Why Sam Mendes Wanted Shoot 'Spectre' 35mm

The last James Bond film, “Skyfall,” was the first to be shot entirely digitally. Roger Deakins was nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Cinematography for the film, which was directed by Sam Mendes and shot on ARRI ALEXA. 

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For “Spectre,” Mendes opted to go another route. Hoping to evoke the nostalgia of earlier Bond films, he hired DP Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Her” and “Interstellar”), who shot the majority of the new film on 35mm.

In a comprehensive interview in this month’s American Cinematographer, Mendes talks about why he hired Van Hoytema and why he opted for 35mm this time around. Mendes was clearly very impressed with Hoytema’s work on “Let the Right One In,” “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” and “Her.”

He said when he saw “Her,” he thought, “My god, Hoyte’s managed to make digital look so soft and romantic and evocative, and he’s taken all that sort of harshness out of it.”

According to American Cinematographer, Hoytema was the one who suggested shooting on 35mm film negative.

Mendes explained: “I love digital. I felt the Alexa was very potent and beautiful in the nighttime scenes of ‘Skyfall,’ particularly in Shanghai, in the office building and the nighttime casino, two sequences which were brilliantly shot and lit by Roger [Deakins]. But digital felt less romantic, less textured in many of the exteriors. And under bright light I felt it was difficult to control, harsh on actors, less forgiving.”

Mendes said that working with the Alexa, he “missed the routine of film and the dailies. Film takes a leap up from your slightly shitty monitor screen to the dailies, where it starts to really have richness. Watching dailies on the big screen for the first time is kind of like Christmas. With film, there’s something to look forward to, whereas with digital, I’ve always felt that the best version of the image is standing alongside the DIT on set, and there’s a step backwards when you watch dailies.”

Mendes describes himself “very pro-digital” but also “extremely pro-film.”

He told American Cinematographer: “When I asked Ang Lee, whose work I admire very much, about digital and film, he said he likes both, but he finds it difficult when digital tries to look like film. I think that’s very well put.”

Mendes said, “loved shooting on film again. Film is difficult, it’s imprecise, but that’s also the glory of it. There’s a magic there; you win big and sometimes you lose big, but the risk is worth it. I was so relieved watching the first day’s dailies on film. It had romance, a slight nostalgia, which was my own imposition, but I had that feeling. And that’s not inappropriate when dealing with a classic Bond movie.”

Read the full interview here.

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