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Filmmakers Weigh in on the Film vs. Digital Debate at the Tribeca Film Festival

Filmmakers Weigh in on the Film vs. Digital Debate at the Tribeca Film Festival

The spirit of Keanu Reeves hung heavy in the SVA theater last Thursday at Tribeca Talks’ New Filmmaker in the Digital Age panel, or specifically the themes and influence of the actor’s much lauded documentary “Side by Side,” a comparison of film and digital filmmaking techniques taught as sort of a master class interview by a parade of filmmakers. The film was name dropped a number of times throughout the panel, and much of the same topics were covered by the band of young festival-approved filmmakers who graced the stage. Moderated by Panavision’s Peter Brogna, the panel featured “Bluebird” director Lance Edmands, “A Birder’s Guide to Everything” director Rob Meyer, “The Pretty One” director Jenee LaMarque, and “Run and Jump” producer Tamara Anghie; all filmmakers with films screening at Tribeca. While no earth shattering revelations were reached upon where the film industry is headed, the group brought a fresh, rational voice to the debate that essentially boils down to “do whatever is best for your film.”

Of the four representative filmmakers, only Edmands had shot his feature (gorgeously, it’s worth noting, by “Martha Marcy May Marlene” DP Jody Lee Lipes) on 35mm film. The other three shot digitally, predominantly on the Arri Alexa, though Meyer’s award winning short film “Aquarium” was shot on film. In some cases, however, this didn’t seem to be the choice of the filmmaker but rather an imposed restriction by funders.

“I think shooting on film would’ve lent a wonderful vintage quality to the film that we do achieve through other means, through costume design, through production design and the lenses that we chose,” LaMarque said. “But yeah, I think it would’ve benefited a lot from being shot on film.”

Anghie agreed, saying, “In this instance, had we had more money, I think we would’ve pushed harder to shoot on film” on Steph Green’s “Run and Jump.” You can check out a few more fascinating tidbits from the panel and Q&A below, which ranged from discussing the future of film preservation to the current trend of editors beginning work while production is still occurring.

Rob Meyer on how shooting digital changes the shoot’s atmosphere:
“There’s a certain amount of pressure, shooting on film, that you can just hear the money burning. Not that we just let the camera roll casually, but at the same time that’s a lot of pressure for kids. So shooting on video was appealing as it would take away that pressure. We still ran the set very much like a film set, except mags don’t jamb or anything that can kind of make for a tense set.”

Lance Edmands on the disadvantages, or lack thereof, of still shooting film:
“A film camera is a little bit heavier… I don’t know, the Alexa’s pretty heavy though. It’s not like you need less stuff shooting on video. The crew size is basically the same. You maybe save on a loader, but you need a DIT (digital imaging technician), so it all just comes out in the wash. You still need to do makeup, you still need to design the sets, you still need to drive trucks. There really isn’t a lot that gets saved other than the physical boxes of film that then get shipped, processed, transferred and then sent back on drives in our case. Film does get fucked up. We had light leaks on a major scene that I then did not want to film again for performance reasons. It would’ve been difficult for everybody. But there were these huge light leaks when we got the dailies back. And we had to digitally erase all of them, it took like a month. But, you know, it looks fine and there was a moment where everyone panicked. But I said, let’s see if we can fix this digitally and they said, it’ll be tough but we can do it. And it was done. I think no matter the format you’re going to have a corrupt file or something. There’s always something.”

While the other directors could view their dailies instantly, Edmands had to take a different approach:
“We processed in New York, at Technicolor. We had to Fedex dailies every other day. The dailies colorist would do the dailies and send them back and we would watch them off of a hard drive, plugged into a TV, at the end of the day. It’s tough because you don’t see what you shot until four days later, generally, in our case. You’re kind of holding your breath, but you’re in production so you kind of forget what you shot. So when it comes it’s like, oh, that’s beautiful. It’s like unwrapping a little present. I probably also would’ve gotten a little obsessive if we had had the movie to watch immediately.

Meyer on the advantages and distractions of instantaneous feedback:
“There’s a setting on the Alexa that allowed to us to watch the footage, even though we were shooting Raw, in kind of a ballpark estimation of what a colored version of our footage would look like. But we would tried not to do too much with lookup tables on set, or mess with it too much.

“Our editor started right when we started shooting, which was great. It also just helps truncate our entire post schedule, which is a good economic thing. He did post some scenes, and I wish I hadn’t watched them, because while there’ s nothing more exciting than seeing dailies for the first time there’s nothing more depressing than seeing the first cut of a scene. You’re not in the room to give notes, and it sounds bad… The scenes all look great now, trust me.”

This process also saved Meyer from having to return to location for reshoots:
“There were some transition shots and stuff that he was able to say ‘you’re going to need these’ two weeks into the shoot, which was great. We were able to go right back in and pick them up.

On the preservation and printing of digital movies:
Tamara Anghie: “We had to deliver on print. The Irish Film Board, that’s a requirement for them, to have a separate, 35 mm, print that goes into the film archive. It gives me a piece of mind.

Rob Meyer: “Hard drives fail, they have a 100% failure rate, They’re like people. They’re gonna die. Sorry to take it down to that level. I don’t know if it’s all going to end up in the cloud or whatever. We can find the first films ever made and still project them and they’re gonna look great. We’re hoping we get picked up at the festival and the distributor makes a negative for theatrical distribution, but then a lot of distribution is digital. So you’re not going to make prints.

On digital distribution:
Lance Edmands: “I really only care that the movie will be in a movie theater and that people will be sitting down, in the dark all together and watching it because that’s how I fell in love with film. But someday it’ll be on iTunes and Netflix. It’s sort of just the reality.

Jenee LaMarque: “I’m excited about the VOD. I’m very aware of how my friends and I are consuming media right now.”

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