During last month’s Cannes Film Festival, Screen International and Technicolor hosted a lunch with a broad range of guests to discuss how digital technology is enhancing the creative experience
The panel - Cannes, May 2011
Claude Gagnon - president, Technicolor Creative Services
Miranda Jones - post-production supervisor (TT3D: Closer To The Edge, Stardust)
Angel Martin - managing director, Technicolor Spain
Leon Rousseau - sound restoration, LE Diapason
Aaron Ryder - producer, FilmNation
Ivan Sen - writer-director (Toomelah, Beneath Clouds)
Larry Smith - DoP (The Guard, Bronson)
Adrian Wootton - CEO, Film London
Digital technology now impacts on every aspect of the film-making process and the cinema experience, through capture, delivery, post-production and projection. At Cannes, Screen International editor Mike Goodridge and Technicolor hosted a roundtable discussion of all things digital, encompassing the extent to which digital technology has revolutionised the industry, and the gains and drawbacks of 3D and digital film restoration.
Mike Goodridge: Do you think the new generation of digital cameras are effectively duplicating the film experience?
Larry Smith: No.
Ivan Sen: It’s a huge dilemma. I’ve shot three films digitally but I have a film I’m shooting in Hong Kong and there’s no way I’d shoot it digitally considering the resulting emotion from digital. It’s not in the same league as film. Digital has its purpose, the flexibility is fantastic but in the end it’s always about the final image.
Aaron Ryder: Most of the film-makers I’ve worked with would always prefer to work on film. I worked on a Jake Kasdan comedy [The TV Set] a while ago that shot on digital and benefited because there was a lot of improvisation and he wanted multiple takes. But there’s a richness and quality to film that sets it apart. The kind of ‘found footage’ movies that are being shot today, like a Paranormal Activity, that kind of film strives for a realist effect that comes with digital.
IS: For me, the whole film-making process is too cluttered and not streamlined enough. So there are elements I try to bring to the film-making process to simplify it. Digital is part of that. I shot my latest film, Toomelah, entirely myself. Not even with a sound recordist.
Adrian Wootton: It’s a double-edged sword because the danger of digital is that you shoot and shoot, but I’m convinced with the film-makers, actors and crew we’re working with [on the Microwave scheme], the intimate and more flexible experience of digital lets them know they’re not burning acres of film and money. It makes the process viable.
LS: Yes, when you have a budget to shoot on film you are constantly living under great pressure. For some it can be too much. Digital removes that pressure.
AW: There’s a slew of distributors who are buying low-budget film and making healthy returns on those. There’s a different ecology now.
MG: Does the audience notice the difference between digital and film?
Miranda Jones: Joe Public, I don’t think so. But the discerning cinema-goer, yes. At the moment we’re trying to replicate the film-look in the grading area. There’s already a post programme that can introduce grain.
MG: Digital has certainly revolutionised post-production…
AR: Absolutely. Put it this way: when was the last film that didn’t have a DI [digital intermediate]? Ten years ago it was a luxury. I made The Prestige with Disney and we were the only Disney film at the time not to go through the DI process. Chris [Nolan] doesn’t do that on any of his films. He shoots on anamorphic. And his films look brilliant.
Angel Martin: Comparing the traditional film shoot and all that entails, versus shooting on digital and going through DI, the process is more expensive on digital.
LS: That’s absolutely right. If you’ve manipulated the film in the correct way, if you’ve exposed it correctly as a DoP, you don’t need a DI process.
AR: But those old aesthetics are dying. I can only think of a few film-makers shooting on film and preserving that. It’s different with the low-budget films, but the big-budget film-makers are enamoured with the new technology.
AM: One question for you, Aaron: you also work as a sales agent; when you sell a film, do buyers ask how the movie has been shot? Do they pay more for the better quality?
AR: There was more concern about digital films three or four years ago. The technological advancements made over the last few years have alleviated some of those concerns. Foreign distributors are very savvy. Now it’s more a question of content.
MG: Let’s think about 3D for a moment. That is bringing a whole new level of cameras and hassle to the production process…
AM: The preparation and set-up for 3D is far more arduous. Post-production supervisors get involved much earlier.
MJ: Yes, I was involved six months before we even got to shooting anything on TT3D. Three of us spent six months researching. 3D has to be a very controlled environment but we couldn’t set up as you should with 3D, because it was a documentary.
AW: And the cameras themselves are slow to move around.
AR: I co-produced Sanctum in Australia. They spent an hour each day just fixing the cameras. Admittedly it was underwater, but there’s a lot of downtime that affects the creative process.
AW: But it’s early days. Broadcasters are going to drive this, too, with in-home 3D. As the technology gets faster quicker, lighter, it will all become easier.
LS: It’s interesting. We started thinking about cost reduction with digital. And now we’re talking about adding cost.
AR: But look at Black Swan and The King’s Speech. It’s not all about event movies. Not everyone wants to see event cinema.
MG: Does Technicolor think 3D is around for the long run?
Claude Gagnon: Oh yes. Especially for the broadcasters. We’ve done 25 pictures since Chicken Little some years ago. Animation is great but we need to find a balance with other genres.
MG: Leon, explain how you restore sound on an old film?
Leon Rousseau: To tell you the truth, the digital revolution in sound was 20 years ago. The main breakthrough I see in the recent years is that we now work for digital cinemas.
AW: Over the last few years, digital rendering has found ways of restoring classics in a way that photochemical restoration just can’t do because they are so damaged or it’s so expensive or time-consuming. I saw The African Queen recently and looking at that film with the legendary Angela Allen, [who was responsible for] the continuity on that film, she said it was better than she had ever seen it.
LR: But there’s also a danger that you unmix and then remix in 5.1. There’s a perception that if it’s mono it’s bad and 5.1 all good. There are real dangers. Our role is to respect the mix as you respect the rest of the film. You must preserve the interaction between image and sound.
CG: I believe there will be a big revolution in sound in the next five to 10 years. We are 5.1 now, 7.1 is coming.
MG: But shooting in digital has allowed a lot more flexibility when it comes to transferring files.
LR: Yes. We’re doing a huge restoration project for the Indian government. They work on the images and we restore the sound. The process is quite simple.
CG: The post-pro on Black Swan was all done in New York and Matthew Libatique was in Los Angeles doing the colour correction. That really accelerated the process.