Filmmaking technology and technique has been evolving rapidly ever since the first motion picture. Silent films evolved into the talkies which were soon in Technicolor and, more recently, much to the chagrin of traditionalists; 35mm film is fast being replaced by digital film technology. What was once a series of still images shown at 24 frames a second to create an illusion of motion is now a series of digital images stored in binary code and played through a computer programme.
This shift from analogue to digital has been inevitable for numerous reasons: finance and, so, accessibility being large factors. Anyone with a digital camera can become a filmmaker to a certain degree. Free or inexpensive editing software enable the amateur filmmaker to accomplish what once required the physical cutting and pasting of reels of film relatively easily. It isn’t only equipment that has gone digital though.
Online platforms like YouTube and other forms of social media pave the way for distributing films to the masses. A cleverly executed social media campaign can ensure that the movie reaches millions of viewers, effectively going ‘viral’.
Take Jafar Panahi’s Taxi, 2015 (aka Taxi Tehran), for example, which would have been impossible to make without a digital camera. Made as a docu-fiction, the director poses as a taxi driver and portrays the social challenges of living in Iran through conversations with his customers. The multi award winning film grossed over three hundred thousand dollars in the U.S. alone. Although, Jafar Panahi was banned from film-making since 2010 by the government of Iran, his movies have been smuggled out of Iran in various digital formats including on a USB stick hidden in a cake in one legendary instance.
The arguments for going digital in the world of professional moviemaking also range along the lines of lower costs, ease of handling equipment and distribution being large players with nostalgia and the quality of the picture being the main arguments for shooting on film. Many advocates for digital technology firmly believe that it is getting progressively harder for an audience to tell if a movie is shot on a digital or film camera.
35mm film is still the weapon of choice for many choosing to use film across the world. The mere cost of using film can be prohibitively expensive though with one film reel only being able to support 11 minutes of footage.
IMAX cameras using 70mm film are even more expensive with the sheer size of the film stock resulting in the cameras being able to hold only three minutes of footage at a stretch. The constant changing of film reels takes fairly long making the entire process time consuming as well. Digital cameras on the other hand are mainly limited by their batteries and size of their memory cards, both of which can be quickly and easily changed.
Another argument for digital technology in films is the size of the equipment. Take the movie Slumdog Millionaire, for which Anthony Dod Mantle won the Best Cinematography Oscar, for instance. It was the first digital motion picture to receive that honour. Smaller and lighter digital cameras were used instead of bulky film in the crowded slums of Mumbai. Similarly, Black Swan used a Canon 7D to shoot scenes in the subway scenes.
Technological advancements in film making also allow filmmakers to view footage instantly, allowing them to erase and reshoot unsuitable footage at once thereby cutting down on photography costs. Unlike film, SD cards can be reused time and again after footage has been transferred to computers or hard disks again cutting down the costs for equipment.
Shooting using 65mm or 70mm film is a luxury that few filmmakers can command. It is only big budget films like Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino, one of the biggest proponents of sticking to film, that can afford to do so. He laments the rise of digital filmmaking stating “digital projection is the death of cinema” and that “Digital projection is just television in cinema”. However, even a purist like him cannot deny the benefits of the digital age. He admitted “A young person can make a film on a cell phone [for example], if they have the tenacity to do so. They can actually make a movie, and they can be legit. Back in my day, you at least needed 16mm to make something, and that was a Mount Everest most of us couldn’t climb.”
The accessibility of the digital cameras, along with relatively lower costs, has allowed the filmmaking industry to burgeon across the world.
Film making institutes in India like Seamedu offer comprehensive degree courses in all aspects of new digital technology in filmmaking. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to pull out your favourite camera and get down to creating your masterpiece!