Filmmaking – Why I’m Buying a Red and Never Looking Back

This semester, I’m taking a cinematography class, which is essentially a grip boot-camp: 14 weeks of studying lights, using lights, and learning about how to set them up and use them. As part of this, we have to shoot two projects on film, and this weekend was the first.

And you can guess how that went, if you’ve read the title.

I was using a Bolex, and while it was an interesting experience, it was also one of the most frustrating filmmaking experiences I’ve had in my entire life. First, I had to lug about twenty-five pounds of gear all over Boston. Then I had to load the film, which required a visit to a Canadian website and a video tutorial as the manual for the camera was worse than useless in actually explaining the process of putting the film in the goddamn camera. Then, I had to hand-crank the damn thing. Then I had to recrank the damn thing.

For every…last…shot.

It made me think, and think hard, about the benefits of film versus the difficulty of it. I’ve only ever shot on video for a simple reason: cost. But I never realized just how easy I had it until I had to shoot with this beast.

Does film have benefits? Yes. But how often do we actually use them? People can gripe film has a better color range, but find me a stock in current use that really uses that range. People can note that film has a finer grain than much of video, but this is a problem that can be solved with proper lighting. People gripe that film “just looks better”, which is an utter crock of shit because the way most people shoot film, it doesn’t matter. Seriously. The way most film is shot is just flat-out unmemorable. It’s not art, it’s getting the scene lit so the actors can perform and the DP can hit the crafty tent.

Furthermore, it lends to this annoying chauvinism that you’re seeing increasingly in the film world that film is somehow “just better”. Well, it’s not. That’s a crutch for snobs and people who don’t want to learn about video. A really good DP who studies the medium knows how to use a camera’s advantages and to turn its disadvantages into advantages. One of video’s big problems, moire, can really be solved by careful wardrobe selection, for God’s sake.

Nobody who has any understanding of the demands of independent, especially low-budget, production would really object to video being used. There’s a reason the indie world has run gladly into the hands of the Red, and I plan to join them.

A friend of mine told me to “take it back” when I complained about film because “film is prettiness and sexiness.” Yeah, well, the same is true of a lot of things that are difficult to use, picky as hell, and extremely hard to maintain. I’m going to buy that Lumix GH1 and Red Scarlet without a hint of regret; film is just not worth it.


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