The True Cost of Filmmaking in the 21st Century

Wes Anderson behind an Aaton 16mm Motion Picture Camera on the set of “Moonrise Kingdom”

Myth

As a college professor teaching filmmaking students in the “digital age,” I often encounter many misconceptions as to the true cost of shooting and finishing a film on celluloid.  Students mistakenly believe that if it was not for the “digital revolution” and the “democratization” of the moving image that they would never have had the means or capability of producing a film due to the “high” price tag of film stock and lab costs.  Guests visit our campus and say the same thing “we could not have done this if it wasn’t for digital.”  When the guest artist is then asked about how much their project costs, they say “$60,000.”  Wow!  I have priced out feature 35mm films for under $20,000.  What about the many young filmmakers who made films on film for over 120 years?  They shot many films on celluloid and made masterpieces…on very low budgets!  As moving image artists, we should feel free to use the medium of our choice and know the truth about the tools we use.  The unfortunate thing is that students and new producers and directors are sincerely unaware of the actual cost of shooting on film.  The intention of this article is not to disregard the creative attributes of digital technology, but to make the reader mindful of the price tag that comes with working with digital video as well as film.  This post can also be utilized as a resource guide to help movie-makers who are interested in shooting on film.

Cost
Indeed film does cost money, and this is nothing new.  Motion picture film has always had an expense, but that expense is very manageable over time.  Also, that expense encourages expertise and also helps to elevate the quality of the project.  If you spend $300 on a five minute short that screens in twenty festivals, is not the investment of shooting on film worth it?  If you put quality in, you get quality out.  If you respect your work to invest in it with both time and money – it certainly shows on screen.  Film has a unique way of encouraging everyone from the director to cinematographer to actors to perform her/his very best.  Movie-makers who work with film, commonly refer to this attribute as the “film discipline.”  Ultimately, film places the responsibility of preparation and  budget savings on the filmmaker.  Film can be really expensive in one person’s hands or cost less than working with digital video another’s hands.  It all depends on one’s creative practice.

Cinelicous Quote: Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Film Takes Top Dramatic Awards at SUNDANCE. Think Indies can’t afford to shoot film… Can they afford not to?


“Here’s a surprising fact that independent producers may want to consider before they write off film as “too expensive”: There were 120 films in competition at Sundance this year. Based on our research and conversations with Kodak and Fuji only 5% were shot on film… and yet that small minority took 100% of the most coveted Jury and Grand Jury prizes in the US and World Dramatic competitions, as well as winning the Excellence in Cinematography Award in the US Dramatic category.  It’s true that producers of sub-$1M independent film need to watch the bottom line… but isn’t the ultimate goal to win awards and thereby sell the movie?”

Ratios
It may sound ludicrous to electronic ears, but shooting film can actually be cheaper in a variety of situations.  If one shoots at a shooting ratio under 5:1, film will come in below the cost of purchasing or renting electronic equivalent cameras.  Steven Spielberg and his veteran crew are known for shooting quickly and efficiently with very few takes.  It can be done, if one so desires. My career has focused on shooting on Super 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm on modest budgets.  To some, these modest budgets of $300 are too often misinterpreted as a lot of expenditure for a short film because digital costs nothing, right?  Wrong, there is always an expense.

The Secret is Out
What’s actually happening is that students and newcomers are sold inaccurate statements about film by the electronic companies and by people who have never worked with motion picture film.  They say that film is “costly, cumbersome, and risky.”  The majority of these comments come from RED, SONY, CANON, and PANASONIC.  These companies want you to BUY cameras.  Of course they are going to downplay the importance of shooting on film and give film a bad press.  Where film stock usage can be controlled by the filmmaker over time, the video camera has a larger up front investment.

These major digital camera makers prey on the vulnerable newcomer to attract them to their product.  Once hooked, these companies know you are likely to be addicted….for life.  Or at least this is what they hope.  Unlike film cameras that last forever, digital cameras depend on resolution and software upgrades.

This addiction to upgrades focuses on the false promises that your project will be better because it was shot on the newest RED camera (like the RED Epic or RED Scarlet).  Much like any addiction, the substance abuser does not see the expense in their actions.  They go for the fix every two years or even sooner!  Like the iPhone, each new upgrade promises more.  If you do not upgrade in six months, you become an outdated fossil – left behind.  Most will agree, a mindset obsessed with technology can get in the way of the artistic journey.

Truth
Film users are addicted to celluloid, but with film, the addiction to camera upgrades does not exist.  Let’s take a look at some well made clockwork 16mm cameras as a case study.  A Bell and Howell Filmo 70DR, Kodak K100, or a Krasnogorsk 3 camera with three prime lenses or a zoom will only set you back $500.  Most of the 16mm camera models out there were made from 1950-1990 and are still going strong.  They may need a $200 clean, lube, and adjustment every 15-30yrs depending on use.  Why are Arri, Aaton, and Panavision not making any new motion picture film cameras?  The answer is: there are so many excellent used film cameras out there……one cannot make a profit since film cameras can last forever.  Pick up a used Filmo or Kodak K100 and run some film through it – you’ll see what I mean.

Resolution

These $500 film cameras give one the resolution equivalent of a 3K sensor with no color compression. A 3K digital camera like the RED Scarlet will cost you $10,000.  Ten grand is quite a chunk of change and many short films can be shot on 16mm and 35mm for less than this price.  Super 8mm is equivalent of HD video (properly lit, exposed, and shot on low speed film stock with a professional grade camera), Regular 16mm is 2K, Super 16mm and Ultra 16 are 3K digital equivalent, and 35mm is 8K digital equivalent.

Planned Obsolesce

In fact, one can make ten 15 minute short films with a 3:1 shooting ratio for the price of the RED Scarlet.  If you make a short film once a year, it will take you ten years to add up to the investment of the RED Scarlet.  Even if you are shooting two projects a year, in five years the Scarlet will be obsolete.  RED, CANON, and SONY marketing departments should give themselves a pat on the back for getting folks to buy into purchasing these cameras.  Newness sells.  If you are the business of selling cameras, digital has opened up a whole new market since digital video cameras have built -in/planned obsolescence.  You can market a whole new line every two years and turn a big profit from young and old users.  It wasn’t long ago that the Panasonic DVX100 (2003) was all the rave, then came the HVX200 (2005), and now the AF100 (2010).

Film School Investment
It’s crazy that even the largest film schools have bought into buying $6,000-$70,000 cameras.  I have heard Universities dropping as much as $300,000 on buying Sony Professional HD video cameras.   Many programs have been operating with the rugged ARRI 16S cameras since the early seventies.  Talk about an excellent investment.  How many purchases has the average American made that last 42 years- lifetime?  Keep thinking………perhaps your toilet?  These Sony cameras are mostly made up of cheap plastic and are nowhere near the quality of the ARRI 16S cameras in craftsmanship and durability.  The Sony cameras have about a 5 year lifespan, if they don’t break first, the film department will likely upgrade in 5 years.  Dropping $300,000 every few years sounds like a large waste of money.  Would not that money be better spend on student project grants?  This way, student senior thesis projects can be shot in the format the student feels best suited for his/her production.  More creative choices will foster critical thinking, resulting in more quality work regardless of medium.

ARRI-16S

Computer and Software

In fact there’s more hidden expenses when working with digital video.  These expenditures are easily overlooked due to their prevalence in our society.  Yes, computers are integrated into our every day lives, but as of now….we still have a choice when we make art.  These costs need to be taken into account in order to gain an accurate picture of the digital workflow.  On top of your camera package, you need a computer, a monitor, and editing software.  The major players here are Apple, HP, Adobe, and Avid.  What’s their upgrade cycle?  You’ve guessed it… about 2 years.  Without education discounts, a computer w/ monitor for editing will cost $2,000 and a software package will cost $1,800.  The average PC buyer may spend $650 on a computer, but to work with the high data rates of video, one will spend around $1200.  Think of every news channel who switched to video in the early 1980s.  How many expensive video cameras and editing systems did they purchase over the last 30 years?  These news stations missed out on archiving history in the switch.  Film’s shelf life when properly stored is 500 years, making it future proof to be scanned into any electronic format in the future.  Digital video must be migrated to a new hard drive every 5 years.  Just take a look at my office, and you’ll see twelve hard drives.  One TB (terabyte) costs around $100.  Now times that by two.  One for the project and one backup.  Oh, but you really should have two back-ups.  We’re up to $300 every 5 years.  In a New York Times article, “The Afterlife is Expensive for Digital Movies,” the paper reported on the results of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences archival research. “Titled “The Digital Dilemma,” the council’s report surfaced…..: To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master.”

