as Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan.

Side Note: Tarantino ruined a generation of film students
who think they can write like he can. They can't.
One simple explanation is this: I wouldn't be a filmmaker if it weren't for digital. Neither would Lena Dunham or Shane Carruth or Garreth Edwards. When Tarantino, on digital, states, "I hate that stuff. I shoot film. But to me, even digital projection is -- it's over, as far as I'm concerned. It's over," it's kinda hurtful, I suppose. I know that debating the words of Quentin Tarantino may be the ultimate exercise in futility and "that's Quentin just being Quentin" is a completely legitimate argument, but his words represent a greater point. Tarantino and others undoubtedly feel under fire because film is disappearing and their process is being forced to change, which is why they've had to take action to preserve their process

"Boy, that escalated quickly."

Like Tarantino grew up with film, I grew up with digital. So did thousands of other filmmakers. Digital technology has opened doors for these filmmakers. Granted, the majority of these filmmakers lack necessary storytelling talent, but isn't it worth it for that one-in-a-thousand chance that we find a new filmmaker with a unique voice like Lena Dunham? Digital has given us the voices of female filmmakers, minority filmmakers, LBGT filmmakers, and documentary filmmakers that never could have been heard until now.

The thing about shooting on film now, versus shooting on film even twenty years ago, is that it has become the medium of the elite, while digital has become the medium of the people. When Kodak was making film in its prime it was more widely available (of course not nearly as available as digital is today). I will likely never have the privilege to shoot on film. Why? Because it's too expensive. With Kodak being the only manufacturer left and this new band of filmmakers (three white males) trying to save it, film will soon be accessible only to the most successful, privileged Hollywood directors who have enough pull to get to use the rare good stuff. This is pretty ironic considering that many pro-film filmmakers shoot on celluloid because of a sense of nostalgia (Tarantino trying to capture the feel of the various genre films of his youth, JJ Abrams shooting Episode VII on film to capture the feeling of the original Star Wars trilogy, etc.).

Again, I'm happy that these filmmakers are out to save their medium. They should fight for it. Every filmmaker should have the opportunity to use the toys they can to tell their story in the best way possible. But that's the thing: film has become (or becoming) a Hollywood toy, no dissimilar to an expensive jib or studio set. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's time to acknowledge what it really is and stop putting it on a pedestal. The language in defending film often undercuts the accomplishments of digital filmmakers, who's biggest proponents typically find them on the large end of budgets (James Cameron, Ang Lee, David Fincher) or independents (Dunham, Caruth)*. Some stories are best told on digital and some are best told on film, but just because it was shot digitally doesn't make it lesser cinema. Cameron's toys are just as rare as Nolan's are at this point but Nolan doesn't carry the same elitist stigma as Cameron does, partly because film is seen as being in that sweet spot between big budgets and small budgets even though it's not really in that same spot anymore.

There may be a day when I feel nostalgic for shooting on digital when a new format becomes available (or, more likely, I become nostalgic for 2D cinema when everything is presented in 3D). In the mean time, I'd like to see Tarantino, Abrams, and Nolan continue to defend their tool if they really believe it is the best way to serve their story and do so while acknowledging what film is and that it really isn't the only option to tell a good story. I'd also be fascinated to see them try digital. Who knows, they might even like it.

*In recent years the,the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences has awarded prominent digital films the Oscar for Best Cinematography (Avatar in 2010, Hugo in 2012,  Life of Pie in 2013, and Gravity in 2014...Nolan's Inception beat out Fincher's The Social Network in 2011) and despite great commercial success as well, I've found that many students of film look down on these movies, often classifying them merely as "spectacle" as if that makes them a lesser form of art that should be any less respected.


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