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Digital Cinema

Here’s a recent article from BFI about the early days of digital cinema and how its promise has, or hasn’t, played out. Really good piece!

I love digital cameras. I’ve never worked with film and don’t really see the need.

In fact my entire career (such as it is) has benefited from digital technology. I started the FSM newsletter, then magazine when desktop publishing was making such things possible. I can’t imagine having to do it with typewriters and paste-up.

Then when we were doing the FSM label, it was right as Pro Tools was becoming sophisticated enough to do digital mixes and restorations of vintage recordings. In fact, I remember we tried to do Beneath the Planet of the Apes on a mixing board, “live,” in 1999, the way these things had always been done. But some overlays were out of synch on the 24-track masters of the 35mm three-track stems, making some cues flat-out unusable.

I asked, “Why don’t we put this all into ProTools and realign it in the computer?”

Once we did that, there was truly no going back.

And now—digital cinema. I think it looks better and better. I have no desire to be limited by 10-minute film rolls, and the bulk and expense of analogue film.

It is true that digital cinema can lead to bad habits. It’s so easy to just let the camera keep rolling, to do takes “as a series,” that you find in editing you have hours of near-worthless footage to sort through.

When a resource is precious, it forces you to use it wisely—to make decisions creatively. When it’s abundant, it can make you stupid and lazy.

But I look at the photographic quality—it’s amazing. I remember the bulky camcorders of the 1980s, and their crappy standard-def resolution.

You really can shoot a film on your phone today. In that case, it’s not the camera that holds a production back from looking professional—it’s the lighting. That’s still hard.

But I have to say, the auto-exposure and focal work of the iPhone cameras—wow. Truly incredible what it does, automatically.

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