Film and Digital for Education
“What about DSLRs, can’t I pick up a Canon T4i kit for $1,000?”  Yes, we currently live at the height of the DSLR proliferation.  Canon released the T1i in 2009, now in 2012 they are already on the fourth incarnation, the T4i.  The professional 5DMKII was released in 2008, now they sell the 5D MKIII.  Talk about out of control upgrades.  The DSLR shoots in 1920x1080p HD, this is the equivalent to Super 8mm ($200 for Canon 1014E, Nikon R10, Nizo Professional .)  The difference here is that the film has infinite color where the DSLRs utilize highly compressed H.264 codec and have shutter jingle and moire. Super 8mm has limitations too, such as inconsistent registration and prominent grain (if shot with high speed stock).  I use and have a great time shooting with a Bell and Howell Filmo 70DR, and would not hesitate to use it even on a feature. Obviously one makes concessions in any format and chooses the right tool for the right job or uses what works best for them.   Below will be a comparison on a student budget as well as a micro “indie” pro budget.  In order to make the comparison competitive, the following criteria will be used: 2K resolution, lowest camera purchase price w/ lens, native workflow, and finishing.

Canon Rebel T4i

Estimates
The following gear and prices are general ballpark figures and in no way are absolute.  If you are resourceful, you can manage with lower prices in any of these work-flows.  You may be the small percentage of people who hold on to software and equipment beyond their designated expiration date.  Maybe you edit with Lightworks  ($60/year for Pros and $30/year for students!) instead of Adobe or Avid.  Perhaps your parents gave you a camera or found one that was your grandma’s.  Good for you!!  You are saving money!  The best tool is often the one that you already own or one that you pick up at a yard sale for very little.

Professional “Indie” Digital Package

  1. Black Magic Digital Cinema Camera + Quality Zoom Lens – $4,000
  2. Apple Macbook Pro w/Retina Display+AppleCare- $2,600
  3. Adobe CS6 Production Premium (Professional) – $1800
  4. Lifespan of software and gear – 2 years

Total: $8,300/15 minute short a year cost = $4,250

Professional “Indie” Film Package w/ Photo-chemical Finish

  1. Bell and Howell Filmo 70DR w/ C-Mount Lenses – $500
  2. Viewer/Rewinds/Splicer/Projector – $200
  3. Film Stock – 1500ft/45 minutes  – $450
  4. Processing/Workprint – .$40/ft – $600
  5. Photo/Chemical Finish Print – $1000
  6. Lifespan of gear: lifetime (Equipment cost is subtracted for the second year.)

Total: $2,750/15 minute short a year cost – $2,050

SUPER 8, 16MM, 2K/DSLR WORKFLOW PRICE CHART
Chart Based on a 15 minute Short Film w/ Shooting Ratio 3:1.  Kodak Education Store 16mm prices are used for student estimates. KODAK OFFERS A 30% DISCOUNT FOR ALL STUDENT AND FACULTY PRODUCTIONS!  Education discounts are one of the most helpful ways of saving money when shooting on celluloid.  The lowest lab and camera costs available were factored in. Sources are at the end of the article.

Class Cam Lens Edit Stock 2K/HD Scan Soft Lab Total
Pro 2K
Digital
Back Magic Kit
3,500
Canon
$500
Apple
$2,000
N/A N/A Adobe
$1800
N/A $8,400
Pro 16mm 70DR
$200
C-mount
$300
Splice$200 $450 N/A N/A $1600 $2,000
Pro 2K 16mm
Scan
70DR
$200
C-mount
$300
Apple
$2,000
$450 $620 $1800 $180 $5550
EDU DSLR
Digital
T4i
$1,000
Kit Lens
$0
Apple
$2,000
N/A N/A $450 N/A $3450
EDU S8mm
Film
1014
$200
Kit Lens
$0
Splice$200 $150 N/A N/A $180 $730
EDU S8mm
Scan
1014
$200
Kit Lens
$0
$2,000 $150 $360 $450 $180 $3,340
EDU 16mm
Scan
$200 $300 $2,000 $450 $385 $450 $180 $3965

35MM, ARRI ALEXA, RED EPIC WORKFLOW PRICE CHART

Chart Based on a 15 minute Short Film w/ Shooting Ratio 3:1.  35mm film stock prices consist of .08/ft SHORT ENDS (ie. left overs from large budget productions), which give an 88% SAVINGS over purchasing fresh stock from Kodak.  The table focuses on the micro independent filmmaker’s approach to shooting film and utilizes the most economical shooting methods which includes the use of MOS film cameras with non-sync sound.  If you are interested in a 2K scan of 35mm film, just subtract $1,000 from the total cost.

Class Cam Lens Edit Stock 4K Scan Soft Lab Total
Buy 35mm
Print Finish
Arri 2 C
$2,000
$1,000 $500 $360 N/A N/A $4,000 $7,860
Buy 35mm
+ 4K Scan
Arri 2C Buy
$2,000
$1,000 $2,000 $360 $2200 $1,800 $540 $8,440
Buy ARRI
ALEXA/RED
$60,000 Zeiss
$15,000
$2,000 N/A N/A $1,800 N/A $95,000
Rent
ALEXA/RED
$4,500
3 days
$1500 $2,000 N/A N/A $1,800 N/A $9,800
Rent
35mm + 4K Scan
$600
3 days
$1500 $2,000 $360 $2200 $1,800 $540 $8,700

Stanley Kubrick with ARRI-2C 35mm Motion Picture Camera

Choice
The choice is up to the artist, not the camera companies.  There are many ways to save on any of these processes, whether film or digital.  Both mediums can be inexpensive or very expensive depending on one’s resourcefulness.  The longevity of film equipment, the low cost of archiving, and low shooting ratios are the biggest ways film has the potential to save over digital.   From the above chart, one can see that a 35mm motion picture camera can be purchased for $3,000.  That camera is the legendary, ARRI 2-C – a favorite of Stanley Kubrick.

Research, be selective and if you want to shoot on film, go for it!  Expense should not be an issue, especially with so many passionate and friendly resources out there. Kodak, Alpha Cine, NFL Films Lab, Colorlab, Cinelab, Duall Camera,  Super 16 Inc, Light Press, and Process Blue are just a few companies with folks who can help you on your journey.  If you do not exercise your creative right to choose film, you may lose the option.  Film is not just for the big budget projects of Steven SpielbergChristopher Nolan, and Wes Anderson.  It’s for all of us.  There are ways to work on celluloid, even on a modest budget.  As Nolan and others have professed (as seen on the chart), working photo-chemically all the way to the finished print has some advantages and can possibly save money.

Film and digital video are not just mediums, they are a creatives processes, a way of life – each unique in its own way.  Think of shooting film and video like knitting and crochet, both demand different mental and physical processes.  Some folks switch easily back and forth, others stick to their preferred craft.  From many years working and teaching film, I’ve noticed that the tools of celluloid film emphasize process over product.  The speed and immediacy of digital video tends to favor the product over process workflow.  If you enjoy a good odyssey where the universe collaborates with the movie, you may be a good candidate to give film a try.

Educate yourself and your producer.  Shooting Super 8 with the exceptionally sharp Kodak 7203 and 7213 is a superb low cost option for students and ultra low professional budgets. A $25 Yashica Super 800 Electro Super 8mm camera that you pick up on ebay for $25 is a good investment.  Let your imagination soar and do not get caught up in camera and software marketing. Celluloid has given us Chaplin, Keaton, and Murnau and continues to be a catalyst for creative filmmaking.  Film is a viable option, but it does demand a conscious effort and participation on your part, especially if you are on a tight budget.  Own your vision and stay true to your artistic process!

To see a list of projects shot on Kodak Motion Picture Film, visit: http://motion.kodak.com/motion/Customers/Productions/index.htm

For independent and experimental works, visit:

http://canyoncinema.com/catalog/films/

Sources

  1. Labs
    1. Alpha Cine Lab
    2. NFL Films Lab
    3. Color Lab
    4. Dwayne’s Photo
  2. Film Camera Purchase
    1. Ebay
    2. Duall Camera
  3. 2K/4K Film Scanning
    1. Process Blue
    2. Cinelicious
    3. LightPress
  4. Digital Camera Purchase
    1. B&H Photo Video
    2. ARRI Group
    3. RED Digital Cinema
    4. Black Magic Design
  5. Rental
    1. Abel Cinetech
    2. Gearhead Camera
  6. Film Stock
    1. Kodak Motion Picture Film
    2. Kodak Education Store
    3. Releasing.net (35mm Short-ends)
  7. Software
    1. B&H Photo Video
    2. JourneyEd
  8. Super 16 Inc. (Film Camera Servicing and Modifications)

About Jacob Dodd

Jacob A. Dodd is an award-winning independent filmmaker who creates short films in 35mm and 16mm. In 2009, Dodd completed Darkness There, a visual poem that explores Edgar Allan Poe's dark romanticism through the blending of Poe's life and stories with authentic historical artifacts. Dodd's fascination lies in the linkage of time periods to examine both private and public oral histories. He uses traditional film techniques to bring forth a feeling of nostalgia, a transcendence of time, and a sense of the familiar. Dodd's work has been recognized by the Athens International Film Video Festival, Big Muddy Film Festival, Rosebud Film & Video Festival, the James River Film Festival, and the DC Independent Film Festival. Dodd received his M.F.A. in Photography and Film from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia. He is an Assistant Professor of Cinema Production at SUNY Oswego in Oswego, NY.
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64 Responses to The True Cost of Filmmaking in the 21st Century

