Friday, July 25, 2008

This. I'll Never Get!

So, the office we've set up for this movie is in the same building as of the very few labs that process motion picture film. Walking in the front door this morning, I saw a kid running in with 4 1000' reels of film to drop off for processing.

Now, think about this. The crew that shot that film, the equipment that was used to shoot that film, everything else that had to be paid for to shoot that film probably cost between $150,000 and $200,000. I'm talking about paying for the one day it took to shoot those 4 1000' reels of film.

And, as a matter of course, the production sends one of the lowest paid, lowest on the totem pole Production Assistants to put the product of all that money and effort into the responsible hands of the lab. He's carrying that $150,000 to $200,000 in his hands. I don't know. This has just always struck me as a little odd.


Chris said...

I ran a projection booth for 5 years, and when I left they started bringing in the ushers to do it. Ushers. These kids were making about $6/hour, and they trusted them with millions of dollars of projection and sound equipment, not to mention each $2000 print they were showing. After one week of the ushers running a print, it was usually destroyed. Doesn't make much sense.

Anonymous said...

I might be missing something big. Can you explain briefly on the use of digital video in movie industry? Why are there still reels?


Jim Wright said...

Well, see, this is what happens when you insist, insist, on the good craft service. If people are actually going to eat the food and drink the drinks - well it costs.

You've got to cut corners somewhere.

Jim Wright said...

Why are there still reels?

Because SD memory cards aren't big enough, yet, to hold all the ones and zeros?

Eric said...

There are several reasons film is still used.

One is aesthetic. E.g. film has random imperfections--grain--that has a nice look to it. Digital doesn't. (You can try to simulate grain during processing. In fact, I've recently been using GIMP--Linux's version of Photoshop--to try to add grain to some of the photos I've taken with my digital SLR; the results are sometimes okay--much, I don't know, softer looking than unmucked digital, but if you look closely the "grain" has a regularity that a film photo wouldn't have). Digital and film also take light differently--I'll let someone else explain this, but you can see the differences if you look at minimally processed film and digital images (the digital image is the one with the "harsher" colors).

Part of this aesthetic sometimes boils down to the director's taste, but audience perception can also be a factor: after 150 years of looking at film images, we've all been conditioned to expect images to look a certain way, and a film image often looks "more real" even if a comparable digital image technically has higher fidelity.

A second reason (that's quickly changing) is the gear that's available. Depending on where you're shooting and what you're shooting on, a decision to use a particular format may dictate film: an extreme example is IMAX, which uses huge quantities of specially-threaded 70mm film run through a very sophisticated, expensive, and rare camera.

There are other issues, I think, and I'll leave it to Nathan (or others) to add to the list or correct anything I've misstated. Those two reasons, I believe, are probably the main two that have kept a lot of directors from converting to film. A few directors, e.g. Lynch and I think Soderbergh, have overcome initial reluctance and displeasure with digital's look to become full converts, but a lot of directors continue to hate the medium. (They're not merely luddites: digital is easier and cheaper to shoot in some respects, but it's also a helluva lot more work to make it look good.)


A semi-hijack on digital still photography: I love my D40x, and as a beginning photographer, I love being able to point my camera at something and take a hundred photos that I can easily delete from the SD card at no cost. But the few good ones still look like digital photos: it takes some mucking around with the image to try to make it start to look a little bit like, for instance, the beautiful black-and-white photos that used to appear in Life in the '60s or the color photos that graced National Geographic in the '70s. Obviously, part of that is technique--my composition is still crap. But even as my technique improves, part of it will continue to be that film and digital have different innate properties. It's not that one is in fact natural and the other artificial--film and digital are both artificial ways of seeing in their own fashion. But there's an effect you get from photons altering an uneven chemical coating that some people--myself included--find more pleasing (in general, at least) than the effect created by photons activating detectors on one-to-three uniform silicon arrays.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Eric, that was a great explanation.

One thing comes to mind, though. With the films getting the digital treatment these days anyway(special effects and such). How is it possible to keep the original "analog" vision when trasnfering it to digital processing?

I am not trying to be a stickler here, it's just this stuff fascinates me to no end.

Eric said...

At first I read "vision" as version and started to go on a lecture about negatives and positives and Lucasfilm, but that wasn't the question. Glad I double-checked that.

At some level, it's a philosophical question, and one that has plagued all digital media for several decades now. At a fundamental level, I think the answer is that you can't: a digital rendition will always be different from an analogue equivalent (and an analogue rendition shouldn't be confused with "real," though it sometimes is: a vinyl recording may create a physical approximation of a sound wave that can reproduce an actual sound wave, but the physical approximation isn't an actual compression wave created by, say, a vibrating violin string.)

For some artists, the answer is trickery: e.g. introducing artifacts into a digital representation that mimic non-digital media. E.g., photo-processing software might allow you to add random "noise" to an image to mimic the speckling effect caused by the uneven distribution of chemicals on the surface of photographic film. For other artists, the answer is to embrace a new medium for what it is (i.e. creating an aesthetic based on digital's advantages and limits).

As for older media being converted, you'll find it's a subject for much debate. Audiophiles will argue CD versus vinyl, and film freaks will debate over the quality of digital transfers.

Thumbing through a magazine like Sound & Vision will give you an idea of the kinds of things that get debated when talking about preserving "the analog vision." E.g., from an old issue lying around my office, here's a comment from the DVD release of Paul Verhoeven's Black Book:

Black Book's transfer is generally excellent. In the crisp and clean daytime shots, I could almost feel the texture of the actors' costumes and hair. And the dust stirred up by a bus made me want to cough. But in night scenes, although close-ups are clear, the picture isn't as defined when the camera pulls back.

S&V (and similar magazines) will break reviews down, having separate ratings for the movie itself (plot, acting), for picture quality, sound quality, and for extras (e.g. the DVD release of Black Book received 4 stars--out of five--for sound, 3 1/2 for image quality and the film itself, and 3 stars for its bonus features).

Nathan said...


Thank you for guest blogging in my absence. :D

Honestly, though, you probably know more about that part than I do. To be honest, once the film is "in the can", my involvement is done.

I would have responded by merely pointing out that the VAST majority of Features, TV shows (except ones shot in front of an audience), and TV commercials are still shot on film because, yes, it's the look you expect.

Think about a time when you were young...before you even knew what film and video tape were, much less how they worked. If you saw a prime time TV show, you still knew it looked different from a daytime Soap Opera. DV and Film still look different.

And if you pay attention the next time you watch an action movie on your TV, you'll notice that the visual effects that are being done digitally become more apparent when watched on TV as opposed to being projected on a screen. I have no idea why that is, but it's true.

And Jim,

What'd I say about separation of blog from UCF-Mail?

Eric said...

Hope I didn't get too carried away, it's something that obviously interests me. :-)

Nathan said...

Eric, you're truly welcome to rant on an on about any subject you choose. And really, I don't know crap about the technological differences. (I know the basics, but prove myself a dolt very quickly into the conversation.)

I got home after being away from the blog for hours and saw the question. As soon as I clicked in, I saw that you had been running a tutorial on the subject and only commented because...well I have to.

You need only apologize if John's cats or Jeff fall asleep and let the rodent hoards through the free-fire zone.