Saturday, 31 August, 2013

Film and Digital - a casual Facebook debate

Some days ago I posted on Facebook...

At approx Rs 13,000 per 400ft roll and exposing about 7 rolls (28 mins) a day for 60 days, feature films used to spend about 55 lakhs on film and processing alone.
Now, shooting digitally, and shooting even 60 mins a day for 60 days costs only Rs 6 lakhs for hard disks even if you make copies to two separate hard disks. 
I meet film producers every day who find that costly.

From the very interesting comments I got, I've made up a debate on film vs digital in the movie business

Film-maker friend Nayan Padrai commented...
"Wait till they convert in dollars" 

What he meant, I guess, is that these figures are different in the US. probably because film costs much less there than it does in India, while manpower costs are higher. Digital probably involves more people hence costs more.
Ashoka Holla, founder of Berserk Media and one who's been at the producer end, commented
"How I wish the difference between film vs Digital was so simple.."
My response to Ashoka...
"digital is only as simple as people make it. Or, it can be complicated if they wish it upon themselves. 
For the past year and a half, I run a company that specializes only in providing an adequate workflow for movies shot digitally. Disks, transfers, conversions, conform for DI, long term backup, archiving, Avid/FCP on hire everything digital. 
For a price, of course.
Have worked on over a dozen movies, more in the pipeline."

Sanjay Sami, arguably one of India's finest grips and one who's in the thick of it, has to 'shoulder the burden' of film or digital cameras more than anyone else…
"The most expensive component of a shooting day is time. When we were shooting Life of Pi, the Producer David Womark told me that the cost per MINUTE of production time was 7,000 US$. So ... does shooting time go faster with a film camera or Digital ? My guess is that film is faster …"
Ashoka responded (referring to my new business Post BlackBox)
"Hey congratulations..that sounds like a good business..My only point here is the difference is not only film vs Disks.. Disks, Transfers, Conversions, Image stability across systems and many many other intangibles( Shooting days, Discipline etc) are additional costs. Plus with digital you tend to shoot so much more that it takes more days in post to sort( & select) plus ofcourse Post Blackbox Costs as well. Yes Digital works out cheaper upfront but in totality with all the hidden costs, the gap is much smaller than what it appears"

Ashoka to Sanjay…
"Good point ..I love Digital but I have started loving film more after Digital came through. Content should dictate the choice of origination.. I would be disappointed if film does not exists any more for film makers to make that choice"
"There is no financial reason to shoot digital over film. In many actual comparisons carried out by Fox Searchlight, Digital was found to be more expensive all told, including for some of the reasons mentioned by you. A lot of Producers buy into the hype surrounding the fact that hard drives are cheaper than film stock. If you choose digital over film it should be for other reasons, and there are a few."
My response...
"I've been doing this for a living for the past 18 months. Have done this math over and over again for all sizes of productions - Fukrey to Dhoom 3. And I assure you that if handled correctly, digital movie shooting in India costs a fraction of shooting film. 
As an editor I have exact numbers of cans exposed for the dozen or so films I've edited. Shot film. 
And as a DI supervisor I have the numbers for about 160+ (yes 160+) films whose cans came to me for DI. 
So, trust me, digital costs less to shoot than film even accounting for higher camera rental costs. 
In some movies I've worked on, digital shooting enabled a reduction and sometimes elimination of lights, some or even all of them. 
Since Feb 2012 I've been on digital shoot sets for nearly 300 days in 12 countries and 9 states of India. 

Digital works. But only if you hire the right people."

"With due respect to ur knowledge and experience, I am afraid that is no argument. U can compromise on quality to save costs.Especially ur comment about no lights frightens me becos in the last one year I have seen several films shot digitally which compromised on lights and when u see the result on screen u cringe! Digital works for sure no doubt.But films works too. Both have their place under the sun.."

Sanjay Sami...
"Neil, your calculations are based on material costs. And you are right there. Hard drives are cheaper than film. That was not at all my point. I think there are some good reasons to shoot digital. Cost is not one of them.
"For a movie costing Rs 40-60 crores to the lead actor, film or digital makes little difference. 
For aspiring film makers with Stanley ka Dabba, Ship of Theseus, Fukrey and many such, in their heads, shooting digital is the only possibility. Digital is an enabling medium for many, who, with film would never be able to take the movie out of their head and on to a screen."

My response…
"Editors gave up film over 20 years ago. With Avid and FCP, editing went digital. Sound got recorded and edited digitally too. Then post went digital, then prints gave way to DCPs. Cinematography is the last thing to go digital. 

Let's move on. There's an easier world out there. Let's enjoy film-making. Let's not wish upon our youngsters the drudgery of film. If you were an editor in the 80s film was drudgery.

Like many editors of my age, we have actually held film and lived with it for months on end.  Nothing beats carrying large cans up stairs to a dingy editing room at Dadar. The smell of chemical in your nostrils all day and night like film smells. 
The whirr of the Steenbeck and a small flickering image on a screen. Or standing before a Movieola and watching an even smaller screen. The film was actually in your hand all day. And it was organic. Organic smells, and it's heavy.

White pencil to mark, a splicer to cut, and cello tape to join were editor's tools. Everything was always 'saved', no need to make backups, no worrying about anything getting 'corrupt'.
Then you cut the negative, the exact same film the cinematographer rolled. 
No one called themselves DoP back then. And after pack up they were in your BEST bus to Andheri. Now you're in the same jam outside Oberoi Mall. In separate cars."

Ashoka S Holla…
"how nostalgic? what u call drudgery was actually a lot of fun. Organic negatives were treated with so much care like its ur baby.Yes digital filmmaking presents a whole new opportunity to filmmakers ( see my quote in ET a couple of Weeks back). But filmmakers should be the one making choices and not post houses.

My response...
"about film-makers not post houses deciding, that I will agree with you all the way. About negatives and babies, not sure. I've had both."

Ashoka S Holla linked to an article on new age movie distribution
Content helps small-budget films script big success, 405 such films hit theatres in Jan-Jul

and on new directors working on shoestring budgets possible only because of digital 'filming' 
The YouTube way to fame in filmland

Both are articles on the new wave of film makers and how Digital technology will create the next wave of content creation.However hope you will agree that still film has a huge role to play in storytelling. In some areas like archiving and even data storage Film is making a strong comeback across the globe.

Sanjay Sami on ease of use or lack thereof…
"post may be easier in digital, but that is CERTAINLY not true of the shooting process. Film is faster and simpler in almost all cases."

My response...
"Actually, 'real' film is when you shoot film, cut the neg, make a contact print from the original neg. Watch in a film projector. Like we've done from 1920s till 2000. That's film. 
We began to give that up after about 2003. 
In the world of DI (post 2003), film remained film only in the camera. After that it was all digital anyway. 

Shooting digital need not be a compromise in visual quality. And shooting film need not be all lyrical and poetic. Work on a Bhojpuri film shot on 35mm and see.

About movies shot digitally without lights... I have NDAs. 
So all I can say is wait and see. Actually when you watch it, you won't even know which shots were done without lights. It just looks so natural."

And so the debate goes on

1 comment:

  1. Digital is Future. DSLR filmmaking is gamechanger, which allowed to make film within some Rupees of lacs for independent filmmaker.


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