  1. anubhavbist says:

    Before I start, I just want to say, it’s fantastic to read a post by THE Jake Dodd. A very important person in my life and a mentor for many young aspiring filmmakers in Richmond. The choice of digital and film is something independent filmmakers have been debating for quite some time now, and while I feel Jake is absolutely spot on with many things on this post, I feel there’s a lot of things that haven’t been said.
    First, the “hidden costs’ of digital are not only things that apply to digital filmmakers. Many filmmakers working with film edit digitally, so the idea of buying software and computer equipment seems like weird argument. One could splice, but I’m not sure how many filmmakers, or editors, would ever take that route for an independent feature (i apologize to the few filmmakers who still do, but for the a lot of us, it isn’t all that practical when needing to make deadlines). Secondly, while Canon and Nikon continue to produce updates on their cameras, most filmmakers I have talked to have few complaints when using older DSLR models (especially with programs like magic lantern).
    But I believe Jake understands all this when he says “Both mediums can be inexpensive or very expensive depending on one’s resourcefulness.” However, the one thing that gets overlooked is that digital gives filmmakers new, unexplored possibilities in the form of experimentation, accessibility, and distribution. This current generation of filmmakers have better access to digital video recorders thanks to inexpensive flip-cameras and camcorder options on most new models of cell phones. Sure, the quality isn’t as great but history has shown that image quality isn’t everything. There was once a time when the idea of a great film being shot entirely on a super-8 camera was preposterous, but now we can point to auteurs like Derek Jarman and Jem Cohen to prove them wrong. Rather than focusing on the camera’s limitations, they, and others who have struck gold with super 8, embraced the aesthetic and saw possibilities that many couldn’t. I believe this can easily be translated to the digital age.
    Great filmmakers like David Lynch and Jean Luc Godard have seen these possibilities in digital, made the switch, and created art. Films like Inland Empire or any of Godard’s digital work (the last act of In Praise of Love, Notre Musique, many of his shorts, Film Socialism and of course a few of his work during his Revolutionary Period) may not look as “pretty” as some of their older works that were shot on film, but to only critique these works on the image quality is totally missing why these works are accomplishments in digital cinema. Both Godard and Lynch created works that couldn’t have been created on film, taking advantage of digital production (Lynch explaining what he could accomplish with the freedom of his low-res dv camera in this interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej9JZsVmrGo), digital experimentation (one can see this when watching Godard’s experimental 1975 masterpiece Number Two, a film that presents it’s narrative on digital video playing on multiple television screens, or his most recent feature Film Socialism, which is includes footage shot in HD, low res cell phone footage, and even a Godardian video montange), and each present images that embrace the digital aesthetic. These films don’t look like they’re shot on film and refuse to accept the notion that they should.
    And Godard and Lynch are not alone. Many great filmmakers who have shot on digital have taken a similar approach and I feel that young filmmakers should as well. Expense is major point of discussion when looking at these two formats, but far more should be considered. But at the end of the day, great cinema is not defined by the format. Great cinema is great cinema, whether it be shoot in IMAX or on a cell phone.

  2. Jacob Dodd says:

    Anubhav,
    Thank you for your kind words regarding your experience as one of my students! My time at VCU was amazing, and it was a pleasure to see you and your peers mature into critical thinkers and creative artists!

    You added fine points that need to be further explored in another post, such as your notes on “experimentation, accessibility, and distribution.” Lynch, Goddard, and Bill Viola are perfect examples of moving image artists who use digital video specifically for its own unique aesthetic qualities and do not try to emulate film. It seems there are too few, particularly in the mainstream, who respect their work enough to use video for video. If one shoots video, one should embrace it, and respect oneself as a “video artist” or “videomaker.” Only then will you break out and use the medium for its original qualities. Video does not have to be a dirty word, and you do not have to pretend you are “filmmaker,” because “film” may seem more prestigious right now. The processes could not be more different if one follows a purely photo-chemical workflow vs. a complete digital process. Innovations of digital manipulation are actually helping to define “film” and “filmmaking” more clearly, which is a good thing. In many ways film is going through a transition of what painting went through in the beginning of the 20th century. Digital tools do offer much to the moving image and should be explored. However, digital making is not a replacement for film, like photography is not a replacement for painting.

    I am very proud and glad that you are actively researching and writing on film! Keep up the great work!

  3. ctp says:

    In the 35mm category, you list the ARRI 2-C – a camera too loud for sync sound, if I’m not mistaken, making it unsuitable for comparison.

  4. Susanna says:

    You’re so cool! I don’t suppose I’ve read something like that before. So great to find someone with a few genuine thoughts on this subject matter. Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This website is one thing that is needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

  5. As someone who shot and edited a LOT of film, I just don’t see it. I would never want to go back to waiting for dailies, hoping something didn’t screw up, cutting with a flatbed, dealing with workprint, scared to breath on my negative — and frankly– NOT getting the picture quality that is ‘theoretically’ possible with film, but seems to never be there in reality.
    I remember saving up $15,000 for rawstock/processing and workprint for a 5:1 ratio shot feature-length movie. Being afraid to turn on the camera… knowing money was vanishing forever with that whir…
    Ugh. So done with that.
    I’ve been a convert to digital for years; it has been economically more viable and for the past five years (at least) far more gratifying, esthetically, than film ever was.

    No, If I ever pine for the days of ‘film’ I’ll just buy a bottle of chemicals, let the smell waft throughout the editing room, and do a cuts-only edit with imovie 1.0. If I fancy a dissolve, I’ll draw it on the picture with a virtual grease marker (proper framecount, of course, because a dissolve can’t be of arbitrary length) and add another $5 to the finishing budget ($2.50 for a fade).
    When it comes to color timing (no zoning or fancy stuff here), I’ll just hope that first answer print is exactly as I hoped it would be… cause I doubt I’ll be able to afford to do it again.

    • Mark says:

      And your movies probably LOOK like what they are — shot on video

      • Mark says:

        Also I recall talking to a buddy of mine one time on the phone. He was in the middle of editing together all this digital footage he had on his cool Avid system. Then he starts screaming and cussing because the Avid froze up and before it was all over with he LOST like 4 or 5 days worth of shooting~~~ ALL OF IT So I don’t feel too bad at all with my Moviola Flatbed. ;-)

  6. David Worth says:

    I’m sorry to see that you are still thinking in the terms of the 1990’s instead of the New Paradigm of this century… I was the DP on 2 Clint Eastwood Films: BRONCO BILLY & ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN… I know my way around 35mm filmmaking and your article is totally misleading.

    Here’s the Comparison I did after I finished my first HD film in the mid 2000’s… This is what someone whose done over thirty features on film discovered:

    Comparisons:
    ]Instructor: David Worth

    *** 16mm / 35mm / HD

    1. 16mm: Costs from raw stock to edit ready:

    Fuji Raw Stock: 40,000 ft / 100 / 400 ft rolls @ .3055 pr ft $12,220.00
    Processing: 40,000 ft @ .12 pr ft $ 4,800.00
    Video Prep: 100 rolls & $10.00 ea $ 1,000.00
    Tele-Cine & Sound: 100 hrs @ $200.00 pr hr $20,000.00
    Total $38,020.00

    Daylies Screen Time: 18 + Hours

    2. 35mm: Costs from raw stock to edit ready:

    Fuji Raw Stock: 100,000 ft / 125 / 400 ft rolls & 50 / 1000 ft rolls
    125 / 400 ft rolls @ $213.49 pr roll $26,686.25
    50 / 1000 ft rolls @ $523.59 pr roll $26,179.50
    Processing: 100,000 ft @ .12 pr ft $12,000.00
    Video Prep: 175 rolls @ $10.00 ea $ 1,750.00
    Tele-Cine & Sound: 100 hrs @ $200.00 pr hr $20,000.00
    Total $86,615.75

    Daylies Screen Time: 18 + Hours

    3. HD: Costs from raw stock to edit ready:

    Raw Stock: 60 / 50 minute tapes @ $50.00 ea $ 3,000.00
    Down Convert: 60 tapes @ $80.00 ea $ 4,800.00
    Total $ 7,800.00

    Daylies Screen Time: 50 Hours

    Simply stated, my experience led me to the conclusion that by shooting with HD, I was able to achieve: Three Times (3X) The Material / Using One Half (1/2) Of The Production Time / At One Tenth (1/10) Of The Cost… My only question is: What’s not to like?

    *** Costs were taken from the Internet several years ago and are not current. Also today’s there is even more savings since most HD cameras use Memory Chips and download directly to a Hard Drive.

