Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Jamie Stuart
December 28, 2011 10:00 AM
42 Comments
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From 'Drive' To 'Melancholia,' Here's Why 2011 Marked a Shift In the History of Cinematography

Lars von Trier's "Melancholia" Magnolia
The first movie I saw in theaters in 2011, aside from a couple of press screenings, was "Hugo." Yes, that's correct: I went nearly 11 months without bothering to see a new release. The reason? Honestly, there was nothing I felt couldn't wait until the DVD release.

During this period, I finally upgraded my home viewing set-up to accommodate Blu-ray. Between the high-definition (HD) I use for movie-watching at home and the HD video that I use to shoot and edit for a living, by the time I got to my second theatrical viewing of the year, "Shame," digital projection felt completely normal to me. I'd become a purely pixelated creature.

However, as I watched the trailers before "Shame," I realized that the only times when digital projection didn't look right was when a movie was shot on film and color-corrected for film projection. Too often, the contrast, grain and colors were too harsh, as if they were over-compensating for the softer film they would print out on. (Incidentally, "Shame" was shot on film, but it looked fine projected digitally.)

2011 was the year in which the Arri Alexa, the first significant digital camera released by leading equipment developer Arri, was put to wide use. Three wildly different examples of the new camera can found in "Drive," "Hugo" and "Melancholia."

"Drive" FilmDistrict
My initial reaction to seeing "Drive" was that it was the most organic-looking digital image I'd ever seen. At first I kept scrutinizing the image, but after 15 minutes, I simply relaxed into it. There was nothing idiosyncratic about the picture that bothered me on an aesthetic level.

On the polar end, I thought "Melancholia" was a mess. It looked like Lars Von Trier and his director of photography, Manuel Alberto Claro, arbitrarily adjusted the camera's ISO scene by scene, shot by shot, resulting in a wildly uneven display of picture noise -- sometimes the image was perfectly clean, while other times it looked like a crappy home video. Either or would've been fine, but the movie's complete lack of consistency threw me off.

Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" wasn't comparable to the other two because it was shot in 3D. It featured the best use of live-action 3D I've seen since "U2-3D," which, incidentally, was the first live-action digital 3D movie in 2007. The success of "Hugo" was the result of the combined efforts of DP Robert Richardson and   Scorsese, who really took the use of space seriously and not simply as a 2D enhancement.

David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Sony
"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" proved that David Fincher understands digital cinematography better than any other working filmmaker. He has made four digital features and five on film. As a result, he understands that digital works best when the lighting is built primarily around practical sources and the aperture is wide open. His approach on both "The Social Network" and his latest work, both shot by Jeff Cronenweth on the RED, is basically an extremely upscaled studio version of DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) filmmaking.  

Three major indie releases were all defiantly shot on film: "Martha Marcy May Marlene," "The Artist" and "Shame." I agree that film was the right choice for "Martha," with its soft, organic, rustic images in long shots, and "The Artist," which sought to capture the feel of a silent picture in a black-and-white 1.33:1 aspect ratio. However, while Steve McQueen is a film purist, "Shame" could have been shot digitally in a manner similar to Fincher's approach without losing anything. When I watched "Shame" projected digitally, the source of the image didn't matter.

"The Artist," while printed as black-and-white, was actually shot on color film stock, as were other recent black-and-white pictures like "The White Ribbon" and "The Man Who Wasn't There." And even though "The Artist" was intended to evoke the feel of older movies, a lot of its technique was pretty modern.

Considering that the vast majority of movie viewing is digital, including home viewing, why are filmmakers still shooting on film if virtually nobody will ever  see it projected on film? "War Horse," for example, was shot on film by Steven Spielberg and his longtime DP Janusz Kaminski. When it comes to shooting on film, Spielberg is--to quote "Network"--"intractable and adamantine."

"War Horse," one of many Spielberg movies shot on film. David Appleby - DreamWorks
After watching "War Horse" projected digitally, I must confess that it fell into the category of movies shot on film that didn't transfer properly to digital. The soft image with high-key lighting was inherently designed for celluloid. And Spielberg, in his rigidness, shot himself in the foot: Few will ever see it projected on film. The digital counterpart was too harsh and vivid where film would have been kinder. Either he should have made the movie two or three years ago, when film projection was more widely used, or he should have shot it digitally and adjusted it for that format.

