An Ode To Film

I’ve spent a few blogposts writing about the exciting advances in digital acquisition, so I think it’s time to give some much deserved attention to the beauty of physical image capture on celluloid, also known as film. Even after all these years of bits and bytes, it’s still the absolute king of the hill when it comes to simplicity, quality and pure brilliance.

It’s difficult to not fall in love with a film camera once you’ve seen it in action. Essentially a piece of metal with a hole in, this fine piece of machinery will pull the film forward, stop and hold it absolutely still, before pulling it forward again multiple times per second, exposing it to the focused light coming through the lens. No advanced electronics and software, no rolling shutter issues, no bitrates or different formats, no complicated backup schemes, just light trapped in a physical object you can hold and look at. So simple!

The marvel of this machinery is only surpassed by the absolutely gorgeous images it can produce:

The reason why I’m dedicating a post to the film medium, is because I’m currently stranded on a remote island in Norway, pulling focus for one of the exam film productions for the final year students of The Norwegian Film School. We’re burning 16 and 35mm, and I would never want to work with anything else for this particular project. When snow and rain is hitting you at the same time at 20 meters per second, there’s nothing more reassuring than an Arri chugging along beside me. My biggest worry is keeping the lens clean.

A rough machine for rough conditions

But even when the weather is nice, I’d rather be loading my mags with film. It’s a shame that the economical reality of the Norwegian film business is pushing the vast majority of productions into the digital realm. It’s not just a matter of practicality or costs, it’s a major aesthetical decision.

An example; we’re standing on an exterior location with a 100-or-something meter long chain of 15 watt bulbs in an evening landscape just after sunset with a huge miniature in the foreground of a larger construction in the background, and light is falling fast! By the time we get the shot in the can, the light is not reading on the incident meter anymore. But watching dailies afterwards, the 35mm proves it’s worth the extra pennies, as an amazing scene unfolds, with clarity and contrast a RED could only dream of capturing. The entire crew was stoked, and this was only a lousy firstlight to DV PAL.

Ready to be loaded and exposed

I am very lucky to be part of a film school that still teaches this soon to be ancient technique to the next generation of Norwegian cinematographers, and will always go to great lengths to pursuade producers if I think it’s the appropriate medium for the project.

It feels like being late to a party and trying to pursuade the remaining few to stay up just a bit longer.

PS: The movie I’m referring to is titled Tuba Atlantic, directed by Hallvar Witzø and shot by Karl Erik Brøndo, both graduating from the Norwegian Film School this summer. It is their final project, a 25 minute short film, and will air on Norwegian television and at the Norwegian Short Film Festival this summer.