    Most Sincerely

    David Worth
    Director / DP / Author / Lecturer

    • Mark says:

      We’re still thinking in terms of movies that LOOK like movies instead of crap shot on video. Again the expenses here are worth it to me for the end result. I can still shoot a good movie on 16mm (in Super16) for under $100,000 total (and that is paying my cast and crew a decent wage — well decent for around here) And I have to be able to look at the thing myself and be PROUD of it. I could never feel that way about crummy looking video images :-( Digital video is OK for documentaries and stuff like that but for a REAL narrative type movie? FILM is the ONLY way to go.

  7. C. Vitt says:

    Wonderful written! As a DOP for 23 years learning on film and having made the transition into the digital age my biggest fight today is with the limitless amount of takes i have to shoot on set. Yes, it is great to be able to repeat a shot if problems came up, but on 80 % of productions today directors keep cameras just rolling and rolling, doing take after take without being able to determine what they actually want from actors/extras or music video talent. They just make them do 30 different poses or approaches to the scene and figure it out in post what they want to use (i doubt that they even look at all the 6 hours of footage for a 3 minute project lots of the time, because i see the finished product and miss my best shots most of the times)

  8. Alec Eagon says:

    Blaghadjfksaldjf!!!!!!!!! This perfectly outlines everything I’ve been trying to tell so many people for so long. I always get discouraged when I meet folks who say they are “interested in” or “active in” the “film” industry, only to find out that they have no aspirations and/or they think it is totally unrealistic to actually roll film.

    Four years ago I bought a Bolex H16 Rex-5, got it oiled and converted to 16:9, and then never looked back. Fast forward to now–I’ve shot multiple music videos and shorts with the Bolex; I’ve shot two documentaries on 16mm with an Eclair ACL 1.5 (one on location in Honduras…yes I hauled 12 – 400ft rolls of 16mm film to Tegucigalpa, stored them in our home-stay family’s fridge, and almost didn’t get them back to LA…but guess what? I did. And the footage looks flipping unbelievable. It was worth every ounce of effort and every penny); I’ve shot one music video on Super 8mm and I am currently working on another one with my awesome Nizo 801 (HD scanning of Super 8mm has barely been tapped as a medium. I barely know of anyone who has used it, and I have no idea why. Because of the lower cost I was just able to shoot 40 minutes of footage for a 3 minute music video, and the scans I just got back, particularly of Kodak’s 50D stock, look as good as any most 4:3 16mm scans I’ve seen); and now I am working with an Aaton XTR shooting more cinematic images than I ever would have imagined possible without a “film crew” or a “big budget.” I list all of this to show how addicting working with film is. It’s not just a different medium (when compared to digital), it is a whole ‘nother artistic world.

    Show me one digital camera that will be truly relevant in 5 years (probably the absolute outermost limit for even the Alexa and the specialty high speed HD cams) and I will show you my Bolex that has been relevant for 50 years. It looks and runs like a Rolls-Royce.

    On another note…

    The film discipline is everything.

    I first learned this when I inherited my father’s Minolta SR-T 101 35mm camera, which is still the camera I use most…it’s a tank. The time I take to set up and think about every single shot shapes my eye as an observer and sets my focus on “framing the vision” as opposed to “what the shot looks like.”

    Shoot film.

  9. Ángel says:

    I quite agree. All digital cameras lie.Kodak,Panavision,Arri and Zeiss doesn’t.

  10. Troy Orleans says:

    I am glad to see an approach to educate about the false claims for digital being much more affordable, even for major motion pictures. The only thing that I will point out to the contrary is that Jacob doesn’t address the sound costs and procedures. The obvious advantage in digital is that you can record sound direct and in synch to the digital media in the camera. This makes post sound work considerably less expensive even if the quality of the sound isn’t like that of a good recorder such as an Aaton or Nagra operated by a real sound mixer.

  11. Dear Jacob,
    Many thanks for that excellent piece.
    The importance of taking a clearly motivated stance and getting it out in an article like this, cannot be underestimated.
    Formulating logical arguments in favor of analogue film and and exposing the overwhelming commercial pressures coming from digital, will allways come as an immense moral support to those young and old in need of a choice.
    You are thereby doing both students and industry proffesionals a great service.

    In my opinion – working as an AC – the true cost of shooting digital is to be found in the near total loss of craft and discipline on set.
    Please visit our website http://www.filmfoundation.info and look for my article ” AC and Digital Cinematography “.

    All the best,
    Danny

    • Jacob Dodd says:

      Dear Danny,

      Thank you for reading the article! I am glad you found the argument in the post important, logical, and relevant to students and professionals alike. When I was researching the topic of this essay, I was surprised that there was very little written on the subject of how to shoot film on very cheap. All of the inexpensive gear, the discounted film, the low ratios, and other techniques were brushed under the rug – as if they were impossible. After putting my budgets up against the start up cost of digital gear, I realized how much I was actually saving by shooting on film. This was contrary to everything the electronic camera marketers were saying. One’s ingenuity, preparation, and dedication to the art of shooting film make all the difference in the final budget.

      The film foundation’s mission of teaching the discipline of shooting on celluloid is AMAZING!! Keep up the great work!

      Best Always,

      Jake

  12. As someone who shot and edited a LOT of film, I just don’t see it. I would never want to go back to waiting for dailies, hoping something didn’t screw up, cutting with a flatbed, dealing with workprint, scared to breath on my negative — and frankly– NOT getting the picture quality that is ‘theoretically’ possible with film, but seems to never be there in reality.
    I remember saving up $15,000 for rawstock/processing and workprint for a 5:1 ratio shot feature-length movie. Being afraid to turn on the camera… knowing money was vanishing forever with that whir…
    Ugh. So done with that.
    I’ve been a convert to digital for years; it has been economically more viable and for the past five years (at least) far more gratifying, esthetically, than film ever was.

    No, If I ever pine for the days of ‘film’ I’ll just buy a bottle of chemicals, let the smell waft throughout the editing room, and do a cuts-only edit with imovie 1.0. If I fancy a dissolve, I’ll draw it on the picture with a virtual grease marker (proper framecount, of course, because a dissolve can’t be of arbitrary length) and add another $5 to the finishing budget ($2.50 for a fade).
    When it comes to color timing (no zoning or fancy stuff here), I’ll just do one color grade without actually looking at the final output… and hope it’s good the first time out (because if it were film, it’d be hard to afford more than one answer print.)

  13. ric says:

    I believe as a filmmaker, that given the proper lighting and right tone (heat) a Digital film could look just as good as regular film…I also believe that filming on Digital can give the Director a better perspective because it is so much cheaper that it affords more time to experiment creativily….

    • Jacob Dodd says:

      Hi Ric,

      Thank you for reading the article and responding! I tried to stay away from going to deep into the look of film vs. digital as that is subjective. The post was written to highlight how one can shoot film and keep the costs down while getting the most for your money. From searching the internet over the years, there really did not seem to be a detailed layout for young filmmakers and students to creatively shoot film on sub micro budgets. One cannot simply apply the Hollywood model to personal work that is self financed. Film has a lot to offer as creative tool and an artistic process – an option that we need to keep and exercise our right to choose. There are so many excellent film cameras out there that cost very little.

      In the advancement of motion pictures, we should be adding processes, not removing any from our toolkit. Shooting film and staying photo-chemical all the way to post is very different than a digital workflow. You pointed out one of the differences – in how we conceptualize shots. Film can encourage more pre-thinking by experimenting on paper and digital can encourage more experimentation on set. Some directors like the ability to have many takes, others love pre-planning and rehearsing – making the decisions in their head. Obviously this is a matter of how one chooses to make images and experiment. One neat thing about film is that it can surprise you – in the cinematography itself or in the development. I see this as external forces of the universe collaborating with the work (especially if you hand develop) and personally find it exciting! However if one does not like surprises, then perhaps a digital option would be best for that individual. Everyone is free to work the way they choose, and hopefully we band together to protect each other’s freedoms.

      Thanks again for your perspective!

      Best Always,
      Jake

  14. Sean Simpson says:

    very misleading as 3:1 shooting ratio is spot on perfect while most “indie” edu productions lucky if you’re getting 10:1 shooting ratio. also failing to account for the fact that digital can produce many more than one 15 min short in a year while keeping costs relatively the same for that year compared to film’s re-occurring costs. 2 year life expectancy on digital is not bad but for most “indie” filmmakers comparing the cameras generally used.. both a 5d mk II and a red one had about a 4-5 year life expectancy before being superseded. Spread those camera costs around for quantity of projects in 5 years and things start to change. Then add in the lighting rental costs of indie film (6-8k tungsten fresnel kit/grip package) vs indie digital (home depot clamp lights and 50 bucks in tungsten or cfl bulbs) and real world considerations beg to differ.