Somebody needs to slap Spielberg in the face and tell him to wake up, because he cannot move forward as a filmmaker by holding so tightly to the past (he even wishes he could return to cutting on a Moviola). The roots of filmmaking are its language, not the technical medium. I love Spielberg, but his stubbornness is depressing me. He should be leading the way.

Spielberg cannot move forward as a filmmaker by holding so tightly to the past.

The first major digitally shot and projected feature I saw was David Fincher's "Zodiac" at New York's Ziegfeld Theater (the same theater at which I saw "War Horse") in 2007. Shot by Harris Savides, "Zodiac" was actually designed for a film print release with digital as a minor component. The digital image was so clean and sharp, so alien, that it was almost a distraction.

Now, digital is the new normal. This needs to be accepted. It's this transition that has manifested itself in the nostalgia of many of the movies I've noted above: "Martha," with its long takes and its grungy seventies vibe, "The Artist" with its celebration of silent film, "War Horse" with its celebration of old-fashioned 1940s-style filmmaking, and "Hugo," which used modern 3D to pay homage to the dawn of movies.

Movies will go on. The past will inspire the future. But the future will also need to stand on its own feet.

Jamie Stuart is a New York-based filmmaker.

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42 Comments

  • Tim | November 18, 2012 6:23 AMReply

    Just one more. As you should be aware of Mr. Spielberg's background and how he started out, you should also realize that, most likely, no one is more thrilled than he at the opportunities that affordable, quality, digital technologies present to all filmmakers.

  • Tim | November 18, 2012 6:11 AMReply

    The merits of either chemical or electrical acquisition aside, you can't be definitive and absolute here because we are talking about two or more separate issues; The epitome of the "best" method of shooting and exhibiting from an (albeit still subjective mind you) aesthetic point of view or which system represents the most efficient method in terms of production budgets. It is always going to be a choice based on many factors; Are you a beginner or are you Steven Spielberg (and please, remember what our parents taught us; No hitting) I am thrilled that there is such latitude in production systems available to all artists these days...it is truly an amazing time. I will state this as a fact to be upheld; Artists owe technology nothing, while technology should always bow on bended knee to the artist. A final note, it is a pity the technology we are abandoning. The gold standard of movie exhibition among my personal experience is still the premier of Apocalypse Now at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, August 1979...but to each his own. With that standard in mind, we are losing far more than mere machinery. We are also losing the craftspeople with the experience and know-how to make such analog systems work, but this is nothing new. Please excuse my rambling post.

  • Jamie | August 3, 2012 11:39 PMReply

    Warhorse was shit on 35mm. I saw The Dark Knight Rises on 35mm last night and the was a HUGE difference in quality. Wonderful fine grain which wasn't present in the digital file version. God bless Christopher Nolan for his work on film preservation and it's thanks to him that we're able to see his films projected the way they were made. I will enjoy the next year or two of watching these movies this way.

  • MENTD | July 5, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    Since nothing new and innovative has come out in 20 years, modern kids today keep
    touting the wonders of digital technology because they want it to be this new innovative
    game changer but the fact remains... It isn't. Serious film makers have caught on.
    Technology has got smaller and faster but no game changers have been made.
    Most digital stuff looks like porn and even when measures are taken by decent
    cinematographers to avoid the look, it still looks worse than film. Always.
    Anyone who watches Blade Runner : The Final Cut on Bluray and doesn't think
    it looks absolutely stunning and better than anything modern is just an idiot.
    The last decade has contained some of the worst looking excuses for movies I've ever seen.
    Can't stand these kids who weren't even alive during the HEYDAY of superior films
    (70's and 80's) acting like these new computer toys look even half as good.
    Also, it's LENSES that make the difference - FILM is just a recording medium.
    The problem with modern stuff is they don't compose properly and don't use good lenses.

  • Daniel Mimura | May 21, 2012 4:13 PMReply

    How dare you to presume to know better how Spielberg/Kaminski should have shot *their* movie. I haven't been a fan of maybe half or 2/3rds of Spielberg's films films, but that doesn't mean I have a problem of him shooting on whatever format he and Kaminski chooses. If you don't want to shoot film...don't. ...But don't dare tell artists how they should do their work.

