‘Da 5 Bloods’ Cinematographer Talks the Pushback that Comes with Using 16mm Film

Shooting on 16mm is part of the reason Newton Thomas Sigel is an Oscar contender for his work on "Da 5 Bloods."
"Da 5 Bloods"
Chadwick Boseman in Spike Lee's "Da 5 Bloods."

Netflix gave Martin Scorsese over $150 million on “The Irishman” in order to de-age actors like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, but the streaming giant was reportedly apprehensive when it came to allowing Spike Lee to shoot on 16mm film for “Da 5 Bloods.” The Insider reports that Netflix “was initially concerned about having the movie’s flashback scenes shot on grainy 16mm film.” Lee’s cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel added, “There was pushback because it opened up a lot of challenges.”

The challenges weren’t necessarily specific to Netflix, as Sigel said there were inherent setbacks to shooting on 16mm in a foreign country like Vietnam. Not only was the film stock Lee wanted to use was an expensive one as it’s rarely used today, but it’s even pricier to shoot on 16mm film while abroad because the dailies have to be shipped back to the United States in order to be processed at a film lab. The cinematographer said “Spike was pretty adamant” about using 16mm for the flashbacks, adding, “I would never have been able to do it without such fervent support from him.”

The idea to shoot the flashback scenes on 16mm was Sigel’s. Those sequences were originally intended to be shot on a different format before Sigel pitched to Lee an idea to shoot the Vietnam sequences using the kind of camera and film stock that would have been available during the Vietnam era. It was a winning pitch, as Sigel explained, “I think what really sold Spike on it was that this is what would have been used if a crew was there in Vietnam shooting during the war.”

“Da 5 Bloods” was released globally June 12 on Netflix to some of the best reviews of the year. IndieWire’s awards expert Anne Thompson wrote this week that not only is Spike Lee an instant Oscar contender for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, but so is Sigel for his work behind the camera. Sigel’s recent credits include the Netflix blockbuster action movie “Extraction,” plus BAFTA-nominated “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Drive,” and “Three Kings.” Thompson wrote Sigel is overdue for an Oscar, and his work on “Da 5 Bloods” could finally nab him a win.

“Da 5 Bloods” is now streaming on Netflix. Head over to Insider to read more from Sigel.

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