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What’s Your Medium? by Elite Team Member Bodie Orman

The World is Your Canvas

You are going to Dubai to shoot a motorcycle race that will require mobility and high speed. You are heading to D.C. for simple interviews that require only a single camera. You’ve been hired by the studios to shoot special effects plates for their summer blockbuster where quality is paramount with less regard for budget. Before the phone rang, did you already know what format you would be shooting? Did the producer even give you an option? What do you have at your disposal for each assignment? For any of the above scenarios there exists an infinite amount of possibilities: Size versus mobility, stylized versus cut and dry, and of course, digital versus film. For every job, every photograph, there exists a tool with its own strengths and weaknesses.

BTS photo from a Bandito Brothers production.  A perfect example where film and HDSLR were used in perfect harmony to achieve some very amazing stunt photography.

BTS photo from a Bandito Brothers production. A perfect example where film and HDSLR were used in perfect harmony to achieve some very amazing stunt photography.

Over the last few years, it has been my good fortune to work with Shane Hurlbut. We have traveled the world pushing DSLR cameras to a new level, and making amazing imagery with progressive technology. Many who have followed the Hurlblog and have used this technology know that there are obstacles to overcome in order to make HDSLR technology suitable for cinema. This being said, as often as we break new ground with the DSLR, we shoot projects that use film as the recording medium.

Shooting a horror movie trailer with the Panavised Arri 353. A great camera for those of us with budget conscious producers. (From L-R: DP Tom Heigl, 1st AC Andrew Laboy, Horseman of Black Mountain.)

Shooting a horror movie trailer with the Panavised Arri 353. A great camera for those of us with budget conscious producers. (From L-R: DP Tom Heigl, 1st AC Andrew Laboy, Horseman of Black Mountain.*)

A script supervisor's worst nightmare.

A script supervisor’s worst nightmare.

Many filmmakers I encounter these days choose to shoot digital because of ‘ease’ and affordability, without exploring the option of shooting film… at all. To not explore other creative formats is to limit your own imagination. If you have never shot a project on film, or its been ‘a long time since film school’, I would recommend you rent a camera and go out and shoot something…anything. And if you’ve only shot film, go to Samy’s camera or BH photo and check out DSLR. If you grew up shooting video like I did, your mind will be blown out the back of your head with the amount of detail and color that can be molded within a film negative. These cameras were meant to be used, film or digital . Broaden your horizons and expand your skill set so that you’re creativity is not limited by technical knowledge. Photography is an art form, there are thousands of brushes and strokes to use in order to make your masterpiece. If Leonardo Da Vinci had only used one color, one brush and one stroke, the Mona Lisa would have been without dimension.

You are a film maker. Be a master.

So: what format do you use and why?

At the peak of Mammoth Mountain shooting for a car commercial. Many different formats were used during this two week production.

At the peak of Mammoth Mountain shooting for a car commercial. Many different formats were used during this two week production.

Written by Bodie Orman – Second Unit Director of Photography, Camera Operator, and 2nd Assistant Camera for Hurlbut Visuals, and Eric Wolfinger.

* Trailer for Horseman of Black Mountain:

Author: Bodie Orman

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26 Comments

  1. Good points, Bodie. I’ve been shooting DSLRs for about a year now. The main reasons are the form factor and image quality. I’m always searching for interesting places to strap a camera and the size of my 5Ds allow me to put these things just about anywhere. I come from primarily shooting video with some film. You’re right, every job is different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ format. I like to work with as many formats as I can. It really expands creativity.

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    • Hi Matt,
      I’m on a super8mm kick right now. Not as small as the DSLR, but small… and what a look! I just finished shooting some s8 and 7D in Hawaii with Eric Kiel. When we get a cut together, I’ll throw a link up.

      Cheers

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      • Man I really want to see your super8 / HDSLR cut together! I was just thinking today about creating a short film with super8 and 5d mk2 footage cut together. I think I will just do it… can’t wait to see your’s for inspiration!