    To tell him what he should have used for his film is like telling Renoir (Pierre-Auguste) that he should have painted Luncheon of the Boating Party with a sable haired brush instead of a camel haired brush (or whatever) or Renoir (Jean) should've used Agfa instead Kodak film stocks (or whatever) to shoot The Grand Illusion...etc...etc...

    And get your facts straight about film/digital before you start saying things that are totally wrong and incorrect. Why do you say the high-key lighting is inherently designed for celluloid when film has a greater dynamic range than digital (arguably...)? Television and (most) digital formats are better for high-key than they are at low-key. Most digital formats that don't have the latitude, it's like still photographers working with slide film...you've got a lot of shadows to fill! Or perhaps you really mean low-key (higher contrast) lighting? Either way, you have no idea what you're saying, you're mixing up your terms. Another factor about digital projection of film is that you don't get the strobing in the highlights...film projected digitally can look incredible, getting the benefits of each medium (the latitude of film, the smoothness [lack of flicker] of digital projection). See a few more movies in the theater and know more about the individual theater's projection system and practices before you start disparaging it. I have seen every Kaminski shot Spielberg movie (most in the theater) except War Horse...and I know film has the latitude and resolution to handle all modern digital projection. Perhaps you just weren't accepting of Kaminski's lighting choices or perhaps it was shitty projection. Shitty projection happens all the time these days, particularly with crappy chains that refuse to remove the 3D polarizers for 2D films...etc...don't get me started, but that's another issue.

    I'm shooing a "film" with a Red Epic at 5K resolution later this summer...and for me that works, as I have access to it and can afford (barely) the storage requirements of the format...but don't think for a second I wouldn't be shooting it in 35mm if money was no object.

  • rob spence | January 19, 2012 12:12 PMReply

    I've just looked you up on google ...I'm sorry but you need a little more experience before you start advising what the film business should be doing.

  • rob spence | January 18, 2012 11:35 AMReply

    Sorry but these articles are pointless, directors should do this, can't do that...the aesthetic is entirely up to the filmmaker.

  • Tim Naylor | January 10, 2012 10:40 PMReply

    As a working NYC cinematographer, I feel your observations are spot on. I've been working with film for over 20 years yet I celebrate the liberation of digital. It costs considerably less despite what Kodak reps tell you. This has allowed true indies to create images on par with the big boys for considerably less than five years ago. Perhaps the aspect I like the most is being able to see the results on set as you shoot instead of waiting for it to come back from the lab after you struck the set. It allows you to really push the limits of latitude because you can actually see in real time where it begins and ends. Also, because you can see all the nuance and detail on set both aesthetically and dramatically, I believe it can elevate the collaboration between DP and Director. My biggest misgiving is many of the new large chip cameras essentially have a similar quality in terms of color, detail and latitude, unlike the variety of film stocks. So now I find my self trying to find new ways to differentiate the look of my "digital" negative. Like many DP's, we now find ourselves testing and shooting with vintage and oddball lenses - anything to strike a new different look. Something to look into.

  • davem1031 | January 10, 2012 9:45 PMReply

    Even if it's been shot on film, and then projected on film, almost all features go thru the digital intermediate process. Alas, film has already been relegated to acqusition only.

  • Torstein | January 9, 2012 2:04 AMReply

    Thanks Jamie. Good article.

  • Annie Mose | January 7, 2012 5:38 PMReply

    Pretty disappointing article. It's a shame that good cinematographers look past instead of into, what are normally seen as 'mistakes', to consistently work in a formulaic style. Whereas great cinematographers see what others may call 'mistakes' and see art and future, thus changing the playing field for filmmaking, keeping it unique and organic. Obviously Jamie Stuart falls in the 'good' category.

  • Ron Garcia, ASC | January 5, 2012 12:00 AMReply

    Cinematographers have had to deal with technologies going from Nitrate film to acetates film, black and white film to three stripe Technicolor, three stripe to color composite , negative to video, negative to digital to film print. Each step is taking us away from the temporal emotional language of film, turning photography into modernity of cookie cutting images because propaganda states its cheaper and quicker.

    I would argue the fact, if young people which I assume you are, sat down an viewed an original three stripe Technicolor print of Gone With the Wind and compared it to a original digital production like Hugo ( which is done well ) would truly see what they missed .

    if you could ask the impressionists or any artist that studied the disciplines of oil painting, if they could have evoked the same emotion using today’s digital cameras.


