Notes on Celluloid: Education/Filmmaking/Photography


When I went to film school, I was in the last year to receive an education using celluloid film. MiniDV and Digi-Beta cameras of course were around plenty but our cinematography classes taught us on 16 mm and 35 mm film. Apart from feeling extremely proud once you get your hands on a 35 mm Arriflex camera, I later on realized that it was an extremely helpful piece of education that applies very much to photography too. Let me give you an example: In the last year of school I had to shoot a 3 minute short film. We all received a 1000ft mag of 35 mm Kodak 500T stock for this task. 1000ft of 35 mm at 25fps gives you just under 11 minutes of film. Oh well, giving turn-over times at start/stop and the eventual slight lag it’s more likely around 9 minutes smth. 9 minutes for a 3 minute film! You better be very well prepared, rehearsed and know exactly what you doing with your exposure, your camera movements, your focus and your actors. It’s definitely lots of pressure but personally I do feel an enhanced concentration when I hear the precious celluloid frames speeding through the camera.

On nowadays digital cameras well, all you need is a bunch of cards and a big drive, you literally never have to stop. You just keep rolling on rehearsals and roll on more angles and change things and roll again. Of course it does have its advantages, catching immense amounts of B-Roll, having instant playback of what you got in camera, having more options to change angles or rearrange lighting and whatnot. Basically it makes things regarding workflow much much easier and definitely safer. But I’m not sure if this is necessarily a good thing for the discipline of making a film. Film-making is never easy, it is hard work and should be well thought of, well prepared and crafted. By the time the camera starts rolling, the film has been through so much development, so much dialogues and changes and scouting and casting. Why not make the act of shooting the thing as holy as the rest of the process and attack it in a very disciplined and thorough way?
Nowadays, I am a hypocrite and guilty of a many digital sins. To earn a living I mostly work in advertising where I do exactly the opposite of what I experienced in school. I shoot 99% on digital cinema cameras, I also catch myself rolling longer takes than I should and then go through a mountain of crap to pick the gold. In the end everything will be straightened, color corrected and cleaned up. But I strongly believe regardless of what system or project you are shooting, after a life of analogue working methods, with every camera you pick up you will be more aware and thoughtful of each time you press that button. Maybe that’s exactly why in my free time I am going back analogue and in my artistic work hardly ever touch digital equipment.
Apart from being my strongest passion, shooting on analogue cameras is a sort of training, keeping me sharp and efficient. Shooting on film helps me to become a faster worker and create more quality than quantity. Concentrating on the essentials, judging if a certain scene, a moment, a picture is worth being taken, making each frame count, trusting your camera and your skill. It challenges and inspires me when I’m walking into town with a camera that only has 5 photos left. I believe that every time before I press the shutter button I reflect for a fraction of a second longer than I would with a digital camera. I frame a bit more carefully, I look at the light direction a bit more thorough, I reflect on the correlation between the subject and the environment and when I take the picture, one picture, I usually end up with something that I like. And I will probably like it even if it has a tiny flaw, a foot at the edge of frame, a slight tilt of horizon, a bit of motion blur, who knows what. I will be proud of the fact that I took this photo, this moment with all my senses and skill and intellect combined, determined and committed. A pure moment in time. On digital we all tend to play back, adjusting times after times until the picture becomes something it was maybe not meant to be in the first place.
Of course much changes when shooting portraits, creative studio work or conceptual photography, but I think the message still stands. Working on film is a great way to enhance your skill, train your eye and feel out the right moment to capture. In my case I feel that it not only helps me to be more efficient in my daily work but also gives me pride in knowing already after the click when I captured a good photograph.
Credits: montagu

written by montagu on 2017-02-07

4 Comment

  1. lomodesbro
    lomodesbro ·

    You are as sharp as a tack @montagu. Keep dipping your toe in the water

  2. montagu
    montagu ·

    @lomodesbro thanks for reading, didn't know if people actually would:) i wish my toes would be that pretty

  3. cedricpola
    cedricpola ·

    Très intéressant ! Ma fille veut rentrer dans une école de cinéma à Genève, je vais lui faire lire ton article.
    Désolé, j'écris en français mais mon anglais est trop mauvais. J'espère que tu es Suisse un peu francophone :)

  4. montagu
    montagu ·

    @cedricpola merci beaucoup! oui francais marche aussi:) c'est une bonne ecole a Geneve et une ville tres sympa, mon beaupere vie la bas et je rentre visite toutes les annees. Eh bon, donne lui un appareil photo analogue, avec ta collection je crois ca va etre pas un probleme:)