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  2. I like that you point out the artistic nature of film… very true. I am only a budding filmmaker, but I have already realized that a few degrees difference in shot angle can change the whole aesthetic of the scene… and thousands of other intricacies. I have actually thought about getting a cheap film camera from Ebay or whathaveyou… any suggestions? Bolex seems like a relatively common one. 8mm 16mm?

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    • Hello Duane
      Canon 1014 and 1014xls are pretty snappy s8mm cameras. There are so many great s8mm cameras out there its tough to give a recomendation. These are just the ones I’ve used and they have nice features like faster framerates, motor zoom, and manual iris that I like. A good resource for s8mm is http://www.pro8mm.com and if your in Los Angeles, checking out the Echo Park Film Center is a must! As for 16mm, yes Bolex makes a great camera. To be honest, I’ve never shot on a Bolex but am also searching for a solid used 16mm camera. If any of you film guys are reading this, what are your thoughts?

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      • We just finished shooting our horror feature on S8 with a 1014xls, great camera!

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        • I shot with 16mm Bolex and they are beautiful cameras and last forever!

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  3. I have been using primarily HDSLRs for the past year. I worked for a web-based news and information outlet where we used a 7D. Through friends, I have been fortunate to test and work with the 5D MKII, T2i, and the 60D which I now own. I have used various other formats, but never film. I went to a college where everything was and still is digital. Based on the costs, I can’t afford to work with film. Do you have any recommendations for a recent graduate with a tight budget who is curious in exploring the film format? Thank you Bodie for this article and Shane for your blog. I have read EVERY blog entry to date.

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    • Tim, the best thing to do is start sniffing around and educating yourself on the options that are available to you in your area. You might be suprised at how accesable shooting film can be.
      Yes, shooting film out of pocket is tough. Getting a few people to share the cost helps. If you have a director who is passionate about shooting film, then the two of you could share the costs and the education that comes with it.
      Contacting Kodak and Fuji directly is a great place to start with film. Find someone in sales and tell them who you are and that you want to shoot some tests on film and they might just give you some for free!
      I get my film developed at Deluxe here in L.A. Check out your local film schools, and ask where they get thier film developed. You might have to mail your film somewhere, depending on where you live. Again, call these places and let them know who you are and what your doing. You’ll be suprised at how receptive these companies are to young film makers.
      Telecine can be themost expensive part of the equation. There are alot of different companies all over the country, so doing alot of looking is a good idea. I use a place called FIlmpool here in LA.
      Of course, the other option is to learn how to develop it yourself, cut it by hand, and project that baby in your local movie theater!!!

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          • Hi Bodieo, I ran into the same problem as Timothy Donovan; I went to films school and never once touched film :(, which greatly disappointed me. For some time I have been really wanting to start educating myself on any sort of film and found your recent post here very inspiring and a good starting point for me to begin. I also jumped on board with the HDSLR movement right away and love every aspect…including the down falls but feel I like in order to be successful(long term) I need to expand my horizon to other formats such as film. Thanks for the post/links; I will put them to good use.

  4. I grew up shooting stills on a Pentax k1000. Bought an eos 300d when i turned 16. Got interested in video, bought a cheap 3chip ccd camera. Now I shoot both stills and video with my 7D. I am currently in the preproduction stages of a 16mm short film for school, already shot a couple of student films with the Canon Scoopic.. And i LOVE 16mm film. Although the film/processing for my 3 minute short will cost me roughly half the cost of my 7d, I’m really excited about it.

    You can check out my most recent project I shot on my 7d at http://tinyurl.com/5uwu7wq

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    • Good luck on your next project, Alexander. The 7D stuff looks great! How did your projects with the Scoopic go? Is it a pretty friendly camera to work with?

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  5. In this day and age it’s rare to be able to pick a medium and stick with it. I shot my final Student film on 35mm, my next short on 16mm, then my first few clips on a HVX-200, then shot clips mainly on 16mm until RED came out and switched to RED. THEN when the 5D came out I tried it on some clips and liked it, then the 7D came out and it was the perfect camera for the style of work I do and I have never gone back. Super 16 and 7D are my mediums of choice for now though I’m sure the second I have the option of an Alexa or an Epic or the new Sony’s I’ll be there.

