At numerous times during the past five weeks, my dedication to the medium of film wavered. The ever-present elements of time and money (film is anything but inexpensive) at moments infringed upon my duties of directing the actors and insuring the best possible performances. Having been reared on video, it was somewhat difficult not being able to simply rewind and watch footage on set. Sometimes we would run out of film during a take, and changing reels was always a hassle. The process was anything but streamlined, and sometimes it felt like the shoot was inhibited by the film stock itself.
However, getting through production has revitalized my pro-film stance for numerous reasons. With the advent of prosumer digital video, anyone can dabble in visual storytelling. But I am not of the mindset that just anyone with a camera and an idea can make a film. Now more than ever, I am convinced that filmmaking is so much more than a leisurely pursuit. Though I derive satisfaction and a level of enjoyment from the creative process, I do not do this because it is fun. Filmmaking is not a pastime no more than surgeons, accountants, and software authors consider their vocations to be hobbies. Film is a calling, like any other profession. And the patience, time commitment, and discipline it takes to work with actual film stock speaks to this idea so much more than digital.
True, film is laborious compared to most digital video. But with film, the artist’s effort is extremely present in the processed footage; it lends a strong integrity to the story. So rather than inhibiting the artist and his vision, film immortalizes and empowers both. I have been able to view a portion of what we have shot, and I truly believe that nothing other than film could have conveyed the intimacy, immediacy, and depth that I am striving to achieve with Fish Tank. The actors’ performances called for the most powerful, truest form of capturing, and film has granted us that. I believe that on anything but film, their efforts would have been similarly lost.
That being said, I do believe there is some amount of worth to digital pieces. One of my favorite films, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, takes on a beautiful, documentary-esque style utilizing the Canon EOS 5D. Personal aesthetic must be taken into account. On the other hand, Whit Stillman, a major influence of mine, shot his latest film Damsels in Distress using a RED digital camera, after years of dedication to film. Sight and Sound magazine had this to say: “In contrast to the warm, low-budget elegance achieved in [Stillman’s] first three features, Damsels’ visuals…often come dangerous near the palette of a Mentos commercial.” At a simplistic level, I take comfort knowing Fish Tank has been spared from this fate.