What film format did they use? Some of our favourite recent films and the cameras and equipment they were shot on.
Gobe HQ | AUSTRALIA
Not another film vs digital article.
Film vs. digital is a conversation that hopefully will never end. Hopefully, both formats and all the variations of both are utilised to their nuances and advantages for longer than my lifetime at least. They all have a place and are most suitable to different situations, from HD and 3D to silent 8mm and everywhere in between. It all started on film though, and it’s pretty incredible that is still being used today even if the dominant format is digital.
Trailing behind stills photography, the world of the moving image transferring to digital took a little longer to become the standard. Most cinemas still ran with film projectors until approximately 2010, around the same time that the number of high grossing films shot digitally overtook the numbers shot on film. This was largely due to the enormous cost outlay needed to house a digital projector. Eventually, and with movie studio backing in some cases, most cinemas were converted by 2011.
With the HD capabilities in most people’s phones, you could be forgiven for thinking that digital would offer a higher resolution than film when you’re at the cinema. Maybe surprisingly though, it’s not necessarily so. Although there are only a handful of cinemas around the world still projecting film reels, when they do, the resolution is sometimes significantly greater than that of digital. A standard cinemas digital projection resolution is 4K and some cinemas are still operating on 2K. Compare that to an Imax screening of Christopher Nolan’s 70mm film format epic, Dunkirk, which would comparatively land at around 18K resolution. Not what you might expect from technology over fifty years old.
In most cases though, even if a film is shot on film, chances are you will never see it projected through a reel as very few cinemas still have analogue projectors and the projectionists to run them. The majority of movies shot on film are transferred to digital for cinema release. Richard Nicholson recently documented the projection box and its operators, something that is probably a few steps closer to extinction even since these photographs were made. There are still several film-purist cinemas out there showing films in the original format they were shot in, you just have to track them down, look here for a cinema near you.
Ultimately at Gobe we’re of the opinion that it doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting your film on your sisters old hand-me-down iPhone, the industry favourite ARRI Alexa and it’s successors, the camera made famous by skateboard films and now iconic Sony DCR-VX1000 or any of the many film formats including 35mm, 70mm, 8mm or 16mm. There are solid reasons to shoot on any of these cameras and for the same reason digital should be celebrated for both the technological advancements and ability to lower the financial barrier to entry for independent film-makers, film should be celebrated for its undeniable unique character and unreplaceable nuances.
Here are some of our favourite recent (ish) films and the film format and cameras they were shot with.
Format: IMAX and Panavision Cameras on 70mm
Cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema
A staunch advocate for the celluloid format, Christopher Nolan weaves his epic films together mainly in the 70mm format. His WWII masterpiece was no exception. For Dunkirk, he used IMAX and Panasonic 65 HR cameras. Several IMAX cinemas around the world re-installed their IMAX 1570 film projectors to screen the film, “In order to provide viewers with the cinema experience Nolan wishes you to have.” Including my local IMAX cinema at the time, it was truly and wholly epic.
Moonrise Kingdom: 2012
Formats: Super 16 using Kodak VISION3 200T 7213 film Stock
Cinematographer: Robert D. Yeoman
The pre-teen love story draped in Khaki and the familiar Wes Anderson colour palette lends itself so naturally to a super 16 format. Being not as wide as other formats the films woodland heights and close up deadpan shots of lead characters stood tall on the frame and it is obvious Wes and his cinematographer Robert Yeoman have a strong grasp of the aspect of 16mm. Anderson is said to use nearly all footage from his rolls and using Aaton cameras allowed loading 800ft film magazines and shooting continuously for twenty minutes at a time. A superb example of format and ratio meeting a directors vision seamlessly.
Format: iPhone 5s
Cinematographers: Sean Baker & Radium Cheung
Director Sean Baker managed to keep the fact that his feature film was shot on an iPhone until its world premiere at Sundance film festival. Baker put together a simple and inconspicuous setup using three iPhones 5s’ a Steadicam rig, Anamorphic Lens and the Filmic Pro app. Allowing him to film on the streets of LA without bringing as much attention as other cameras might. Also, one of the first films to feature transgender leads, Tangerine is a wild ride seen through the always wide angle of the iPhone lens with the saturation pushed right up.
The Art of Flight: 2011
Format: Red Cameras, GoPro Hero, Phantom and Panasonic HD cameras.
Not-so-recent but mentioned for its use of HD at the time. When this film came out I watched it several times over in the first few weeks, considering I have almost zero interest in snowboarding the filmmaker’s intentions of making a crossover film were well executed. For me, it was one of the first films that utilised HD camera formats and epic cinematography. The follow up to the also amazing That’s It That’s All, Curt Morgan created a high definition, crispy, clean-cut dream time, mountain sliding masterpiece. It’s also completely over the top, has sometimes annoying voiceovers, but it’s worth it for the cinematography even if it’s dated a little now. Watch the whole film here.
Format: Canon EOS C300
Cinematographer: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
Shot entirely on one camera, one battery, one lens in one take. There was no body rigged Steadicam, shot entirely handheld with camera mounted microphones. Chosen for its lightweight, long battery life and high ISO rating to get that underground delightfully and debaucherously Berlin nightclub ambience. If you’re not a fan of the long take in cinema, this film is not for you. The film follows protagonist Victoria through Berlin for 140 minutes of emotional build up and utter break down with a bank robbery in the middle. Some argue it’s too long and should have been edited, but it wasn’t and that’s fine, it’s still fantastic. Plus ten points for the Nils Frahm soundtrack.
One More Time with Feeling: 2016
Format: Red Epic Dragon, 3D & 2D in black and white.
Cinematographer: Benoît Debie
A delicate and devastating documentary following Nick Cave and his family made after the passing of his son Arthur. A film made partially to avoid a press tour from the normally deeply private Cave. Shot entirely in black and white except for one scene and utilising both 2D & 3D. Director Andrew Dominik said he used B&W to allow viewers to see the film with “new eyes” and the use of 3D would be “involving… it puts its arms around you”. I have never before enjoyed 3D and was admittedly sceptical lining up outside the cinema with my parents and those stupid 3D glasses. But, it works, it drew me in, all-encompassing and utterly consuming.
The Hateful Eight: 2015
Format: Resurrected Arriflex 765 & Panavision lenses with Ultra Panavision 70mm
Cinematographer: Robert Richardson
Quentin Tarantino is many things, and you can make your own mind up on all of them, one thing he is unquestionably is a champion of celluloid filmmaking. Tarantino also has power in the film industry, so much that he managed to convince Panavision to resurrect their Ultra Panavision equipment, the widest cinema film technology at a 276:1 ratio to make only the 11th film since “Khartoum” in 1966. Tarantino also managed to convince his studio to pay for 100 cinemas to be retro-fitted with Panavision projectors around the world. I was lucky enough to get to one of those cinemas and see it in its extremely wide Tarantino madness. There’s a Kodakery podcast with Panavision and Fotokem that talks about how some of the lenses used haven’t been used since Ben Hur was shot in 1959.
So there it is, just a handful of films from the last ten years that show you how it’s possible to make a masterpiece on whatever tools you have, if they’re wielded with skill. With more and more high grossing films being shot on film recently, it’s evident that it is certainly not dead yet. On the other side, for films being shot on iPhones to be winning awards, it’s clear digital is just as useful for others.
If you are fortunate and privileged enough to get a chance to see any of these movies or films yet to be made, projected on film, don’t miss that chance. Find your local cinema that still projects film and get down for a re-run, celluloid dreams.
If you want some more inspiration for shooting and making a Sundance favourite, head over to our Favourite 25 Photography Documentaries.