    I don’t think Spielburg should be slapped. I do feel you should be ashamed of your self for being so disrespectful to the art of cinematography and filmmaking.

    I praise anyone who holds onto beauty and integrity as a filmmaker. Spielburg use film for the future because it will last longer that any digital master or you. He chose film for himself and for those who are lucky enough to see it and appreciate it. evidently you missed his point.

  • Tim Naylor | January 10, 2012 10:51 PM

    Ron, you bring up some valid points. I do remember seeing Gone with the Wind, Wizard of Oz and of course, Lawrence of Arabia on prints. But part of what Adam is saying is that because fewer and fewer theaters are screening prints, instead opting for digital projection that much of the magic of film projection gets lost or "equalized". That said, I think cheaper and quicker are valid advantages of digital production over film that have had a democratizing effect on production. A friend of mine recently produced and directed a film in the Kinshasa, Congo, and it screened in NY. It looked fantastic and the audience loved it - like a true movie. It could not have been made at that level if film were the only option. The logistics and expense would've destroyed the budget. If jettisoning film is the price to bring more and varied stories, so be it.

  • Adam | January 4, 2012 4:36 AMReply

    If anyone still thinks that film is the daddy they should watch this: http://www.zacuto.com/the-great-camera-shootout-2011/episode-one

  • Annie Mose | January 7, 2012 5:33 PM

    If you have to state you should 'watch this' then you're behind in the world/use of cameras both digital and film, leaving your entire comment pointless.

  • Guy Ducker | January 1, 2012 2:08 PMReply

    Much of what I'd want to say has been said. Technically, film is still the Rolls Royce or recording mediums - it has a greater latitude than any digital camera yet built and a richness of colour that is hard either to define or to rival. But not everyone can afford a Rolls Royce, nor is it necessarily the right vehicle for all situations.
    I've worked with Alexa material on two features now and is a damned fine camera, a real star of the digital revolution, but film still has the edge on it. I don't think filmmakers who have the resources to use film, and a project that suits it, should feel obliged to expose anything other than celluloid into the light.

  • Emmanuel | January 1, 2012 2:44 AMReply

    Yeah this is good stuff, I completely and whole-heartedly agree with the author's statement that David Fincher shows some of the best understanding of digital cinema. Especially in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it in theaters, the dynamic range the sensitivity of the Red camera sensors, the rich colors, and noise-free images... it was breathtaking seeing both what digital cinema has to offer and what Fincher can do with a digital cinema camera. And I saw it in 35mm too, I still have to see it in a digital theater so I can compare.
    Often when shooting digital, lighting becomes a totally different game; a desk lamp might just be a prop on film, but in digital that desk lamp can also serve as the main lighting for the scene, with little to no sacrifice in exposure. That's just one of the many advantages of shooting digital. I'll go to my grave with this debate!

  • @TWEAK | December 30, 2011 4:56 PMReply

    And I suppose filmmakers who are still clinging to flash-based websites cannot move forward either? The quality and presentation of HTML5 is the future today! Just kidding, but you see the point, no? ;-)

  • ImperialGuy | December 29, 2011 4:44 PMReply

    You should go back to watching more than one film a year in a cinema! Fincher's Dragon Tattoo looked great in 35mm, even though it was shot on a RED camera (for that matter, so did Social Network). On Christmas, I specifically drove to the local art house to see War Horse in 35mm, knowing in advance it was shot on film. Turns out, they had switched the big house to digital (Barco projector) just the week before. It looked great in digital. The image was bright and the colors varied. The last 3 minutes of the film are some of the most beautiful shots Janusz Kaminski has ever done. By comparison, Drive was one of the few live action 2D digital prints I've seen on Sony 4K projectors that did not look grainy, flat and pixelated. The future may be here but it's far from perfect. I'll be sticking with 35mm until that last domestic print ships in 2013!

  • Albert | December 29, 2011 4:37 PMReply

    This article is written for other directors of photography, not for the regular public. Just like a bad science teacher who designs his /her science courses for students planning to major in the subject, the author forgets that many who read this article will never work on a film and will have no idea of what some of the technical terms mean. And there are people not involved with photography who would like to understand some of these technical terms.

