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Joseph Scarbrough launched what he called "The Scarblog" as a way of cataloging his work over the years, as well as going into greater detail of things on his mind (known as "Unfinished Thoughts").

Thursday, September 22, 2016

My Unfinished Thoughts on Film Vs. Digital **UPDATE**

Okay, you know what? I really need to stop with the video-extensive posts - they're really making Scarblog laggy and sluggish. But, the videos are necessary for this write-up, weighing in on a longtime debate among filmmakers and producers: film vs. digital.

Now, granted, I really have no authority to even really weigh in on this subject myself, as I have never actually had the experience of working with motion picture film at all; the only physical media I've ever worked with in the past was videotape. So, I really can't speak from any kind of experience this time around, and my opinions on the matter are strictly and purely observation, so I really can't be taken to task for something I'm not an expert on.

Still, this has become a really interesting debate. Living now in this digital age, advances in technology sure have made things a lot easier for all of us, haven't they? As far as movie making goes, digital has certainly made the whole production process a breeze: imagine, just shoot something with a fancy-dancy camera, import your footage into a computer, do all of your editing and other little post-production technicals with software, export your final product, and boom, you're done! Isn't that just wonderful! Yeah! Well. . . . Sure, that sounds like an ideal production process, but, could this be too good of a thing? After all, filmmaking is certainly an artform unto it's own, but is it possible that these advances in technology may actually be causing the art to suffer? Is something being lost in the switch from physical, 35mm film to digital media?

I think Quentin Tarantino (tidbit trivia: he's from my hometown) can perhaps sum this all up better than I can as he mentions his preference of film in this interview:

As I mentioned above, I really am no authority or expert on this subject as I've never actually worked with 35mm film (or physical analog film in general), but as I said, even I can make observations of my own, and I have to say, even I can certain tell a difference. Sure, the right kind of digital media certainly can give you a wonderful picture with a lot of sharpness and detail - particularly HD - but there's something that digital can't seem to capture as well as film could: tone. Rather than go into a lot of technical mumble-jumble you don't want to read anyway, here's another video I found that notes the comparisons between actual motion picture film and digital very well:

Even with a treatment to make digital look like film, there's still an obvious difference that you can see. Film seems to capture a certain kind of color and contrast better than digital can capture - even if you try to fix it in post. After I left videotape behind and went to digital, my first stint with digital was standard definition (SD), but since I was using an inexpensive commercial digital camera (and I only had Movie Maker to work with for editing), the results were always middling: muted colors (blues and pinks in particular) were always a headache, but everything had to be lit just right because of the camera's poor exposure. Too little light resulted in a dark, fuzzy, out of focus picture; too much light resulted in a washed-out picture reminiscent of nuclear winter.
Too little or too much lighting can make for some rather unsatisfactory results for your overall shot.

That all changed when I got Adobe Premiere and an HD camera. Since my HD camera has the ability to adjust its exposure, that made lighting a shot much easier, not to mention it picks up colors and detail so much better than my previous camera. TECHNICOLOR DREAMS was my first true HD production, and I've been shooting in HD and editing in Adobe Premiere ever since. Still, there was something about the digital look that wasn't entirely satisfying to me, so I began to play around with the effects to try and enhance the footage I was looking at; by adjusting the brightness and contrast, increasing the color saturation, adding just a hint of grain, and rendering at 24 frames per second (digital is 29.97), I'm able to try to, at least, recreate the look of film. But it's still not quite the same.
Editing TECHNICOLOR DREAMS, my first true HD production.

I've often said that older shows that were shot on 35mm film look remarkably better than shows that are shot digitally today. Take a look at this screencap from a 1970 episode of HOGAN'S HEROES on DVD:
The picture is sharp, the colors are rich, and the contrast is strong.

Now, if we really want to talk about bright, rich, vivid colors, we need look no further than H.R. PUFNSTUF:

Unfortunately, afterwards, Sid & Marty Krofft looked for any way to cut costs (at $54,000 an episode budget, it cost upward of $1,000,000 to produce H.R. PUFNSTUF), and film was one of their first casualties - the rest of their shows were shot on videotape (which was still primitive in the 70s), and they suffered as seen here in on THE BUGALOOS.

Much of what you see uploaded to YouTube has been recorded digitally, in some way or form. Depending on the cameras that are used, and how the videos themselves have been edited, processed and even compressed, they can look pretty good, but still lacking. However, other film enthusiasts out there have taken to YouTube to show the world just how remarkable film can still look today, such as this:

This one is a personal favorite of mine, not only does it still look remarkable compressed down to 720p, but some of this guy's shots actually look like something from a real Hollywood movie:

UPDATE August 49, 2016
I happened to stumble onto this wonderful video essay about the film vs. digital debate, as told by filmmaker Toby Kearton, and I have to say, he puts this into such a wonderful and insightful perspective, that I really shouldn't have even bothered writing up this whole post; I could have just as easily linked to the video and said I agree with what he says. Check it out:

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