When I was in film school, (well technically, it was an art university but I majored in film) we were encouraged by all our film professors to shoot our movies the old-fashioned way, on actual film stock. We weren’t just encouraged, we were required for many of our assignments. We used 16mm black and white reversal. (That means there’s no negative. When the film is developed in the lab, that’s it. No need to print it onto another strip of film.) Not only did we shoot film, we edited with it too. It was worse than editing video with two VCR’s. You had to physically cut the film by hand and tape it together. I could never edit film without getting tangled in it. I’d end up with film strips hanging all over my body like a celluloid mummy.
In the beginning, I was attracted to film stock because it’s how all my favorite movies were made. The look of it best suited all my horror movie ideas. But nostalgia aside, it made shooting a lot more difficult. I soon realized I could accomplish much more by sticking to shooting on video. Digital video was out by then and kept getting better year after year. (HD was around the corner.) I felt that digital video was going to take over, and I was right! Most theaters nowadays are projecting digitally. Film still looked better, but it wasn’t worth the price. Film was so expensive that it consumes the entire budget for your movie. I’d rather put the money into things that go in front of the camera, then wasting it all on the film stock.
It seemed everybody else was all about shooting film or nothing. Film festivals would never accept anything unless it was shot on film. Nobody took me seriously when I wanted to shoot my projects on video. Sure film looked better, but I think the most important thing is STORY. Even to this day, everyone’s always obsessed with the image quality. Everyone’s always raving about the Red cameras. It doesn’t matter what you use as long as you have a story that’s worth telling. You could take a pile of dog shit and shoot it with a Red camera or a VHS camera. It doesn’t matter. It’s still a pile of dog shit. Would you rather have a movie that’s shot on the Red, but is crap, or something that’s shot on a less expensive camera that doesn’t have as insane a resolution, but has a great story that engages an audience.
I was the rebel of the film class. This was back in 2003, when I started shooting on the Panasonic DVX100, the first video camera that shot in 24 frames a second, instead of 30, giving it a more film-like feel. The class was impressed! After that, everybody started using it.
Anyway, what got me started on this topic, I found something I casually wrote when all this was going on. I don’t know how this piece of paper survived. It’s one of those things that just randomly turns up after several years. It brought back all these bad memories of using film, and how many times it ruined my projects. My last movie shot on film was Curse of the Cat Lover’s Grave which, luckily, I shot video simultaneously as a back up, just because I didn’t trust film. Well, it turned out. When the film came back from the lab, it was 100% black. There was no image whatsoever. Sounds like a simple mistake, but there was nothing wrong with the camera. There wasn’t a lens cap on, or anything stupid like that. Nobody could explain what happened. I wasted hundred of dollars. I guess you could say my experience with film stock was quite “negative.”
Let me take a moment to interpret this, what I wrote about 10 years ago.
“TOP 10 REASONS I HATE USING BOLEX FILM”
The crossed out word, Bolex, is the name of a camera. I guess originally I was going to make the top 10 about that particular camera, but decided to go with film in general. The Bolex sucked ass! It was the most awkward design for a camera humanly possible. It was heavy, bulky and with a strap on the top. There was no conceivable way to hold it and shoot comfortably. Anyway, onto the top 10.
“10 – LOADING. RISK OF LIGHT.”
Yeah, wasn’t that always fun? Anytime you had to load the camera, you had to go into a dark bathroom. Simply, the reason for this is that if the film gets exposed to light at all, it’s ruined. The worst was when you were out shooting somewhere and you had to change the film when there wasn’t any dark place around. You had to bring a bag to change it in. It’s like being a magician. And with a camera that could only hold 3 minutes of film at a time, you had to change it pretty often.
“9 – HAVE TO WIND UP”
This is one that’s specific to the Bolex. It didn’t use batteries. Instead it was operated by winding a lever! Every time you wind it, you might get about 10 seconds of shooting time before it snaps off again.
“8 – NO LCD SCREEN DOR TURNING CAMERA IN WEIRD ANGLES”
LCD screens were the best invention ever! With them, you don’t need to have your eye always glued to the eye piece. In fact, I don’t use the eye piece on my cameras anymore at all. I can’t remember the last time I did that. LCD screens spoiled us. WIth them, you can get the camera in all kinds of angles where your body couldn’t normally contort itself into. Not to mention, filming yourself. How could you see what you’re shooting without being able to flip that LCD screen around? The film cameras we used had no such luxuries. Even with the older video cameras, all my old home movies were a guessing game.
“7 – LIGHT READINGS (WHAT YOU SEE VS. WHAT YOU GET)”
WIth film, you have to use a light meter to gauge how to set your iris. If you screw up, you’ll end up with overexposed film, or underexposed. With video, you just look at the screen and see what you’re getting. If it’s too bright, close the iris. If it’s too dark, open it up. I’m a visual person. I like to see things. Not use mathematics.
“6 – HEAVINESS OF CAMERA”
Already mentioned. Can’t think of any light weight film cameras. Unless maybe 8mm.
“5 – ORDERING OR OBTAINING FILM”
You can’t just walk into any store and buy 16mm film. You had to always plan in advance and order it, or buy it from a classmate.
“4 – HAVING TO SEND OUT FOR PROCESSING”
This is the worst! Today, I would put this at #1. Why is this not my number 1? Every time you shoot something, you have to send it out to the lab to get developed. When my class would send out our film, we’d usually have to wait at least A WEEK before we got to see our footage. Imagine waiting that long to see if what you shot turned out right or not. With video, you can see it INSTANTLY.
“3 – NIGHT SHOOTING??? JUST USE DIGITAL”
I think I meant how unpredictable the light meter readings were whenever you were trying to shoot outside at night. What are you exposing to? That distant skyline? Yeah, right. Good luck getting the light meter all the way out there.
“2 – HAVE TO PLAN AND RESERVE”
Nobody owns their own film camera. You have to plan in advance, and rent them. I hate renting equipment. Always have. Always will. Filmmaking already involves a lot of planning as it is. Renting and returning equipment is one more thing you have to do. Usually, whenever we tried to reserve equipment from the school, it would never be available, unless you planned at least a week or two in advance. Then the shoot date comes, and one of your actors bails out and needs to reschedule.
“1 – EXPENSES – $17 FOR 3 MINUTES OF FILM. $12 FOR PROCESSING”
Yep. Film is A LOT more expensive than video. Plain and simple. Is it worth it?
With all that said, here are some of the movies I shot on film.
Even though I have so many bad memories with film, I still feel nostalgic toward it. One day when the time is right, and when I have the leisure time to experiment, I’ll make a creepy horror film that would benefit from the antique look of film stock. One day, I will do it again.