  • Mike | December 29, 2011 3:46 PMReply

    No technology really ever dies. Film will always be around and will probably rebound in a few short years such as recording on tape has. I see Super 16 and Super 8 becoming a new go to medium because, while the RED and Alexa now do big sensors good, we all know what a video camera with a small sensor looks like - crap.

  • JR | December 29, 2011 3:13 PMReply

    I'm going to chime in here as a working session musician/musical artist: Many of you here may not really know about the transition from recording on analog tape to recording to digital. In short: it's AWFUL and is probably the chief reason why modern music is so bad. Tape placed track and time restrictions on you (24 channels per recording machine maximum, tape sounds worse the more you us it and recordings can end up sounding thin if overused), therefore requiring you to be expediant and make creative decisions. Albums were made more quickly, required the musicians and artists to be better at their respective instrument, and it just sounded better. Digital sounds like shit compared to tape, and everyone agrees. The bandwidth and tonal possibilities are infinite with analog, just like film. Digital allows you to tinker with everything, allows endless amounts of tracks and takes, and even allows you to make a terrible performance sound not only passable, but good. It has ruined the music industry, and the effects of this have been felt by everyone. Of course, tape is now making a comeback. It's in production more than it has been in years, more studios are using it than have been in years, and music seems to be getting better.

    This was an almost aimless rant, but all I'm saying is this: film is here to stay, and it's going to be what seperates the men from the boys, much like tape does vs. digital. All right. I'm done.

  • Señor Spielbergo | December 29, 2011 12:05 PMReply

    Myopic douche.

  • Devin M | December 29, 2011 11:42 AMReply

    He's not talking about the recording medium, really, but the projecting medium. Recording in film, then transferring to digital for a projected screening is the equivalent of recording on 8-track then recording that onto a CD to listen. If the theatres are the ones who are switching over to digital, and theatres and ticket sales are going to be the ones who drive the medium, then the filmmakers need to get on board with the digital interface. They don't have to shoot digitally, just be aware of and prepared for a digital projection (this also includes BluRay and other HD transfers) so their image is shown exactly as is was intended to be seen.

  • JAB | December 29, 2011 11:29 AMReply

    You can have the most beautiful looking cinematography in the world, but if the story sucks then the movie sucks (see "Tree Of Life" which belongs in the Louvre, but not @ the ArcLight).
    My faovorite movie of the year (which I saw @ a cinema) is "Moneyball" & was knocked out by the shot compositions (the use of negative space for example). I didn't realize until the closing credits that last year's Oscar winner, Wally Pfister aka Chris Nolan's DP, had shot it. However I don't think there is a single frame you'd want to blow up to fill a wall in your home. It served the film.
    Cronenweth's work in "...Dragon Tattoo" is astonishing & it is featured in a great movie with a damn fine story.
    Movies always have been & still are story, script & character driven. A great look will only go so far.

  • Cde. | December 30, 2011 8:00 PM

    What a depressing viewpoint. Movies can be driven by anything. Script and character, or visuals, or a mix of any number of things. The Tree of Life is just as much a film as Moneyball, and the story it's telling does not suck in the slightest.

  • JD | December 29, 2011 9:47 AMReply

    Yeah Spielberg, get in line and be just like everyone else. If you're a true artist, you'll do what Indiewire says and conform to the ways of 2011. And if you don't, you will be slapped! But seriously, what will it take to get people to understand that progress and technological change are too entirely different things? I'm not saying the new cameras/formats aren't perfectly good for some purposes, but they're DIFFERENT from 35mm (and other film formats). What is the sense in just arbitrarily choosing the most current format? If Spielberg was a folk musician in 1968, would he be obligated to go electric because everyone else was doing it?

  • Sparky | December 29, 2011 8:14 AMReply

    I almost stopped reading after the line "At first, I scrutinized the image".

    You honestly don't have the right idea of what movies are actually designed to be and do.

  • RD | December 29, 2011 5:09 AMReply

    So not even TREE OF LIFE could get Jamie Stuart off his couch and into a movie theater, huh?

    Sorry, but why do people think this guy knows what he's talking about? Because he shoots industrials on a DSLR? His biggest supporters, like Wells and Ebert, are way over-the-hill techno-runts. Is this because of that blizzard movie?

    This is just digital agitprop. Maybe if Stuart made it out to see more movies, he'd have something like an informed or balanced perspective. (The film print of A DANGEROUS METHOD at the Sunshine is lovely...should Cronenberg rethink his (dangerous) celluloid methods?)

