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“Film, I’m Sorry, It’s Over”: Roger Deakins Talks ‘Hail, Caesar!,’ Working With Coens, And Going Digital

"Film, I’m Sorry, It’s Over": Roger Deakins Talks 'Hail, Caesar!,' Working With Coens, And Going Digital

It’s a new year, but the debate about film versus digital will continue to rage. In one corner, you have folks like Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan who are strong advocates for film stock; while in another more populated corner, many directors and cinematographers are embracing the ease of use, and increasingly expanding technical prowess, of digital tools. And the Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins, vying this year for a trophy for “Sicario,” is a right-tools-for-the-right-job kinda guy, but he sees the days of celluloid being limited.

“…just the technical problems with film, I’m sorry, it’s over,” he told Variety.

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We’ll see the next work from Deakins in the upcoming Coen Brothers jam “Hail, Caesar!” and he reveals the siblings are already kicking around the idea of going digital. “I don’t really know, but apparently Ethan at some point was talking about shooting the next film digitally. And then it turned around. They’re really debating it. I was in Albuquerque shooting ‘Sicario’ and they were talking about it and they said, ‘I don’t know how you feel about it, but I think we want to go on film.’ And I said, you know, ‘I don’t mind. I’ll shoot it on a cell phone if you like. I don’t mind. I really don’t,’ ” he said.

For “Hail, Caesar!,” the movie is filled with all kinds of nods and homages to old Hollywood, with a variety of movies within the movie, requiring a few different approaches when shooting. And while it was no problem for Deakins, who returned to the realm of film stock for the first time since his last Coens outing in “True Grit,” says you’re working with limited palette these days. 

“Film stocks today are nothing like the film stocks they shot with back then. Do you know what I mean? So you can’t make a choice. You can’t even process differently these days. You don’t have that option. You’re pretty restricted with what you can do with film these days. So I mean there’s now many stocks now? Four or five? Your choices are very limited. But as I say, that was fine. I wasn’t going to do much in terms of the way it was processed, so I probably wouldn’t have gone that way even if I had the choice,” he said. But Deakins is wary of continuing to work on film.

“We did have some problems,” he says of working on “Hail, Caesar!” “We had some stock issues and stuff like that, which was really disconcerting. And I’ve heard that’s happened to a lot of people lately, you know, stock and lab problems. That’s unnerving. I mean I never really remember having those kind of problems before. But it makes me nervous now. I don’t want to do that again, frankly. I don’t think the infrastructure’s there. “

It’s bracing words from a longtime veteran in the game, and it will surely get those on the inside chattering. Thoughts? Let us know below. “Hail, Caesar!” — shot on film — opens on February 5th.

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