Once upon a time…back in the 80s while in film school I did some assisting for a fashion photographer in L.A. and I noticed that his digital Minolta digital light meter was easy to use and asked a teacher at school why film people didn’t use a digital meter. He said the Spectra light meter (that you had to add slides to and make calculations) was the standard for the industry.
Today Spectra light meters are digital, but that’s when I first realized how slow Hollywood is to change. In the 90s as non-linear work stations for audio and video editing started to gain ground there was much debate in Hollywood in the role of this technology. Flat bed film editing systems (Steenbeck, KEM, Moviola) were the standard in the industry for decades and many said that would never change.
AVID made a splash at the 1989 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) basically saying that the future of video editing was about to shift dramatically. There were plenty of scoffers but within a couple years a small number of feature films started to be edited on the AVID and by the mid-90s there were dozens being edited on the system that was said would never replace traditional film editing. In 1996, the first film to be edited on an AVID (The English Patient) won an Academy Award for editing (Walter Murch) and also won best picture. Today almost all feature films and TV programs are edited on an AVID or some other kind of digital non-linear editing system.
The evolution and demise of traditional film and sound editing was actually a fairly slow process because it was expensive at first, untested, and required a new way of doing things. (Plus the streamlined techology of the editing process threatened jobs making it not real popular in some circles. ) I first worked on an AVID in 1994 and instantly loved the way you could try new edits without having to use a splicer and tape. But not everyone agreed with the new way of doing things, and unless he’s recently changed Steven Spielberg still edits the old school way and it’s worked out pretty well for him.
Cameras have been a little slower in changing over to the digital side. Many independent filmmakers embraced the digital cameras instantly because it eliminated the high cost of film and its related expenses. And just like on the editing side many have said that tradition film cameras would never be replaced. The image of a 35mm film is beautiful and once again that has been the way that movies have been made for over 100 years.
But as the digital cameras improve in quality more and more directors and cameramen and making the switch to the digital cameras. And not just for costs. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was shot with the Sony F-900, Slumdog Millionaire was shot with the Viper camera, and both Arri and Panavision also have digital cameras. It’s getting harder and to deny the digital shift taking place. But the somewhat affordable RED camera is causing the most excitement for independent filmmakers around the country.
David Fincher came up through the ranks working at ILM and directing music videos before going on to direct Alien 3, Seven, Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons. He is currently shooting The Social Network (about the founders of Facebook) which was shot on the digital Red EPIC camera. Here is what he said recently about digital cameras totally replacing film cameras;
“The writing is on the wall. If you don’t believe me, I have some stock in Kodak I’d like to sell you, because this is just not the way motion pictures are gonna be made three years from now.”
For a more technical explaination here is the cinematographer of that film had to say;
“To say that RED and the new Mysterium-X Sensor is impressive is tantamount to saying that Napalm is a little itchy. The sensor’s increased resolution is an obvious bonus but the expanded latitude especially at the high end and the dynamic color range makes this camera a tremendous asset to any cinematographer’s arsenal. The Mysterium-X’s amazing ability to handle both mixed color temperatures and low light situations affords us exciting opportunities to push the boundaries of our craft.”
Jeff Cronenweth, A.S.C.
The chances are good that wherever you live in the United States there is at least one RED camera nearby. You write the script, he or she shoots the film (shoot the digital will never sound right), and see what happens. And, of course, there are plenty of other cameras out there that can do a solid job. But the day is coming where at least from the technical side the same cameras used on Hollywood features will be commonly found in your neck of the woods.