    To all filmmakers: shoot what you want shoot and ignore aggro cinephobic boosters like Stuart.

  • Shane | December 29, 2011 1:12 AMReply

    How can you write an article like this and not mention Michael Mann? Collateral, Miami Vice, Public Enemies, even bits of Ali were digitally shot and he did it first. He's at the top of the heap in my opinion, not only in influence but skill-wise as well.

  • stq | December 28, 2011 11:24 PMReply

    If you want to see a true achievement of modern cinematography, go see a 15/70 print of "The Dark Knight Rises" when it comes out next year. While the Alexa does what it does very well, that's still nothing compared to what can be done with large format film using modern negatives and print stocks.

  • Rmati | December 28, 2011 8:00 PMReply

    Film Shark: "Digital cinematography is here to stay. I like it because it gives the little guy/gal a chance to get his or her voice heard in film. They have a new 'RED' digital camera for about 10k. That evens the playing field for us young filmmakers trying to break into Hollywood." This is what I'm talking about - some guys think that beating up on film = digital winning = now they can make their movie. They get so obsessed with the idea that digital is BETTER instead of simply viable that they feel compelled to bash film, because they want to make their camera respectable. The problem is that no one goes to the movies to watch things simply because they were shot on a particular camera - not even IMAX. They go because they want to see and hear a story which they can identify with and which is told well. There are millions of ways to do this effectively. Some involve expensive equipment and thousands of technicians, some require neither. The format does not confer legitimacy to the movie, so I find it frustrating when the guys who are supposed to be in charge of the telling of the story instead spend far too much time reading up on the camera technical details to the impoverishment of the attention the other departments deserve. I don't see these same guys obsessing over sound gear or lighting equipment in the same way, and it's rather telling. Most people aren't going to spend too much time in the theater thinking about your format after the first few minutes, but bad sound or lighting comes off as far more amateurish and grating than whatever camera is being used. The camera isn't going to save you.

  • dudeabides | December 28, 2011 7:28 PMReply

    you forgot to mention one of the great achievements of cinematography of the last decade with Chivo's work on Tree of Life. Malick's ability to work with DP's in such a close manner is astounding.

  • Giro Savo | December 28, 2011 7:26 PMReply

    Responded to this link on a friend's FB page, and I decided to copy my response‎here as well:

    "The roots of filmmaking are its language, not the technical medium." - Palm to face. What exactly does he think makes the language, but the technical side of things? It's telling that he has a problem with Melancholia - a cursory look at Von Trier's career will demonstrate how the technical medium is a fundamental part of his film grammar!

    I agree, this guy has no clue about what he's talking about with film vs digital, nor does he seem to understand that some filmmakers do not want the cleanest or most polished image. And this one-size-fits-all proscription for digital where everyone should make their films look like Fincher's. Jeez, I don't know where to start.

    Also, the idea that film is keeping Spielberg from moving forward? ROFL. There are plenty of people who want Spielberg to "move forward", but I'm pretty sure that the vast number of them refer to his storytelling techniques or subject matter, not his recording medium.

    What really outrages me as a filmmaker is how this film vs digital debate is not something left to the filmmakers, but instead has become a big PR sell, with the majority of the advocacy being done by neither manufacturer, nor vendor, nor end-user, but instead by fanboys and members of the press who have decided that digital is de facto better, end of story, and then proceed to chide masters of the art for wanting to use their preferred and reliable tools. I don't seem to remember the sound mixers being dictated to in the same manner when they started to transition over into digital recording.

    I work with both film and digital cameras for a living, and each has their weaknesses and strengths. As of late 2011, neither is "better"; it's just a question of which strengths and weaknesses are more important for your shots. As far as post goes, I don't know anyone who cuts film anymore - once you get to post, it's all the same (DI), and you create both film and digital masters, regardless of the originating medium.

    I'm sorry if you had bad screening experiences with film. Maybe you should consider that the projection technology was at fault, or at least not yet capable of handling the full color and contrast gamut of the film stock. Errors can happen along the post and distribution chain at many points, whether the originating medium was digital or film. To blame the director for choosing one or the other is asinine - I'm pretty sure the master or original negative looks fine.

  • Congrats | December 28, 2011 5:08 PMReply

    I'm sorry but why does Spielberg need to "move forward" as a filmmaker? Are you dense?

