Film and Digital – Operation Avalanche and Workflows

operation-avalanche-3

Today I read an article on the Filmsupply blog – https://blog.filmsupply.com/articles/operation-avalanche/9

It is mostly an interview about the film, Operation Avalanche, that delves into the technical aspects of how they made the movie. I won’t spoil those details here other than to say their workflow was unusual. In order to properly emulate the look of 16mm film from the 1960’s they shot on digital cameras and did a transfer to 16mm film that they then degraded.

To answer the obvious question – why not just shoot on film? The answer is cost.

Why am I sharing this? Let me post an excerpt from the interview below:

Do you think it will ever be possible to achieve the full effect in digital without the 16mm intermediate?

JR: We tried. Honestly, I think if we could do it, then we would have done it. There’s something that happens — is it the uncertainty principle? It’s that thing you can’t predict. We could have given it to Conor, and he could have re-created exactly what happened in that shot from earlier in the movie. But those mistakes never happen twice — the way the colors shift in an unpredictable way, the way the highlights go a certain way.

AA: The way a hair would lie on the scan. You can’t design for that.

JR: You could intentionally do it, but you’d just be copying something you’d seen before. People are wired to pick apart images now. We spend all day looking at images and thinking about how they originated. We’ve developed a powerful vocabulary for seeing an image and knowing where it came from and who took it. That’s in our lexicon now through how much we learn by looking at images all day long. People are savvy to the point where they can subconsciously tell — whether they know it or not — if they’re looking at something from a certain era or a modern thing that’s trying to be that thing from a certain era.

Stranger Things is a great example of that. It has the look of an ’80s movie through and through, but you know it’s not an ’80s movie because you’re not watching it on film. Film does all these weird things that look like mistakes, but you can’t plan them. Through this process, we discovered that if you want something to look like it’s on film, the only way to get that look consistently is to actually use film.

What they say here, especially at the end, is of interest. As much as shows like “Halt & Catch Fire”, “The Americans” and “Mad Men” (the later seasons) achieve a film look – there are moments where the audience knows, somehow, that these shows are made differently than works shot in the 1980’s (and 60’s). This inherent knowledge is interesting and while it does little to settle any arguments about what format you should capture your work on it does speak to another concern which is distracting your audience from the story. If the audience is thinking about how your movie looks like film but isn’t film while they are watching then you have to wonder if it is worth attempting this trickery.

Take a look at the interview, it is an interesting, albeit technical, read.

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