Here’s What Sundance Cinematographers Think of Shooting Film Vs. Digital

Filmmaking increasingly doesn’t involve film at all as the majority of films — both Hollywood blockbusters and small independent films — are shot digitally. 

It’s worth noting that although digitally-shot films dominate the Sundance lineup, this year a good number of projects were produced on film including “A Walk in the Woods,” “Christmas, Again,” “Digging for Fire,” “Umrika” and “Mississippi Grind.”

As part of our “How I Shot That” series, Indiewire asked select cinematographers with films at Sundance 2015 to tell us if the shift from film to digital is good or bad or just is.

Here’s a selection of their responses: 

“As a documentary filmmaker, going digital was the best thing for us, because you can shoot endless amounts of footage. The quality of images keeps getting better and the cameras more versatile. I am all for it.” – Director-Cinematographer Crystal Moselle (“The Wolfpack”)

“I don’t understand the stigma that the death of film means the death of cinema.” – DP Brandon Trust

“I’ve always loved digital and I’ve always loved film, although at this point I haven’t shot a movie on film since 2009 and to be honest, I don’t care. I think digital looks just as great. You can make a film look cinematic on both formats but digital just keeps getting better and more streamlined for all aspects of filmmaking. I like seeing what the shot looks like right out of the gate and so does everyone else working on it, allowing for more precise collaboration across all departments. I also don’t understand the stigma that the death of film means the death of cinema. Cinema isn’t going anywhere and digital continues to afford young filmmakers to make films in ways that weren’t always possible and I think that’s a beautiful thing.” – DP Brandon Trost (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”)

“I prefer to look forward because that is the direction we are moving. Innovations in digital technology are giving us new tools to tell our stories every day. In the end, I believe there are many more important choices that go into telling a visual story than emulsion vs. pixels.” – DP John Guleserian (“The Overnight”)

“It’s not about the medium, it’s about the feeling your images are able to impart and sometimes you only able to capture that feeling with digital and sometimes only with film. But, I will say the first short films I shot were all on film and it’s through the texture and colors of film negative that I learned how to see. The rise of digital acquisition opens up a lot of creative possibilities and that is never a bad thing. Some of the first feature films I shot wouldn’t have been made if we didn’t shot digitally. But unfortunately digital’s rise has come at the cost of film’s ability to remain a viable option, economically. I try to be very conscious about how the tools I choose influences the creative process and shooting on film dictates a certain pace and rhythm on set while working digitally can accelerate that rhythm, sometimes to detriment of what you are doing. So when it comes to the hot new digital tech, I try to make sure I am leveraging its advantages and not letting it dictate choices for me. If I am able to do that successfully, it can be as rewarding as shooting film is. Or was. Sigh.” – DP Eric Lin (“I Smile Back”)

“As much as I love film, and still prefer to shoot it, I think the move to digital is a good thing. It is another tool for the cinematographer. Film is not as much of an option as it used to be, but digital offers certain advantages over film that I embrace as a good thing, particularly low light performance. I can shoot in much lower light, which I prefer.” – DP Tim Orr (“Z for Zachariah”)

“I think it’s fantastic. It has allowed more films, especially docs, to be made. It’s allowed stories that otherwise wouldn’t have been told to see the light of day. It’s allowed people (like me with my first documentary ‘Our Time’) to buy a cheap camera, experiment, learn and make films.” – DP Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”)

“The industry’s transition to almost entirely digital capture is an unfortunate reality. I wish that we had more choices when it comes to tools we use to tell stories. There are things that I love about shooting on the Alexa that I miss when I am shooting film, and there are things that I love about film that I dearly miss when I am shooting digital. I shot Ten Thousand Saints on Super-16, and there is some life in it that wouldn’t have been there with digital. The other day i said that it just might be the last movie I get to shoot on film. If film is truly something of the past, then all of us filmmakers have truly just lost a dear friend.” – DP Ben Kutchins (“Ten Thousand Saints,” “Sleeping With Other People”)

“It’s inevitable… regrettably, all the digital cameras look similar and content is starting to look ‘homogenized.'” – DP Jas Shelton (“The Stanford Prison Experiment”)

Special thanks to Indiewire for this one.

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