Shooting on film…..the emulsion emotion.

The Emulsion Emotion.

Recently I have had the opportunity to shoot 2 projects on film after over more than a year of only digital projects. Much of that is due to the fact that I work a lot with stereoscopic 3D projects. Native 3D is almost exclusively the realm of digital capture.

It was a refreshing experience, the veteran DP brought me in to do 2 days of steadicam on his feature. The differences began from the start. He knew exactly what shots he needed me for and did not just use me in all the shots of the day because I was there. There was only one small SD monitor on set for the director only. He lit with a light meter while the camera was off the set, he was fast at what he did and nobody questioned his choices. While watching the actors rehearse me and the DP talked over the shot, we followed up with 2 takes of a camera rehearsal….then we finally rolled camera. Everyone on set naturally went quiet when the AD started calling the roll. The 1stAC rolled the camera and with the barely audible whine of the film starting to spin thru the camera, my steadicam monitor flickered a bit and it seamed everyone on set knew there was money flying thru camera and to be quiet.

In this particular scene we followed actors thru an apartment and ended up inside a bathroom with the 1st AC having to stand on top of the toilet! It was dark inside the bathroom with the actress as she closed the door. Soon after the take the DP comes over as we walk out of the bathroom and he asks me “How was that?” I reply…”It was good, but I think I can do a bit better as we enter the bathroom” he also asks the 1stAC how was that for focus “nailed it” is the reply. Just then the Director walks up and remarks to the DP…..looks dark in that bathroom….with a puzzled look on his face. The DP jumps in a says……”…don’t worry it will be great, just like we talked about this morning.” Just like that everyone walked back to our positions, completed another take and after all of us remarked it was a solid take. The director smiles and nods to the 1st AD that yells….”New deal!”…. Notice the director never asked another take for safety! he trusted his crew to deliver.



Now this might seam like such a regular exchange and account of how a set is run but the reality is that this whole description goes very differently when we are capturing digitally……and these days that description is changing quite a bit.

On a typical digital set…..the differences are abundant. First there are big, bright, HD monitors everywhere. All of a sudden everyone is a focus and lighting expert and is full of opinions. many times the camera is required to be in position and on frame for lighting to be done and tweaked, on occasion hear many comments by video village about the DP’s lighting choices and a few directors or other crew members start involving themselves in areas that there opinions are not so welcome. There is rarely any “camera rehearsal” and we are always “rollin’ on rehearsal!”. Naturally this first “take” is frequently a mess for obvious reasons… is not the only one that needs a rehearsal! Nobody respects silence when the AD begins to call roll….now the AD’s & director start to not respect the fact that the camera is rolling….which result in mins. of wasted footage as last looks get applied and the AD adjusts the actors or the director gives last min notes to the actors, meanwhile I’m patiently holding my frame on my steadicam waiting for everyone to be ready while the camera is recording.

There is generally no respect for a rolling camera when you shoot digital. Maybe it is because people fail to recognize the fact that digital footage is not “free” as some people think. 4k + cameras consume an alarming amount of data. I have seen the storage budgets for many digital feature films and it is no small sum 15-20TB of storage is not that cheap. Especially because 15tb becomes 30TB when backed up to another source or 45tb if 3 copies are made! These numbers will only grow from now on…..especially in 3D with double the cameras rolling. There should be more set discipline regarding a rolling camera… there is on a film set. Generally speaking there isn’t. It can be very lax to say the least. I wish more people would realize the cost of the digital data being produced in that camera.


The final massive difference I notice is trust and respect. There is a massive amount of trust that develops between a DP and his crew and a DP and his director and producers when shooting film that just isn’t there with digital. Maybe it is because some people tend to look at the nice HD monitor and have an opinion on what they are seeing because it looks so much like a final product.

In my example the Director commented that the room seamed very dark…The DP assured him it would be fine. The director clearly trusted the DP’s work and just took him for his word. Trust. The DP asked the 1stAC how was his focus….the 1st confidently assured him it was a good take. DP trusting his crew is a great feeling for both parties and spurs professionalism. It requires people to always perform at the best.



Now I’m certainly not saying I haven’t been on digital sets when a lot of this has not been the case but this lack of respect and trust is more and more commonplace on digital sets these days.


I’m the first one to say film is dead 5 years ago! I think it’s days are now numbered as the new digital cameras are reaching above 14 stops of latitude and 1200iso native and 6k and beyond. I am not lamenting on the good ‘ol days of film………my recent film work just reminded me how important experienced crew is and how good it is for the DP and the director to value,respect and TRUST the crew they have in many cases assembled.


I for one hope that I start getting that “emulsion emotion” on more and more digital sets.


There is a lot we can learn from film. I hope it stays around long enough to teach its lessons enough so that some of it’s effect is still felt in the digital age.





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