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Is Shooting With Film Making A Comeback?

A few years back, Quentin Tarantino made the bold move to shoot his film The Hateful Eight in 70mm. He even went so far as to set up a 2-week exclusive run of the film where it would only be screened in the 70mm film format. After that run, theaters would be welcome to show the film in whatever format they pleased.

Around this same time in 2015, there were a handful of classic directors that joined Tarantino in pledging to shoot their ensuing movies with film instead of digital cameras. This decision received mixed reviews but was largely lauded as a step in the right direction by cinephiles. This announcement coincided with a number of articles that were decrying the death of the film industry. Not the movie industry, but the industry of producing and selling the actual film used to shoot movies with.

The rise of digital moviemaking has provided studios with greater flexibility and significantly lower cost. This, paired with the explosion of high-quality digital projection systems in theaters has meant shooting movies on film was on the way out, save for these few award-winning filmmakers. With all of this excitement around shooting on film, the question remains. Is shooting with filmmaking a comeback?

There’s no hard and fast answer, but the general response is…probably not. It makes sense that nostalgic filmmakers would want to stick with the old ways, but if you look at all of the changes in filmmaking over the past 50 years, almost every innovation has been driven by consumer demand. Innovations may have been brought to the market by experimental filmmakers but the drive for those innovations to stick around has come from moviegoers.

You may have been familiar with the deal directors cut with the film companies to order a certain amount of film over the coming years; there was a lot of media coverage concerning it. It was talked about at the top of the film industry as the dawning of a new age of filmmaking where the very medium itself was considered art. What most people haven’t heard anything about is fans raving over the new experience that 70mm viewing brought to The Hateful Eight. You haven’t heard about fans clamoring for tickets to other 70mm releases. You haven’t heard about other directors lining up to shoot their movies in 70mm in response to the overwhelming success of The Hateful Eight. You haven’t heard about these things happening because they haven’t happened.

Some of this might be because of The Hateful Eight, while entertaining, was not Tarantino’s best work. However, it is fairly common for a mediocre movie that uses a special technique in production to still garner attention regarding that technique. A good example is Mad Max Fury Road and the exclusive use of live stunts in the film. Choosing to forego special effects instead of using live-action stunts costs more money, takes more time, and is true to the old ways of filmmaking (all the reason Tarantino claimed for wanting to shoot on film). Yet, more attention was given to the live-action virtues of Mad Max than were given to the 70mm perspective of The Hateful Eight.

The film industry can be infuriating to purists, but just like any market, it is a slave to the consumers. No matter how much the producers and directors at the top may want to revive a format or practice, it is only going to grow if there is audience demand. While it doesn’t look like Quentin Tarantino’s dream widespread use of film is going to come true anytime soon, one day it might. Film purists may take heart simply by looking at the music industry. Over the years, the quality of recordings has both gotten better, and worse through digitization.

Many pronounced the music industry dead with the arrival of 16-bit 44.1 kHz CD formats. Little did they know the havoc MP3s would wreak on sound quality. But, as CDs gave way to digital downloads and streaming services, there was a consumer demand to return to the old ways. In 2015, for the first time in nearly 30 years, vinyl was the most popular medium for music. Consumer demand resurrected the vinyl industry and many bands, big and small, are cutting vinyl records and selling them to fans. This could easily be the tale of the film industry in years or decades to come. The film will have its day in the sun, just not anytime soon.

This essay is from cinephile and film critic, Andrew Border.

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