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16mm Film’s Brilliance is Praised in Entertaining New Video Essay — Watch

A self-deprecating cinephile breaks down what is so magical about 16mm, and it's not simply that it looks old.

Todd Haynes’ “Carol” was shot on 16mm film.

What exactly is it about 16mm that makes cinephiles swoon? Is it the vintage charm, the soft colors, the way the light seems to drip into every inch of the frame? Over at The Royal Ocean Film Society, filmmaker and self-proclaimed hipster Andrew Saladino waxes poetic about the glories of 16mm. “The grain is much more pronounced, the color is nice and dense, and the overall product has a genuine texture to it,” he says.

READ MORE: Lush New Video Essay Compares ‘Moonlight’ With the Masterworks of Wong Kar-Wai — Watch

But that’s not all: Using plenty of gorgeous footage from some of your favorite recent films, Saladino delves deeper into the appeal of his favorite format, which he calls the “perfect middle ground between the retro aesthetic charm” of 8mm and the more polished look of 35mm. He argues that 8mm has too much of a home movie feel, and 35mm is quickly becoming indistinguishable from digital, using side by side comparisons of Michael Fassbender to make his point. (Not complaining).

READ MORE: Wong Kar-Wai’s Color Obsession Honored in One Mesmerizing Supercut — Watch

It doesn’t hurt that Saladino has great taste in film, using clips from many greats such as “Carol,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Jackie,” “Blue Valentine,” and “The Squid and the Whale.” At the end, he breaks down the cost of shooting on 16mm, and argues that it’s actually fairly comparable, if not cheaper, than digital. So, filmmakers, no more excuses!

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James Smith

I have penciled it out every way and there is no way in the world that anyone can make a legit case for video camera (Alexa, RED, Sony) movies being cheaper than film unless you are doing something really small. It is one of the biggest myths in Hollywood. 35mm is less expensive than the majority of Alexa and RED shoots virtually every time. While this article is just pointing to camera rental cost, there are so many other tangible costs. Even if you have a DIT or not, you still have crew staying all hours of the night transferring data. You don’t have that on a film shoot. And on the camera rental prices, while this article seemingly took its data from price lists, if you haggle with any rental house, they will all but give their 35mm and 16mm cameras as they were paid off decades ago. But the digital video cameras are obsolete so quickly that they cannot give great deals. But the biggest issue are the shooting ratios. File based, digital capture platforms inevitably mean much higher shooting ratios. And not like sort of or kind of higher, they are a lot higher. That means way more time in post for shot selection. That means more time transferring data. And it almost always means worse performances. No one ever budgets that in, but it is incredibly real and has been the case on every movie I have been a part of.

As for 16mm, the film is no different, it just gets blown up more so you see the grain. It a digital world where people look at pixels all day, there is probably a great value in the uniqueness of that. My favorite 16mm look was Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But Leaving Las Vegas, Babel, Last King Of Scotland, She’s Got To Hate It and Chasing Amy all looked amazing and were shot on 16mm.

Ron Nolan

Are you in LA? You’ve actually gone about putting that together for a production? Including the film stock, lab work, coordinating logistics, etc.? It’s been about 30 months since I’ve been in pre-pro, but at that point it was about $200,000 more to shoot on 35mm. That was after rebates and tax incentives too.

Denny Clairmont

Andrew I saw your wonderful footage and read what you wrote about shooting HD vs Film. I would like to point out that is cheaper to shoot on film. A movie or TV show takes 15 to 16 hours a day to shoot and when same scenes and number of scenes shot on film will take 12 hours to shoot. This means you will have a crew of about 110 people on overtime for three or more hours. Wiith film yo will use 70,000 to 100,000 ft of film at one dollar a foot, 13 cents a ft to develop. You scan negative and you are i digital wold for editing. You have your negative for archival.


100% everything Jason Smith said. So annoying this narrative about how “cheap and easy” digital is. Not only is digital more expensive in almost every way. It’s slower and more cumbersome. Also listen to Denny, he’s a legend. If you don’t know who he is, google him.


Oops that was James not Jason. Apologies…

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