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    • Hi Toby,
      It is exceptional how fast the technology has blossomed, and how many choices we now have for cameras. It is good to have options :-)

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  6. I recently began shooting digital. I really was an editor before having a camera in my hands. weird. I been shooting Super 16 in film school and now own a t2i. I have a lot to learn. I just basically threw myself and now recording some promotion videos. The idea is to hopefully launch with my own short. But yes, the aesthetics behind film is like no other. Great post.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks Josue,
      Follow those s16 film projects through the whole process. You’ll learn alot during the telecine/colortiming.

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  7. Just wanted to say that this was a great article because sometimes we get cuaght up in a particular gear and forget that there just tools for the job. Its all about tellying a story and how creative we want to be in the process. On another note,I’ve only recently started to read this blog and I find it extremely useful and educational.Thank you guys for dedicating time to this for people like me.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Ramses,
      Thank you for the kind words and support. We really appreciate it.

      Post a Reply
  8. Hey Bodie! Nice article my friend and very true indeed.
    Sometimes we get stuck in the HOW and I think we should be thinking more the WHY. Why I should shoot this project with film? why go with softlight?… And once you answer all your whys then go with the how.

    As you said “there are thousands of brushes and strokes to use”, and we need to experiment with them so later we can choose the right tool for the job. I know there are always budget problems, but if we do not push ourselves to try new things we won’t grow as filmmakers.

    Now I live at Yucatán (Mexico Southeast) and I shoot primarly digital because here we don’t have the facilites and budgets we do have at Mexico city where I used to shoot film.

    Cheers my friend.

    Post a Reply
    • Hola Jerry Rojas: Elite Team Mexico,
      Well said, and great to hear from you!

      Post a Reply
  9. I’ve shot S8, quite a bit of 16mm, and some 35mm. I’ve also pushed a shutter button upwards of 200K times :)

    its been years since I’ve shot film, and I don’t miss it. really I don’t.

    what a lot of people do miss is the discipline in shooting film, especially 35 when your kissing $85-$100/ min away rolling the camera ( stock, processing, transfer ). So with media costs that expensive, you do stop to check everything to get it right. Whats amazing is that with smaller 35mm productions, where you are watching the budget a lot more closely, you are far more selective about when to roll, do some rehearsals, ect before committing to a take. the complete opposite of the video mentality of its cheap to shoot so spray it like a machine gun type coverage. The shooting ratios on film are lower and more controlled with most projects under budget constraints which makes post easier – less junk to wade thru and toss out anyway. you knew is was junk when you shot ti in video, but it was cheap to roll so you did. please don’t think I’m trigger shy either, I know you need to roll enough to get it right, but balance is the key, not shoot every thing and sort it out in post, which costs money too.

    having switched to mainly shooting on dslr’s and the occasional RED, the discipline and methodology is back like it was in the films days. if you expect your shots to be in focus, you have to pay attention to what you are doing, not all paying jobs call for or want ultra shallow DoF with people / subjects moving in and out of focus.

    so I think dslr’s are a great creative tool and bring back the good parts of shooting on film, but would I ever want to go back to film ? no. just pass my one of the higher end cameras with more dynamic range and ‘ll be happy. and FWIW, I also still have a conventional video camera for ENG / news shoots when its appropriate. right tool for the job.

    Post a Reply
    • Hello Steve,
      I like what you have to say about the discipline that comes with shooting film. Visualizing exposures with a light meter is a great exercise for any film maker who wants to better understand the dynamics of light and emulsion. And what a payoff when it does what you thought it would do :-) Thanks for the unput!

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  10. Excellent editorial. You’ve published what I’m thinking each time I read a forum of flaming posts arguing one format over another. I love shooting on film, 16 and 35 – the color, range and beauty of the images produced by a physical, chemical process, not to mention the joy of the practice. Equally, I love the instant gratification and immediate feedback of shooting digital and the excitement of an ever-changing medium. Keep up the posting.

    Often, the best camera you can shoot with is the one you can get your hands on.

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    • Hello Dylan,
      Thanks for reading the blog. Your last line hits the nail square on the head. Cheers.

      Post a Reply

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