    • Jacob Dodd says:

      Hi Sean,

      Thank you for reading my article and posting your thoughts on the subject! The 3:1 ratio was used in the examples because I personally have found it an efficient and cost effective way to work with film. It seems like it would be really challenging to work with such a low ratio, but actually it encourages preparation and saves a lot of time in the editing. Since my first short film to my most recent – all my productions stay at 3:1 – sometimes less. You are absolutely right that not everyone will want to work with a 3:1 ratio. Every image maker has decide on the best process for them. We’re all different in how we work and what we find full-filling and rewarding. Some work like silent filmmakers and others work with actors and dialogue – there is no one way. It’s fantastic that we have so many options and creative choices! In writing the article, my intention was to inform young movie-makers who have never worked with film that shooting film can actually save you money over time. Everything that was written in the article comes from experiences on my productions and what I’ve learned over the years helping my students shoot film on sub micro budgets. Knowing the labs that offer the best discounts, using 35mm short ends, shooting with MOS cameras, and keeping the ratio low are just some of the ways we make it work. Glad to see we share the same affection for clamp lights! Hardware store lights work excellently with film too – in fact – that’s all my students and I have used over the last couple years. 500 watt incandescent lights and 300 watt CFLs in clamp fixtures are film’s best luminous friends.

      Some of the adjustments in the way one needs to shoot film to save money may sound like a sacrifice, but once you get into it (even hand developing!) – it’s liberating and a lot of fun!

      Thanks again for your insight!

      Best Always,

      Jake

  15. visiblefilms says:

    As one who proclaimed that film was dead eight years ago, I can say I am in love with the medium all over again. I totally bought into digital revolution and all the bells and whistles that came with it. Film rewards filmmakers in ways digital can’t. Those rewards don’t come easily but when they do, there is nothing that I can say, after 30+ years in production, that’s better.

    • Jacob Dodd says:

      Hi,
      Thank you for reading the article! It’s great to hear someone with 30+ years of production experience falling in love with film all over again! You are absolutely correct about the reward one gets from film – such an exciting and thrilling experience. I see you work in Super 8 too with Leicina Specials – very cool.

      Your thoughts are much appreciated!

      Best Always,
      Jake

  16. BigLu says:

    Film was never obtainable for me a broke independent wanna be film maker whom wanted to make movies and shoot music videos. I Never had the opportunity, knowledge, friends, support nor pathway. However between my friends and I we could afford some lights, had a computer with editing Software and a DVX100 – then HVX-200 with an adapter, then REDONE and now shooting my own features on RED EPIC cameras that I personally own. Film was never a friend of mine. I love it more than digital but I was just not that lucky. But now that 5K delivers the images it does. Im gonna be ok without ever shooting Film.

  17. Boyd says:

    I’m a younger DP, and I LOVE film. I’ve spent a lot of my short career fighting for it. And while 35mm unequivocally produces the best image quality (IMO), I dare not try to convince my producers that it’s anywhere near as affordable as an alexa or epic.

    I recently shot a 25min short on 35mm 3-perf. We had ALL of the film stock donated to us by Kodak. Panavision gave us an incredible camera package for practically free. Deluxe donated half the processing for free. Our telecine guy came in way under standard rates.

    And the price tag for camera+processing+tape (for the transfer): $5,000.
    Alexa + S4s: $3,000
    Red + S4s: $2,000

    Hard Drives were the same for film and digital because no matter what, we finished digitally, so we still had to digitize the footage into massive DPX files.

    I can’t conceive of a shoot where more film cameras+stock+services are more affordable or free.

    Again, I do love film. And I think more of us should fight for it. But I think walking into a meeting with a producer and director and trying to convince them that shooting film is more affordable is an unwise decision. In my opinion, the only reason to argue to shoot film is image quality. And it’s reason enough.

    • Troy Orleans says:

      Interested to know how you got to the telecine and tape costs for the film package but seemingly only include the camera and lenses for the digital. What about the cost of recording media, personnel to download, transcode, duplicate and copy protection LTO tapes. It is symptomatic of producers to stop counting after the memory card is removed from the camera and leave all post costs to the “other people.” It sounds like your work has been basically super independent and maybe you don’t even make protection copies, etc. But once you move into real production the costs come much closer together. Also, at most camera rental companies the list price on a 35mm or 16mm sound camera is much lower than that of any digital camera. An non-synch camera like a 3C or such is almost always free.

      • Boyd says:

        Troy, this was a $65,000 short that was actually produced. We actually shot it on film. The cost of telecine and tape are from real invoices. I can promise you we didn’t forget anything. 22,000ft of film, 12 hours of telecine, 8 HDCAM Tapes, 4TB hard drives, 1.5TB of LTO later, we’re done. And it’s quite backed up.

        In preproduction we created budgets around Red, Alexa, and film. And as our film budget was spot on actual costs, I imagine our digital one were as well. Especially considering I’ve shot shorts on Alexa and Epic and am well aware of there costs.

        All I’m saying is that I wouldn’t try to convince a producer on a low-budget production that film is cheaper than digital. In my experience shooting film on low-budget productions (much like the focus of this article) it isn’t—by a long shot… even when the film itself is donated.

  18. Blake West says:

    these technical issue are really of minor importance…the storytelling is what makes a film resonate with an audience…what do you guys think?

  19. Mark says:

    If you want your movie to actually LOOK like a movie (instead of something shot on video) then you WILL shoot on FILM. I don’t care what anybody says about “film look” and other filtering that supposedly gives video a more film like look because I have seen the results with my own eyes and I can tell when something is shot on film and when it is shot on digital video — even stuff shot by Hollywood professionals on high end digital cameras like Panavision’s Genesis and Arri’s Alexa have not fooled me. Now to get digitized images to look half way decent you are going to have to have those film look and filtering done to your files, You also will probably have to have a scene by scene colour correction~~ THAT costs BIG time. So whereas shooting on film may cost more on the front in– the savings are HUGE on the back end as you get into post. Provided that you simply pay attention to your light meter, and the basics of photography and get a good exposure IN FRONT of the lens then you won’t have to be fixing things in post. So yes, I could EASILY sit down with a producer and tell them that in the long run they WILL save money shooting on film — Again provided they actually want something worth putting up on the big screen.

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  22. Nick says:

    Dear Mr. Dodd,

    You make a captivating argument, and one that is not only thoroughly researched but well intentioned too. I graduated with a BA in Film in 2003, just a little more than a decade ago now. During my time in the program, I was lucky enough to learn the art of shooting & editing 16mm almost exclusively, something which unfortunately has changed for that program & many others. I also worked on a number of film/video productions while I lived in Hollywood, everything from 35mm, Super 16 & Super 8 to Digital Video & HD. I agree that FILM (motion picture & stills) should be considered an essential medium for aspiring image-makers today, as we enter an age of low-cost/high-def tools, film stock simulation, etc., because knowing where these things came from and having the experience of a happy accident in the screening/dark room is part of what makes the world of image-making so exciting. I personally love shooting film, and If I get the chance to do it again, I will count myself very lucky.

    Now, while I agree with you in many respects on the nature of film, here’s where I disagree with you from the standpoint of an independent filmmaker. #1: Your math seems to be calculating outright purchases, and any smart indie filmmaker knows that you have to BEG, BORROW & STEAL when you’re starting out. If you’ve got a Trust Fund or Daddy’s AmEx, than you can probably buy your own equipment (but please, let your poor friends borrow it too!), otherwise, get the best that you can afford when you can, but borrow the hell out of everything else & improvise! And if you gotta buy, don’t put it all on a credit card (props & costumes are okay cause if you don’t destroy it, you can return it), but take it from me, you’ll be paying off that credit card bill for a lot longer than you think! Work some double shifts & save up your cash, you’ll appreciate your gear more in the end. #2: Most computer purchases would not be used for just editing, as most filmmakers need to have a day job too. Thereby, the computer could even pay for itself, so that entire cost can’t all be placed at the door of your passion for filmmaking. Software, yes, you might have a point, but you’re also not going to get hired as an editor if you walk in with your own Splicer! #3: Your film editing figures seem way off, as you say “Viewer/Rewinds/Splicer/Projector – $200″ – that might work for a silent film, but what about sync sound? Can you even still rent time on a Steenbeck? You’d have to find a working one first. Plus, do we really want to discuss Mag Stock? It’s basically the quality of a cassette tape that was left in your jean pocket when you did the laundry. Why would anyone want to use that when a excellent quality digital recorder can be found for less than $100?! #4: Aspiring filmmakers, you SHOULD go on eBay & hunt down some cheap film cameras, buy them & shoot something with it (Super 8 is awesome & not all that expensive & you can even find a lot of cameras at Thrift Stores)! Learn everything you can & experiment! But, guess what? IF you’re lucky enough to get work using your newly found skills (the kind of work that pays your student loans that is), you need to have a HD camera and know how to edit digitally. Maybe investing only in a film camera works in a fantasy world where you actually make money on your personal films (I still haven’t figured out a way to do this yet), but the rest of the guys/girls I know working in the industry wanna get paid, so they’ve got some digital gear so they can actually deliver the footage at the end of the day.

