Keanu Reeves’ Side by Side
Film is dead. Long live digital!
Since the origins of cinema over a century ago, celluloid has been the exclusive format for recording, displaying and archiving motion pictures. But in the past decade, innovations in digital filmmaking technology have changed that fact. In this engaging documentary, actor Keanu Reeves interviews a plethora of filmmakers—directors, cinematographers and the like—from studio bigwigs to do-it-yourself indie filmmakers, and everything in between.
Among the filmmakers interviewed are David Fincher, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez, Danny Boyle, Christopher Nolan, George Lucas and many more, most of whom support the transition to digital wholeheartedly, some of whom strongly oppose it, and still others who are on the fence, to use a phrase.
When asked if he was done with film, director David Lynch responded, “Don’t hold me to it, Keanu, but I think I am.” Similarly, Steven Soderbergh recalled, “I really felt I should call film on the phone and say I’ve met someone.”
“I’m always looking for whatever is new to help push the art form even further—to be able to make the things that you couldn’t envision the day before.” – Robert Rodriguez
“You can’t shoot 3D on film, so film has been dead in my heart for ten years.” – James Cameron
“I think celluloid is still going to be a choice.” – Martin Scorsese
“Without digital video, I don’t think I ever would be making movies.” – Lena Dunham
The film gives a brief history of digital filmmaking, from the introduction of the first video camera in the 1960’s, to the Dogme 95 movement of the 1990’s, all the way up to its current incarnation. It also gives a breakdown of the mechanisms that make motion picture capture possible, both in film and digital formats, and what distinguishes the two.
Early adopters of video, Danny Boyle and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantel, worked together on 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire and 127 Hours, all of which were shot at least partially on video. 28 Days Later was shot on consumer digital cameras in 2002, a time when allegedly no filmmakers serious about their craft were shooting digital (seeing clips of the film for the first time in years, I don’t remember it looking that bad the first time).
Mantle recalls stating to Boyle at the time of shooting something to the effect of, “We’re not going to win any Academy Awards,” and they didn’t. Ironically though, Mantle and Boyle both won Academy Awards six years later for their work on Slumdog Millionaire—for cinematography and directing, respectively—the first film shot almost entirely on a digital format to garner such achievements.
Though the arguments seem to strongly support digital, there are still a few filmmakers out there haplessly clinging to their beloved celluloid. The biggest advocates for film are Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister. According to Nolan, “There isn’t yet a superior or even an equal imaging technology to film, but we’re being forced into transition.” As Pfister states, “I will not trade my oil paints for a set of crayons.” Oddly enough, Pfister himself began his career as a videographer.
Side by Side is a must-see for any aspiring filmmaker or film enthusiast. One downfall of the film, however, is that its title is a bit misleading. Going in, I was expecting to see side-by-side comparisons of film and digital formats—showcasing the progress digital cinema has made over the years and how it now stacks up against film—but I was sorely disappointed.
The title in fact comes from a statement by Robert Rodriguez on his film Grindhouse, on which he collaborated with Quentin Tarantino. Rodriguez shot his segment Planet Terror on digital, while Tarantino opted instead to shoot Death Proof on film. “You show people both those movies today, side-by-side,” Rodriguez tells Keanu, “and they’ll swear Quentin’s was shot on digital.”
Whether they are proponents of film or digital, most filmmakers agree that digital cinema is taking over, ushering in a new era of filmmaking. However, most also agree that film isn’t going anywhere any time soon. There is enough demand to still shoot on film that it may stick around for a while longer.