I wanted to tell you about an amazing experience we had last night. Kish from Kish Optics invited Elle and I to an event at the ASC, which turned out to be a screening for SIDE BY SIDE, a new documentary that explores the history of film technology and the evolution of filmmaking from a photochemical process to a digital one.
To start: I was excited at the prospect of just walking in the door. I had passed by by the funky little building many times in the past, and being a low budget DP at the time, I revered the people inside. Immediately upon entering, we were greeted with friendly faces, many of whom we had met at NAB and Skywalker Ranch earlier this year, and Kish introduced us to many new friends too.
We had some amazing conversations–the narrative effect of light, film education, the changing technological landscape–and what was really inspiring was that everyone got what we’re doing. The cinematographers we spoke with applauded us for choices like not going higher than 400 iso, not doing in-camera debayer, and many were excited by the concept of fixed lenses.
Most were familiar with the Bolex, and several times we were were asked questions like: “What are you doing to live up to the Bolex namesake?” I think some people expected us to be making a cheap camcorder with the Bolex name on it, so when I answered that the camera shoot 2K raw for less than a 5DMKIII on a S16mm sized CCD sensor created by Kodak, they were impressed.
The group that I was most worried about thinking we were amateur was completely embracing and supportive. We can’t wait to get the D16 into their hands!
Now, in case you haven’t heard about it, SIDE BY SIDE is a new documentary about the growing popularity of digital cinema and the decreasing popularity of motion picture film, both for acquisition and for presentation. The film is excellent, well balanced, and I definitely suggest it to anyone interested in the subject.The director Christopher Kenneally, the cinematographer Chris Cassidy, and producer Keanu Reeves were all there after the screening to answer as well as ask questions. We couldn’t have discussed the film and the important topics it raises in a better place.
Let me set the scene a bit. Elle and I are in a room with a hundred of the smartest, most active people in cinematography, and we have just watched a powerful documentary on the passing of motion picture film in our society (it hasn’t happened yet, but most people, either bitterly or enthusiastically, agree that it is coming). I myself have a love for and history with film, mostly 16mm and Super 16mm, and of course this format I love is going to be the first to go. There is a moratorium on 16mm production by the BBC, some of the motion picture stocks I shot in college are no longer made, and just about no one makes new film cameras these days (16mm or 35mm).
Going into this film, I was ready for deep sorrow. I was also ready for many of the ASC members to discount the content of the film and argue that film has been around for 100 years, and will continue to be around for 100 more, but neither of these things happened. The documentary was so well balanced and showed film in such a heroic light that I, and the rest of the room, didn’t feel like it was the passing of film, but more of a continuation of practices and traditions. One of the ACS members stood up towards the end of the Q&A and I think nailed it on the head: filmmakers are storytellers, and the tools and techniques we use to do this have been evolving since man first started to talk. The importance isn’t the continued use of a tool, but the continued stewardship of storytelling, its traditions, and its meaning from one generation to another.
There were many questions at the Q&A, which included questions from great cinematographers like Vilmos Szigmond and Francis Kenny. These are the questions and answers I found particularly interesting.
Q: Out of the 140 interviews you shot, how did you decide what to include and what to cut?
Keanu: We left every interview thinking, ‘yeah that’s the truth,’ but when we got back to the editing bay we realized that a lot of these truths were contradicting each other. So we tried to represent each viewpoint as completely as possible and let the interviews speak for themselves.
Q: Should we still call a motion picture a “film” if at no point it was ever on film?
Christopher: I think the terminology for film and filmmaking will be around for a long time to come. We still say ‘I’m with the press,’ even though for many, their jobs have nothing to do with a printing press. We still “dial a phone”, and have “glove boxes” in our cars; the etymology of the words carry a story and meaning all their own.
Q: I think this is a very important film for people to see, how do you plan on getting it out there so more people can see it?
Keanu: We were hoping you could tell us! We have been talking to theaters, schools, even museums to try and line up as many screenings as we can. It is playing at the Laemmle NoHo 7, and every screening has sold out so far!
After the presentation and the Q&A, everyone hung out a bit and I got a chance to talk to Christopher the director and Chris the DP, who had both heard of us. We also got a chance to talk to Keanu who had some really intelligent questions about the D16. I let them all know that if they ever want to do a follow up (RAW cameras were too new of a format to make it into the doc) we would be happy to talk with them. Elle and I both left feeling really energized and positive about all of our interactions and are looking forward to many future ones.
SIDE BY SIDE is in limited theatrical release right now, if you have a chance please go see it.
Joe & Elle