    Lastly, in reference to your quote from Cinelicious: “but isn’t the ultimate goal to win awards and thereby sell the movie?” – I just couldn’t disagree more with that attitude. My ultimate goal has always been for as many people as possible to see my movies (& hopefully, enjoy them). I count myself fortunate for every award I’ve received and every screening I’ve been a part of, but what I remember most is the people who came up to me after the screening to chat, or the questions I got asked during a Q&A. Maybe my viewpoint is in the minority, but in the end, telling a story and having people listen for a little while & experience what your P.O.V. of the world is, at least for me, that’s what it’s all about. I hope to one day screen at Sundance, maybe even one day have a film to sell, but more than anything else, my blood, sweat & tears are justified if people actually watch it!

    As some other commentators have brought up, I couldn’t agree more with the fact that it literally DOES NOT MATTER what you shoot your project on! If it’s a good story or a meaningful cinematic exploration (gotta include experimental & non-narrative films too), that’s what people will remember and enjoy. Mr. Dodd, I couldn’t thank you more for the insightful and intelligent article. Film MUST live on and I encourage everyone to shoot more of it to help ensure that, but digital or film – it doesn’t matter, just make something original!

    Cheers,
    -Nick

  23. Azevedo says:

    Excellent post! I shared it here: http://redd.it/1k4xkb

  24. neptunesalad says:

    I’m a filmmaker who came up in the all-film world (early-mid 90’s) and often argued for the supremacy film quality until 2005-2008-ish, when I switched to digital and have had a hard time looking back. And although I appreciate counterargument to modernity being offered here, I have to take issue with a lot of what’s being said.

    It’s true that camera companies have created a planned obsolescence as they yearly roll out new cameras. I have long held the belief that “cameras are the new film stock” – meaning that it used to be Kodak, Fuji, and even Agva who would roll out new, more light-sensitive/better color rendering/less grainy stocks every few years and convince us that what we had stored in our freezers (I still have some in mine if you want it) was now substandard. And often they were right – when given formulations would rapidly degrade and lose color rendition (as a lot of stocks did in the 1970’s).

    And this often hit me where it counts, because the film school I attended had us purchase our own stock, pay for our own processing, etc. In and out of school, I shot lots of stuff on 16mm (negative and reversal), 8mm (only reversal), and 35mm. I have always loved the look of film and only started drifting to digital when it began to have an equally-lovable look.

    Here are some things which I respectfully disagree with in this article:
    1) factoring in the cost of a computer to edit when most people already have a computer that can run many of the editing softwares out there.
    2) factoring in the cost of Adobe Production Premium at $1,800 – a product Adobe has replaced with the Creative Cloud ($29/month for students and faculty, $50/month for the rest of us for every program Adobe makes – less if you’re just using Premiere). Sidenote – even if one was to purchase the Production Premium, after the first year the most one would have to pay would be an upgrade – not the whole cost of the suite every 2 years.
    3) NOT factoring the cost of Avid, FCPX, or even Sony’s Vegas Video – all viable ways to cut a short film with different tool sets. And for students and faculty, none of them carry the cost of your listed (and not current) cost of the Adobe suite.
    4) NOT factoring in the cost of audio editing, audio mix – even on mag this is not cheap. And mixing audio on mag is becoming an increased rarity – but many of these software packages come with some kind of audio editing either within the edit suite or as a standalone application (like Adobe Audition or Protools).
    5) If you’re not cutting digitally, the cost of a Steenbeck or KEM flatbed – which (unlike a computer) has no other use besides cutting film – not to mention editing expendables. I’m not sure where one gets one of these editing tables these days – but if one is located outside major film markets I assume it would be expensive to ship one.
    6) Negative cutting – Often costing $5-$10/cut depending on where you cut – is that factored into the $1,000 photochemical finish print?
    7) Assuming that the filmmaker, to make a short film, is going to purchase (rather then renting) all of their gear to do so (and the Blackmagic camera at that…). Because cameras are the new film stock, now we can spend money renting (rather than buying) cameras and lenses and defer the cost of the “film stock” to the rental houses who own and maintain the cameras.
    8) Assuming that either all of one’s short films are MOS, or that an unbudgeted blimp is going to dampen enough sound that one could record usable sync sound. Or are we to assume ADR for all dialogue where we don’t want to hear a constant camera hum?
    9) NOT factoring the cost of transferring a 15-minute short to video (which cost me $600 just a few months ago). Are we assuming that this film will only be projected as film, even as film festivals phase film projection out?

    But as I read and reread this article, one aspect of this wasn’t passing the smell test for me:

    3:1 ratio

    Your numbers assume a 3:1 ratio. So a 15 minute film in which each scene has a maximum of 3 takes allows basically for no coverage. When I hear 3:1 ratio, I’m thinking it’s a short film made only of master shots. In film school I was so frugal that I would carefully map out what parts of my scenes would be covered by masters or coverage and only shot a modest overlap between the two, and I was able to operate at a 7:1 ratio which my teacher referred to as “frugal” when he was being nice or “Spartan” when he wanted to shame me for my frugality.

    A 3:1 ratio is something that you’d undertake as a classroom assignment but in the real world of actual filmmaking, I think even the most prepared filmmakers alive couldn’t make that work. Stanley Kubrick (pictured above) was notorious for shooting scenes hundreds of times – obviously an outlier but I believe that Kubrick would be attracted to the efficiency, light sensitivity, and ease of use of many of the digital cameras out there today.

    And it goes without saying that this plan is relatively useless for documentarians.

    I’m not saying that a 3:1 ratio cannot be done ever, but it’s not exactly a “one-size-fits-all” approach to filmmaking any more than digital is – although I’d argue that digital fits more sizes of production than shooting film does today. A 3:1 ratio is what you do when you have scarcity of raw footage and have no other choice, and today there are so many choices in the digital world that keeping up with them is more exhausting than anything else and if one is shooting digitally, ratios don’t exist because the medium on which your shooting is quite affordable and even reusable.

    I don’t take an anti-film stance at all. I love having shot film, and there are many things I miss from my days working with film. I think it’s a viable tool that should be considered when choosing the best way to tell a story. But it’s becoming more and more relegated to specialty use like VistaVision, Showscan, or (sadly) Super-8. I hope it lives on for a long time, but this argument in my opinion embraces a false dichotomy of film vs. digital and encourages people to shoot film to save money. If you can show how to save money shooting film on an average real-world example (with more of a 10:1 or 15:1 ratio), factoring in renting gear and not paying for negative cutting, processing, or printing, I’d be more convinced.

  25. Another amazing source for short ends & re-cans of 35mm film: http://www.reelgoodfilm.com/

  26. Pedro says:

    Outstanding !
    Being a camera person for the last 17 years makes me sad see the death of film through this massive market-oriented campaign towards barely-learned tech hype.

    Thanks for posting and keeping believing in film !

    Pedro

  27. Victor says:

    The reality is that you can’t stop anyone from shooting the way they want to shoot. Mini DV and Final Cut Pro allowed indies to create in a self contained way. Shoot, edit and make your own DVD or upload to the web. The big companies like Kodak, Fuji, Avid ignored them. The technology wasn’t a threat to the establishment.

    Cut to now, Kodak is STILL under bankruptcy protection. Fuji stopped all film manufacturing. Avid haven’t made a profit in years. Technology has increased to the point where studios are willing to use digital cinema cameras for their tentpole films.

    The film vs digital debate is irrelevant. The creative and financial choices are for the filmmakers to make. Some filmmakers have never shot film, and never will. That is still their choice.

    If you want to blame anyone, blame the industry leaders who ignored the threats until it was too late. Much of this digital technology started with Kodak, and they decided not to exploit them due to their profits in the film business.

    If Kodak had made programs in the 90s where they bundled a roll of film. development and digital transfer, they would have had a fighting chance now.

    This article states hidden costs. Well those are only hidden to those who aren’t paying attention. This technology has been developing at least since the 70s. Lucasfilm has been using it since the 80s with ILM and the beginnings of what became Pixar. It spilled into wider use in the 90s.

    I’ve been working in digital post for almost 20 years now and I can say none of these hidden costs were hidden. Those costs are part of the workflow and anyone who has to worked in digital are familiar with those costs. The difference is not everyone works at the same level, so costs vary depending on needs and uses.

    I will say, you don’t need to buy a new computer every two years. You can have a computer setup last 5 years or more depending on your needs. Those should dictate what you need to upgrade and when.

    If you are making a film using the latest and greatest technology, you may need to upgrade every two years. But that’s when you sell your old hardware. Used hardware still has value.

    The future will be digital cameras that go beyond anything a film camera can do. Don’t believe it? Look at an Xbox Kinect. Cameras with depth sensors, mulitple layers for HDRI and recording spacial volume are coming if now already here in a basic form.

    If Kodak wants film to survive in the 21st century, they need to figure out a better way of manufacturing it, make it affordable and as manipulatable as digital.