  • Allen | December 28, 2011 4:31 PMReply

    I love these poutraged declarations. How about you slap Spielberg? After he just made a feature length digital 3D mo-cap feature? Guess you should catch up...

  • Ron Merk | December 28, 2011 4:08 PMReply

    Jamie,
    You're wrong, wrong, wrong about letting go of film, and embracing digital as the messianic format of the present and future. I really get ticked off when people write polemics which basically throw the baby out with the bath water. It's like saying, yeah we used to paint with oil paint or water color, but we can do better on a digital palette. The fact is that each medium is different, and if you don't understand that, you're just not educated. There, I said it. Imagine where we will be 50 years from now, and someone commenting on your column saying, "what's digital?" Or "We now record on our brain stems, and our own version of the program is better than anyone else's." I remember when "video was replacing film," then digital was replacing film and video. Everything has its place, and if you really want to get into it with me, just look at the immense problem of long term storage and retrieval of digital media The other thing that we need to do is teach DPs how to control the light when shooting digital. If I see one more movie where a DP didn't light the actors just a little brighter than that window in the background that's burning out so there's no image, I will scream. Digital, like film, is a tool, not a religion. Like most religions, however, the idol of digital is standing on feet of clay. Let's bring some common sense back to these discussions, and stop flailing at anything that isn't new or in your mind is "old fashioned." There's a reason why some things remain with us in culture and art...it's because they work. And all these technologies can work side by side, and even enhance each other, if we truly learn the best parts of them, as well as their limits.

  • Cameron Bossert | December 30, 2011 2:03 AM

    I had the exact same thought about oil paints. This guy should read up on "paradigm shifts." Film is no longer the necessary standard, but now a chosen tool of artists. Some people won't chose it, and some people will. Film grain used to be a given. Now it is made more beautiful because it is not ubiquitous. Theater used to be the only way to see actors portray a story. Now theater is made more special and beautiful because it brings people together for brief moments out of their alienation. Every new art tool actually beautifies the one that came before it, sharpens its value in the world, defines it more clearly.

  • Edward | December 28, 2011 3:43 PMReply

    1- they make specifically graded images for film and separate for digital. Look up information about SMPTE and their work with digital cinema standards. they make dcp files. And look up what projection systems your viewing the films on.
    2- it would be more correct to say Fincher and Cronenweth create a great image that supports the story. Maybe those aesthetic choices are apart of it...I'm certain they select other things besides the wide open and hope method which is very common for run and gun. Finchers directorial pace for his films don't necessarily fit run and gun....take a look at those awesome dolly shots.
    3- yes, Drive is a great looking movie. Also check out Tree of Life.
    4- Spielberg can shoot film because he has budgets that warrant the cost, he likes the aesthetic choice of film, and so does his DP - Kaminski. Film is both a aesthetic and budgetary choice. It has captured light for over 100+ years and does a fantastic job at it. I do not discredit the strides digital has made. The red systems, Alexa, and Sony have made fantastic machines, and will continue to do so. It depends on what the artists want to use, and if they believe it benefits the story better than the other. This could have been a much stronger piece.

  • Film_Shark | December 28, 2011 2:48 PMReply

    Amazing article. Digital cinematography is here to stay. I like it because it gives the little guy/gal a chance to get his or her voice heard in film. They have a new 'RED' digital camera for about 10k. That evens the playing field for us young filmmakers trying to break into Hollywood.

  • Marc | December 28, 2011 2:13 PMReply

    Re: Paul, very true, but nevertheless a (somewhat) valid point, independent of how it is stated.

    Some cineastes are already firmly entrenched in the digital camp, for whatever reasons those might be. Some, like Spielberg, are film purists and won't budge (which is fine). And then there are others who understand when to use which for what project.

    What bothers me about the digital vs. analog debate is the "vs." part. Why not "or"? It strikes me that digital should seek to expand the filmmaker's toolbox, rather than replace it. To be sure, there are far too many considerations to make in either case, and the decision ultimately comes down to what the filmmaker's priorities per the project at hand.

  • Paul | December 28, 2011 1:03 PMReply

    In a nutshell, this is a rather simplistic and didactic editorial. Understand that the command here, "This needs to be accepted," will promptly be ignored by cineastes as an amateur admonition.