Side by Side chronicles the evolution of film making. Film itself is a 19th century invention. To capture an image on film, light passes through a lens and hits the film behind the lens, causing crystals to react chemically to form a photographic image on the film. The process adds texture and grain structure. Images captured on film have a granularity that helps to give blacks more nuance. The images appear almost tangible to the viewer.
Originally, images were solely captured on film under the guidance of the Director of Photography (DP). The framing of each shot relied heavily on the DP, as there was no way to review the shots in real time. The film rolls needed to be changed routinely, which allowed for a natural break in production for the actors. The film was developed overnight and printed to be viewed in “daliies” by the production team. Until then, no one besides the DP had any idea what was captured. Other members of the production team felt as if they were “painting with the lights off.” This lends the DP to a somewhat magical role. The editing process was purely physical. Editors would cut and paste film by hand.
Digital filmmaking involves a chip behind a lens that contains a sensor with millions of pixels. Light enters the camera and hits the pixels to creates charges and converts that into digital data, which produces the image. The filmmakers can see exactly what they’re shooting as they go. There are no more “dailies,” but rather “immediatelies.” With the rise in digital production, the power and authority that used to fall solely to the DP can now be shared among the director, producers and actors because the shots can be reviewed in real time. The DP can be monitored and questioned. Some actors may insist on reviewing every take and become self-conscious of their performance.
Capturing images on film adds tension to each take because the images are being shot on a costly, limited resource. Each take requires the actors’ undivided focus. There is a feeling that every take counts. On the other hand, digital production allows the camera to keep rolling and encourages the actors to retain their emotional momentum without cuts to change film or start a new take. This also lends to rigorous stretches of filming without a pause. This makes the editing process lengthier because there is so much more material to review. The editing process in film is tedious and physical, but the work is secure. Film is tangible, while digital work could be lost with the push of a button.
As digital production advances, the cameras get smaller. The Dogma 95 was very light and easy to move. Using the Dogma 95, Celebration was created on a lower budget, which allowed the directors and producers more freedom. Because the camera was so light, the camera movements are fluid. This fluidity mimics real life and makes the view feel as if they are in the room with the actors. This is a production aesthetic that would not have been possible with a large, bulky film camera.
Before the advent of digital filmmaking, production teams had to physically make models for settings not found in real life. In Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, George Lucas was limited by what kind of setting he could create on film stages using hand-made miniatures. The development of Computer Generated Images (CGI) fuses art and technology to open up a new world of possibilities. Filmmakers are free to imagine story worlds that would be impossible to create without computer editing in post-production.
Films like Sin City would have never been possible without digital color correction tools. Film only allows for the editing of red, green, blue, and brightness. Digital color correction tolls were first used in music videos and commercials and later adopted in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? to enhance the blue skies and golden grass individually. This lends more control to the colorist to manipulate the images.
Resolution is the number of pixels that a camera can record. The higher the resolution, the more detailed the image. A Standard Definition (SD) camera is 480-720 pixels. The High Definition (HD) camera, created in 2000, shoots images with 1,920 pixels. In Avatar, James Cameron takes digital filmmaking to the next level by combining CGI with 3-D image technology. Two HD digital camera are placed side by side, like eyeballs. Images are captured from the two different angles to add depth. Watching Avatar engages the viewer as a participant by setting them in the midst of the shot. Avatar utilizes 3-D for a specific aesthetic, while some claim other 3-D movies are purely a gimmicky, marketing scheme.
In 2009, Slumdog Millionaire became the first film to win an Academy Award for Best Cinematography that was shot almost entirely on digital. Throughout the progression of filmmaking, each new advancement in technology brings with it a presumed threat to the status quo. Some argue that digital technology threatens the “art” of filmmaking, but other contend that it is just another tool. With the continuous advent of new technologies, more tools are available to filmmakers to create and capture any image they wish.