    • Mark King says:

      And their movies will look like crappy video. You seem to dodge the REAL issue and that is IMAGE QUALITY. I’m sorry but I have seen movies shot on video coming out from Hollywood and shot on high end cameras– they STILL look like crappy video (and hint– HD only makes things WORSE) I can tell when something is shot on film and when it is shot on video– mainly due to the fact that the filmed image looks so much better.

      Also your assessments that the production of film have somehow caused Kodak’s financial woes. It has not. Though certainly Kodak took a serious hit in the fact that no one was ordering prints anymore, most productions are STILL shot on film. So that market is still there. I never knew that Fuji was not making a profit but if so, again I doubt that had much to do with the production of film stocks. Yes, I know that they have announced that they will be ceasing the production of film stocks and that is sad, but again, there is still a viable market from producers who still want their movies to actually look good. I know that the news that the latest “Star Wars” movie would be shot on film was a cause of celebration among movie fans — that should tell you something. ;-)

      • Victor says:

        Define what image quality you are talking about?

        Let’s look at exhibition:
        A release print is 4th generation, run though high speed printers, with basic QC. That’s what most people see. Unless it’s some archival print made right off the negative, I highly doubt it’s better quality than a DCP. Most theaters in the US are now digital. The studios aren’t interested in prints, so it has to be DCP at the end, even Star Wars VII.

        Image Capture:
        Movies shot on what is traditionally called video at 720×486 resolution at 30 interlaced frames, does look crappy. We don’t have traditional video anymore. We have digital cameras that capture at pretty much any resolution up to 8k, and at all frame rates including high speed.

        Based on today’s technology, you really tell the difference a movie is digital or film, then it’s a poorly shot film. That’s really the only way. Skyfall was shot on Alexa, don’t think anyone noticed. So was 42. In fact nowadays, a lot of productions use various types of cameras, mixing digital and film, so it’s not like you can just pick it out.

        Check out http://shotonwhat.com on some background about what cameras were used on a film.

        Even if a movie was shot on film, it’s going to just be scanned into a computer for digital color correction, conform, vfx, etc. Then printed out for a negative/IN and/or made into a DCP. The minute you hit render, it’s a digital image.

        My assessments about Kodak is based on experience, observation, and knowing former employees. They lost the consumer film market to affordable digital cameras. Then they sabotaged their post division Cinesite, because they were so wishy-washy on their commitment to digital technology. Finally a serious of unfortunate events with the Writers Strike, the SAG almost strike had pushed digital cameras into television then finally theatrical and put the hard stop on film printing.

        Kodak no longer has brand loyalty. That’s just the reality.

        The other reality is there won’t be many new people who will be interested in working at the labs. Why would anyone want to work around the harsh chemicals in the dark.

        Kodak needs to think like a startup. They once rebuild an instant photo development system to be used for 35mm film for a lab in Romania. They need to take those ideas to a new level if they want to survive in the 21st Century.

  28. Eduardo N. says:

    What most people don’t realize is that the majority of digitally shot theatrical features are being transferred to 35mm (called a film-out) mostly for aesthetic reasons to make it look less digital and also for the fact that some theaters are still projecting film. Even when every single theater converts to digital projectors almost every feature with a budget of over 5 – 10 million will still do a film out just for the celluloid aesthetic.

    The fact that a celluloid shot film is digitally scanned & color corrected in a computer and projected digitally does not negate it’s celluloid look in the least. Clear evidence of this is every celluloid shot film restored and released on DVD & BD. ‘Gone With The Wind’ & ‘Citizen Kane’ don’t look any less filmic when viewed digitally, just higher resolution than they originally looked.

    • In 1999, maybe. Doing a film-out for aesthetic reasons hasn’t been in vogue for nearly a decade. For the purposes of distribution, it is quickly becoming outmoded. Why? The majority of theaters have converted to digital projection. In fact, as of the last NATO meeting, the major studios won’t even be making release prints on film within the next couple years.

      http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cinemacon-2012-fox-35mm-john-fithian-chris-dodd-distribution-digital-exhibition-315688

      And it’s a good thing. Digitally projected movies knock the socks off typical release prints running through typical 35mm projectors.

      • Eduardo N. says:

        Avatar, Hobbit and almost every other digital feature projected in theaters was filmed-out to 35mm and that’s an absolute fact. Watch the Hobbit credits and you’ll see ‘Finished on Kodak motion picture film’ at the bottom. And just compare the Hobbit teaser trailer footage to the later trailers & the finished movie and you’ll see a very noticible difference.

        More often than not you’ll see the Kodak logo at the bottom of the credits for all these digital features. They’re being finished on film and they still don’t look like film…the bitter truth is that without finishing your digital work on celluloid it will always reek of an HD television aesthetic.

      • You are mistaken by the notion that a film-out is done for esthetic reasons. It’s not. Movies like Hobbit etc. that are released digitally are coming straight from the original digital files. In fact, the Hobbit is a perfect example of this workflow because of its framerate and 3D nature. Any ‘look’ difference you noted is do to color grading and likely the reduction from 48 to 24 fps for standard theatrical releases (which obviously reduced the soap-opera look of it)

        Adding a film-out intermediate step as some sort of filtering process (remember much is projected digitally these days) is a primitive way of achieving a ‘film look’. We used to do it in the late 90’s, mostly for the frame rate conversion, but there hasn’t been a need for it in quite a few years.
        And also – well transferred video to film looks like — video. :) (because film IS that good)

      • Eduardo N. says:

        Kodak’s new motion picture film deal with six major studios including Fox:

        http://motion.kodak.com/motion/About/The_Storyboard/4294971663/index.htm

    • Victor says:

      No you’re wrong. It’s transferred to film because until now you still needed a film print for distribution.

      A digitally shot film will go directly to DCP. If a filmmaker chooses to film out for a negative then retranfer, that’s a creative choice, but is not standard workflow.

      Celluloid transferred to digital at high quality, restored and distributed to DVD/Blu Ray have better chance of retaining quality than going through more generations of film stock.

      If you don’t understand the technology, don’t pass around hearsay as fact.

  29. Mark King says:

    @David Worth DP on “Bronco Billy” and whatever else. I don’t know what lab you were getting your quotes from, but ColorLab was processing S16 for me at a LOT cheaper rate than what you were quoting here.

  30. Mark King says:

    @Victor:

    Victors says: “Define what image quality you are talking about?”

    Well it is sometimes hard to articulate these things into words, but there simply is a TEXTURAL and even SPATIAL quality found in images captured on film than what you see in digital. Digital looks thin, vapid, and totally void of texture or “atmosphere” I’m not the only one with this opinion. Writing in Movie Maker Magazine’s 2011 Complete Guide to Making Movies (issue 89. Vol. 17) Frederick Schroeder wrote:

    “Still the best image source after 100 years, the quality of 35mm film cannot be beat in terms of color fidelity, latitude and resolution. (Resolution of 35mm film ranges between 5K and 8K.)…. ”

    He went on to add–

    “Even shooting with the smaller Super16 format…will give you better color fidelity and latitude than any digital format currently available.”

    Did you catch that? Film is better than ANY digital format available. He was not alone in this opinion of even the smaller film gauges like 16mm outclassing digital capture. Writing on a blog titled “Why Shoot HD” (a blog that ENCOURAGED digital capture by the way) the author John Ott still had to admit :

    ” For the purposes of making a movie, even 16mm film has better resolution than 1080p HD cameras.”

    For me, the thing is that when I make a movie, I want it to LOOK like a movie. I have heard all the digital video adherents proclaim that they cannot tell a frame of 35mm film from one of digital. I am pretty much convinced this is just wishful thinking on their part. They just WANT to believe this and maybe convince others of it so that they can continue with the “low cost” of digital movie making. Again, I have seen movies even from Hollywood shot on high end cameras like the RED One and the Panavision Genesis, and even after all the filtering and colour correction they STILL look like VIDEO to me. Maybe not as crappy a looking video as the old VHS stuff, but still video (which is crappy enough in and of itself).

    And what about this “low cost” ? The Indie movie makers that I know cite cost as the number one reason why they stay with digital. But the movies they come out with (on lower end cameras certainly are not up to task), also they don’t do lab, so their images do not get the scene by scene colour correction that is ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED to make digital images look less crappy than they do right in the camera. So their movies suffer for this. Serious filmmakers who DO send their digital images to labs suddenly find the hidden cost of shooting on digital–> IF you want your movie to look like something, you are going to send it to a lab for correction and filtering and it is going to COST YOU BIG TIME, because it is always a scene by scene process.

