When I say film is dead, you can argue that I’m wrong. When a studio head says film is dead, you can say they may understand the business, but not the tools. However, when one of the best cinematographers in the world says film is dead, then perhaps it’s time to pack it in, and move on to digital.
That’s exactly what Roger Deakins told Variety when they asked if the Coen Brothers would ever shoot on film:
“Oh, I think they will. As I say, just the technical problems with film, I’m sorry, it’s over.”
That isn’t some personal speculation either. Deakins revealed that the Coen’s upcoming film Hail, Ceasar! was almost shot digitally.
“Apparently, Ethan at some point was talking about shooting the next film digitally. And then it turned around. They’re really debating it. I was in Albuquerque shooting “Sicario” and they were talking about it and they said, “I don’t know how you feel about it, but I think we want to go on film.” And I said, you know, “I don’t mind. I’ll shoot it on a cell phone if you like. I don’t mind. I really don’t.'”
The heart of the problem isn’t that film is a poor medium, and, in fact, there can be a huge case made for or against it. Rather the issue is one of infrastructure and available film stock.
Where in the past, there was an abundant selection of stock and processing option, the reality of modern filmmaking is that those alternatives no longer exist, and the infrastructure to process it has almost completely disappeared. Deakins elaborated:
“Film stocks today are nothing like the film stocks they shot with back then. Do you know what I mean? So you can’t make a choice. You can’t even process differently these days. You don’t have that option. You’re pretty restricted with what you can do with film these days. So I mean there’s now many stocks now? Four or five? Your choices are very limited. But as I say, that was fine. I wasn’t going to do much in terms of the way it was processed, so I probably wouldn’t have gone that way even if I had the choice.
“We did have some problems. We had some stock issues and stuff like that, which was really disconcerting. And I’ve heard that’s happened to a lot of people lately, you know, stock and lab problems. That’s unnerving. I mean I never really remember having those kind of problems before. But it makes me nervous now. I don’t want to do that again, frankly. I don’t think the infrastructure’s there.”
Kodak continues to have support from filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Chris Nolan, while also introducing new initiatives, such as a brand new Super 8 camera to attract a new generation of filmmakers. At this point, I don’t think that film will ever be completely abandoned, but increasingly pushed to the fringes where it will be more of a novelty rather than a mainstream option.