Matrix actor Keanu Reeves has spoken about the effect of digital on the film industry and his upcoming directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi.

His first appearance of the day at Poland’s Plus Camerimage festival followed a screening of Side by Side, a documentary produced by Reeves about the science, art and impact of digital cinema.

Sitting alongside director Christopher Kenneally and co-producer Justin Szlasa, Reeves highlighted the mixed result of digital film-making.  

“We are looking at an industry and a way of working that been assaulted by new technology,” he said.

“There was a photo-chemical way of working together. Digital inherited this way of working.

“There was an independent element that first adopted digital but when it got to Hollywood and the mainstream, every role had to be looked at. People lost their jobs. Industries have fallen because of this transition.

“But jobs are also being created. It is nature and it can be brutal sometimes. And it can be beautiful.”

The doc, produced by Company Films, features interviews conducted by Reeves with George Lucas, James Cameron and David Fincher among others. It debuted at Berlinale in February and has toured festivals throughout the year.

Man of Tai Chi

Later, he was in conversation with director Joel Schumacher and spoke about upcoming martial arts film Man of Tai Chi, which Reeves shot on digital and is a Chinese language co-production between China Film Group, Wanda Group and Village Roadshow.

“I had a lot of pressure from the producer to investigate the digital side of [shooting],” said Reeves, who filmed in mainland China and Beijing.

“I did some camera tests, shot some film, went through a couple of digital cameras and then worked with a cinematographer. Luckily, I came up with a digital look that really worked.”

Speaking later to ScreenDaily, Reeves said: “If I had not been part of this documentary, going into making a film in a digital way, the conversations with me [on Man of Tai Chi] would have been another 50% of me asking people to explain things again.

“Making the documentary really helped. I knew a little bit of the forest from the trees and learned more about the paths that I was heading onto.”

The script was developed by Reeves - who also stars in the film - over a five-year period. It is due for release in 2013.

TV vs film

Meanwhile, Schumacher (The Lost Boys, Phone Booth) lamented the ongoing shrinking of the film business.

“Once Jim Carrey was paid $20m to do The Cable Guy it changed our entire industry,” he recalled.

“We all started to make much more money. But suddenly two people in a room talking was a $75m movie. That’s not good business and that level of money continues to shrink.”

The director, who most recently made two episodes of upcoming Netflix drama House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey, also commented on how US cable channels are challenging cinema.

“In US television, we have HBO, Showtime and other cable channels, which consistently show that good television can sometimes offer better storytelling than the movies.”