    On the other hand shooting on film, whereas the costs might be more on the front end, they offer a BIG saving on the back end PROVIDED that you just pay attention to simple (basic really) principles of photography. Use that light meter, set that lens aperture, adjust that lighting a little and you will get good images IN FRONT of the lens. You can then go to the lab and order a one-lite transfer and save a bundle. Don’t try to tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about here because I have done it already so I know. So I have nothing against transferring filmed images to digital media really. Even editing on video is OK (but again recalling all that lost work my friend suffered when his system crashed– again, I don’t mind that someone calls me old fashioned for cutting on my flatbed)

    Now keep in mind I am mainly an advocate of FILM CAPTURE (or acquisition) I’m not so much against digital as a RELEASE media. Whereas you DO lose some pictorial quality in transferring film to digital it doesn’t suffer so much to dismiss digital media outright — again as a release media. So I am not so much against digital cinema in terms of projection. Again the greater quality lies with film, but here the loss is not so terrible that I would be against it. So basically my formula for successful MOVIE making is shoot on film– finish out to video media for DVDs. Simple. Just as long as you CAPTURE on film you will do well.

    Now as far as ARCHIVING goes: Here I go back to film. Kodak has new archival stocks out there on tough polyester bases (like projection film) We KNOW that film can last 100 years if properly taken care of (and it is not hard to properly take care of film) Now some of you might think I am nuts for this statement, remembering as you do all those scratchy and blotchy film clips you have seen from old movies. There are several reasons for this but they all revolve around two main ones:

    1). Producers and Distributors from the Silent Era (and arguably well into the 1950s) did not think of the movies as a “lasting” art form anyway. They not only did not know much about how to take care of film prints– they really didn’t care. They just stored these prints in vaults and did not really monitor temperature control., etc.

    2). A lot of the old prints you are seeing were transferred from what was left of old nitrate stocks which were not only dangerously flammable — but would break down quickly if not kept in a controlled environment. Many studios failed to transfer many of their old prints from the nitrate to the safety stocks– so that accounts for a lot of loss right there. This cost MGM considerably in the late 1960s when some old nitrate prints caught fire and burned up many of the films prints they had stored. This is WHY the Lon Chaney film “London After Midnight” is a LOST film– the last known print was lost in this fire.

    But to get value out of this debate we have to remain clear as to what we are talking about. As for me it is CAPTURE on FILM– that is what is critical. I can accept transferring filmed images to digital for release, but would prefer to have film prints for archival.

    • Al B. says:

      Mark enjoyed your post, but I think you missed something. If all things are equal (the film look eventually captured on video,etc.) the salvaging and archiving of old films has a distinct cost associated with it. You see Clint Eastwood out fundraising to save just a fraction of films from the as recently as the 70s when the stocks should be more stable. As you know, this archiving cost is much more trivial with video, as the cost of storage plummets, and copying of bits can be automated. Or am I missing something?

  31. Mark and Eduardo, I’m curious… did you think Great Gatsby looked like crap? Star Trek, Hugo Oblivion, Kick Ass, Prometheus, Flight?
    Argo had a fantastic 70’s reversal film quality to it. Great argument for shooting on film there.
    But it was largely shot digitally.

    What about Skyfall? How about Life of Pi? (you know, the movie that won an Oscar for Cinematography last year)?

    • Eduardo N. says:

      J.J.’s Star Trek was celluloid and the rest were all digital but finished on film (either Kodak or Fuji 35)…these all look good enough to a the average movie goer, but do not look like celluloid. By shooting digital and finishing on 35mm film it’s a ‘split the difference’ look between the two formats.

      • Eduardo, you are stuck on a gimmick that went out of style around the turn of the century. ‘Finishing on film’ isn’t done to ‘create’ a look. It’s to distribute a movie to theaters that don’t have digital projection in place. Some archiving is done with a 3 strip BW process.
        Believe me, the ‘look’ can be created much more effectively in the grading process. 2k and 4k DCPs come directly from digital files, not from a film-out intermediate.

  32. Eduardo N. says:

    Stefan, have a conversation with any colorist at Deluxe or Technicolor. They will confirm that most theatrical features are finishing on film. The digital file that is projected in theaters is encoded from the 35mm print.
    I’ve worked on several shows that shoot in Vancouver including The Killing, Arrow and Once Upon A Time – these all shoot with the Arri Alexa at 24 fps. These tv shows shot and lit like any other feature film I’ve worked on Vancouver and there is a very noticeable difference in the way these tv shows look vs digitally shot theatrical features. It has nothing to do with how to do with resolution, color grading, filters or fake grain added in post. This ‘split the difference’ look that digitally shot and digitally projected theatrical features have is due to the 35mm ‘intermediate’ process.

    • Victor says:

      And once again you are wrong. Those colorists from Deluxe and Technicolor are barely working unless they are in the D.I. side. Deluxe spent millions kna new lab in LA only to have it sit mostly empty.

      DCPs are made directly from the DI color graded masters. Transferring that image to film and back to digital is a waste of time and money. DI scans aren’t realtime telecine, but frame by frame, definitely not worth doing to meet release deadlines.

      You seem to think they have all the time in the world to do this, but they don’t.

      You seem to not understand color space. TV is Rec 709, theatrical is P3. There is less fidelity with a Rec709 image.

      TV also works with a tighter turnaround. You can’t spend weeks color correcting and doing vfx, sound etc. Its closer to doing indie films. Imagine if TV shows were done on film schedules.

      • Eduardo N. says:

        One of colorists I’ve had discussions with is a colorist at Deluxe Vancouver who also did the color grading for Andrew Lesnie’s work in Rise of the Apes while he and I were grading my 35mm film.

        Color space has nothing to do with the ‘split the difference’ look achieved only when a DCP is struck from a celluloid print. The difference between 709 and P3 is negligible and nearly indiscernible to the human eye. Whist it is certainly true that not every single digitally shot feature is filmed-out to 35mm in creating a theatrical DCP, but the majority of them are. A simple example that clearly illustrates my point is The Hobbit on BD or DVD. Watch the movie at home, watch the latter trailers included on the disc and compare this footage to the very first teaser trailer. The first teaser was 24 fps, Epic footage PRE film-out. The finished film and latter trailers are all post film-out and the celluloid aesthetic is extremely noticeable. Spending an additional few days plus $20K or $30K in doing a film-out and re-encoding back to digital is a drop in the bucket when it comes to modest to large budget theatrical features.

        The bitter truth is that your digital films will never look anything close to film without doing a film-out…and that’s okay, not every movie need look like celluloid. But the key to this debate is that the studios and/or serious film producers see the value and need for finishing their movie on celluloid even though they’ve chosen to lens their project with a video camera.

  33. Hello, the whole thing is going well here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, that’s genuinely excellent, keep up writing.

    • Jacob Dodd says:

      Thank you!!! I find it very exciting to read responses to this article and love exchange that’s happening. We live in a great time where we have so many excellent tools to use as moving image artists, let’s keep them all :)

  34. Thank you for a well documented post to support your passion! I’ll be sharing this with some folks as well. Funny thing is, I recall some of these EXACT same conversations and debates when many of us first began to add digital technology to our filmmaking toolboxes in the 90s. I agree with you 100% about the addiction to upgrades. However, despite my love of celluloid, I could never go back to the days of handling film and analog production or editing. The entire process is so much more physically intensive. I’d rather apply that energy towards expressing myself on the screen. The fixation on the “look” of film can be just as topical as upgrade addiction. Our first mission is to emotionally connect with our intended audiences through story and great performances, the “look” is just one part of this process. I’ve seen so many films that look great but are emotionally flat and fail to illicit emotion from the viewer.

  35. Al B. says:

    Great article and great responses. When I went through a good “trade school” of film and photography in the 1970s, there was no teaching of the business (i.e. finance, hiring issues, legal etc) of making films and running a commercial studio. A huge shortcoming. I hope you are teaching your students more than the correct exposure, or the benefits of film vs. HD. And yes, your article does look at the economics of choices. The ongoing costs of film add up over time, whereas the one time costs of HD (or even SD) a ‘sunk cost’ that you recoup over many productions. And I leased my camera, so my monthly cost is low, and easily recouped per job. I don’t agree with a 2 year life cycle. We will be shooting 1080 for the next decade if not longer. While 4K is wonderful, at present the web is not optimized to deliver it. And I hope film stays around for the next decade too, but the economics of production of it, just is not there anymore. It’s the hidden cost that you are missing, the actual factories that produce it, and whether it’s economically viable for them to remain in production. Something we can’t control.

  36. Rene Bueno says:

    Great article!
    By my own experience I believe celluloid is far better quality then digital and much more beautiful look also, but again I’ve seen some pretty decent looks in some films and series shot on RED and ALEXA, what pisses me off is that every six months your digital camera is old!!! (I got a RED Scarlet) I also have an Arri BL2 and have shoot two feature films, one for 20th Century Fox and one for WB, and hopefully won’t have to use my Scarlet to shot my next feature film. Also, I think that a good and practical workflow is to shoot film and edit on your mac, that’s what I’ve done and it’s cool…
    If you actually have no money, but have a RED camera, obviously it’s the way to go if you want to shoot you feature anyway you can, you’ll sacrifice quality for sure, but sometimes is the only way to go…

  37. google says:

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  38. zanele says:

    Hey wat are the current costs for filmmaking courses

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