Can Batman save 35mm Film?

According to LA Weekly, director Christopher Nolan is playing real-life caped crusader and trying to save the industry’s latest damsel in distress: 35mm film.  The latest Batman reboot THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was actually shot on the rare celluloid (Nolan was adamant about not using 3D) and a snippet of it was screened privately to some of Hollywood’s cool kids in hopes of getting a few swing votes. The epic war that is now raging between 35mm film and digital may have just tipped in favor of film, folks.

The succinctly titled “Movie Studios Are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital Are Vast, and Troubling” article on LA Weekly’s Film and TV section also gives some surprising digital vs. film statistics for us cinephiles. While a film print of a movie like THE DARK KNIGHT RISES will cost $1,500 to print and send out to theaters, a digital copy only costs around $150. Kinda explains the “digital is  cheaper” argument. We can all point the finger at Mr. James Cameron’s blockbuster AVATAR too. His 3D flick led many theaters to make the switch to digital projects since that was the only way it could be screened to the masses.

I can’t even remember that last time I sat with a ticket stub in my hand, basking in that beautiful grain on the big screen. True film just feels so vulnerable in its flaws, while digital is so damn pristine it hurts my eyes. It was at least encouraging to read that even film archivists aren’t placing bets on digital since format upgrades happen a faster rate that one can ever keep up with and according to the Academy, ” it’s actually 11 times more expensive to preserve a 4K digital master than film”.

“The danger comes from filmmakers not asserting their right to choose that format. If they stop exercising that choice, it will go away.” – Christopher Nolan

Nolan’s act of heroism reminded me of the LA Times article that circulated around awards seasons featuring cinematographers of this year’s Academy Award nominated films. In “Cinematography nominees discuss film versus digital“, those that went digital gave their two cents (“I think this is a wonderful time for a cinematographer”  – TREE OF LIFE), while the die-hard 35mm fans offered a rebuttal (“the death of the cinematographer” – WAR HORSE). But even in the end, these masters of their craft came to the same conclusion. The game is changing. HD cameras are getting better lens adapters and cheaper in price. Film schools are putting away their Bolexes. Even Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

I hope that more cinematographers, directors and power-players join in trying to save 35mm film. I know that it’s always going to be a battle of economics versus aesthetic quality, especially when it comes to multimillion dollar projects. It still seems a bit extreme to completely phase out one medium for another. As an emerging filmmaker, I prefer the school of thought that you select the best medium that allows you to tell the best story. The choice of digital or film should always be yours, fellow indies!

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One thought on “Can Batman save 35mm Film?

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