Kodak going bankrupt? Where will our film come from?

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I had a nice get together today with famed photographer Douglas Kirkland and Local 600 President (Director of Photography union)  and ASC member Steven Poster.  As we were about to part ways,  discussion turned to the potential demise of Kodak.

Earlier today I also happen to have read a great article about Emmanuel "Chivo" Lubezki ASC and Terrence Mallick’s "Rules"  or "dogma" as they called it,  for shooting during their collaboration on "The Tree of Life."   The article described how film is still unparralled relative to digital in terms of dynamic range and how they were able to push the boundaries of what can be captured by any camera available to us today.

Ironically earlier in the week I found myself grading a piece I had directed with one of the colorist who had graded "Tree of Life" and we found ourselves in an interesting discussion about film vs digital – and all of the cameras out there.

He argued that he would only shoot film with his still photographs, yet that he felt very comfortable with what could be done in post with digital cinema files and how digital capture has distinct advantages to film in certain specific circumstances.   

I pointed out to him, that while I worked my way up through black and white, color, and E-6 labs and learned to shoot everything on film – including sporting events on color-reversal film – that I had come to embrace digital whether it was with still images or cinema / live action footage.   If anything I found that cinema film stock offered more noticeable advantages in the motion picture world over digital cinema sensors – than in the still world for example.

We came to agree that ultimately – each camera out there (whether a Nikon or a Canon, or an Alexa vs an Epic) had very distinct characteristics – pros and cons.   Trying to pick "one" ultimate camera or stocks – was somewhat of a fool’s task.  

As we see Kodak being threatened these days – and the potential for motion picture film to disappear in the upcoming years (something that I would NOT be a fan of of course!)  – I think we came to an interesting conclusion together.

Each digital camera out there,  each sensor – will effectively become our future film stocks…   The RED Epic reacts to light differently than the Arri Alexa does – or the Sony F3, Panasonic AF100 or of course the Canon 5DMKII.   Each has its distinct pros and cons – whether due to image quality, dynamic range, sharpness, resolution, RAW codec or weight and size (not to mention price.)

What I do think is important is for all of us to work with all of the digital still and cinema cameras out there – and to treat them the same way we would different Kodak or Fuji film stocks.

I love film as much as anyone out there.   And there is no question that it’s dynamic range  – especially in the highlights – has yet to be met with digital cameras.   Yet the Zacuto Shootout tests showed that digital cameras have an uncanny ability to dig into those shadows in a very impressive manner- in ways that film cannot.

Therefore, while it may be nice to wax poetic about the inherent merits of film – especially motion picture film, it would probably behoove us to spend our time mastering these new digital sensors and post workflows.   As time, and Kodak’s potential bankruptcy, may ultimately end up forcing all of us in the direction of purely digital capture regardless of what we yearn to shoot on…

While there is no question that losing motion picture film altogether would be a huge loss – it seems to be an unfortunate reality in the next decade if not less.  (I’m betting it will be around a lot longer than most people expect…)   I think we should do our best to discover some of the new ways of shooting that these new digital sensors will allow us to.  I can tell you that shooting into the dark shadows or in very low light can be extremely fun – as many of these new camera can now literally see more than the human eye can see in the dark…