Fall 2012 Film and Digital Trends

More than 60 guests crammed into Bei Grazie restaurant for the bi-annual Cooke Cinec colloquium on Sept 22 in Munich. As always, a highlight of the event was hearing from colleagues about the state of the industry worldwide, and learning about trends, challenges and achievements. Geoffrey Chappell moderated the discussion. Thanks to Tae-Jung Kim, Cinema Department, Koil Corporation, Seoul, Korea,  for recording the event.


I’d like to acknowledge our guest of honor, Alfred Chrosziel, who actually recommended this restaurant to us years ago. We have with us tonight guests from many countries, representing many leading rental houses around the world. Let’s begin by talking about trends in digital and film. Is film still alive?


I would say that at the moment it’s chaos.  We don’t know what to do and where to go. The trend is going with the Alexa digital camera. It seems to me that the Alexa with Gemini ARRIRAW, may be good for low budget films in Brazil.

And I would say that, at the moment, the divinity is the producer.  He says how much money he has and even the DPs do not have the word that they had before.


We are working a lot.  We have a lot of movement with the Alexa cameras but the budgets have become very low.


In Japan we are still busy with film cameras presently, accounting for a 50/50 split between film and digital productions.

Fujifilm made an announcement that they will stop selling negative film (sometime next year), so I think that will accelerate the transition from film cameras to digital cameras. That is our worry.  Otherwise, I think the industry has been quite healthy, because we are growing and production has been increasing for the last couple of years.


The Indian market is moving to digital like the rest of the world and, as of now, we have a 50/50 split between digital and film.  We usually do a lot of shooting on film.

So at least until then there is support from the industry as such and we believe that film will be  the norm for shooting and for projection for a few years more.  So film is not yet dead.


From South Africa’s point of view and the company that I represent, Media Film Service, we are an equipment rental company and we’re starting to see the flattening out of the business. Most of our industry is 95 percent service, whether it’s features or commercials, and we slowly but surely seeing a lot more feature working coming to South Africa.

We’ve made an investment in studios in Cape Town, we’re definitely seeing a lot of feature films coming to South Africa, as well as continuing work in commercials.


We began 18 years ago as a lighting rental company.  I was originally a cameraman but we never rented film cameras. We started in digital cameras three years ago with the Sony F35 and now we have more than 20 cameras, mainly ARRI Alexa and Alexa Studio.

We’re in the middle of Europe and in our area of Europe, film is one percent of the market, I think. So more than 95 percent of the jobs are digital and for the future, we have to see.


Investing in all this digital stuff, Philippe Vié and I started Cam-A-Lot 15 years ago. We told people we were not interested in film and they told us we were crazy.  Right now, I say, well, maybe we did a smart move.  I can tell you one thing, don’t invest in cameras.  Invest in glass.


It is very important to also invest in people who communicate with the people who make the decisions. You must have a very good rapport with the actual DPs, camera operators, assistants  and production companies.

Gone are the days when you can wait for people to come to you. You’ve got to be very proactive because there is a lot of competition out there and, a lot of those clients are looking to you for answers. It is a bit of a jungle and a bit of a maze out there at the moment with the technology. I think one thing that ARRI  has done is they opened their camera system to other partners so you’re not linked into one specific type of system and I think that’s fit the industry generally.


What has changed is probably more on the digital end. We are seeing a bit more variety.  The Alexa is still the dominant digital camera but obviously I’ve got some F65s working and the Canons have  satisfied customers as well with their business. So I think we need to watch that space.  I’m not sure where that’s going.

I do think the confusion’s almost over. Customers are very happy in the Alexa space and obviously ARRI have been quite smart with the Anamorphic. I think we need to watch the Anamorphic space across the board, too.

Unfortunately the film labs, as I predicted, have doubled the price of processing in the last month in Australia. That’s sad because I have to say I’d love film to survive; in Australia it’s really going to struggle.  Overall, we’re doing okay, actually.  I have five series shooting across three states and I don’t have many cameras left on the shelf, so I’m actually very happy.


If I can just pick up one word, it is Anamorphic.  Can I just have a quick show of hands about the amount of interest you are getting locally in Anamorphics? (The vote is almost unanimous.)

So, I would say, globally, Anamorphic is a trend that we should be aware of. I would like to invite Danys Bruyère to speak

DANYS BRUYERE, TFS, Paris, France.

Actually, the Anamorphic subject is something that I’ve been nagging Les about and I want to maybe recruit some more of you to join me in that exhortation. The way that the digital sensors are structuring the images now, we have this trend where everybody–and I’m sure that everybody’s seen the same thing in their own markets– is that all the old glass is coming back.

It’s all coming back in style so anybody who’s got old Schneider’s and Bausch & Lomb and Baltars and original Panchro — all these lenses are all of a sudden back in, I don’t want to call it style, because I don’t think it’s a question of style, I think it’s a question that we’re all looking at these identical sensors that  make these very structured images and the artists are all looking for solutions to “break up” the sensor.

In the old days when we had film, we had a number of film stocks and labs. When you needed to modulate the look of your images, you could by changing your film stock, exposure, processing, printing, all kinds of variables.  It didn’t really matter which camera you were using.  We had some glass in the front and we had some film in the back.

Today we have this very structured look that we get from the sensors, which are imposing that look on us with their increasingly higher resolution. Today we’re 5K, next week we’ll be 6K.  We have 8K, with the F65s and they are all giving us these images of incredible quality.

But then we have to give these cameras to the artists, who are not us, right?  I mean, we’re the engineers and we have to give the artists the tools that allow them to give personality again to their images, because when you look at the films that are coming out in 2012, 70 percent of them have been made with Alexas and we all sort of have that same feel to them, which isn’t a bad thing if it’s just 10 percent or 20 percent.

But all the films have that same texture to them, and it can look a lot dangerously like television.  So we have to have tools and the glass is the key element in that process. That’s why I’ve been nagging Les to make some old style lenses. I remember when we saw the first new Panchro/i and I said, “Les they’re very good and maybe they’re just too good.”

It may not be what we asked for, but these old lenses that flare have personality in them. Having stuff that reveals itself in the lens is wonderful. I think the fervor of Anamorphic today, and why everybody’s talking about Anamorphic, is because Anamorphic is complicated.  You’ve got really shallow depth of field and you’ve got relatively workable T-stops.

We’ll see what the new players come out with, but you have complicated lenses doing complicated shooting and I think that there’s a real demand for simpler lenses that will give the images personality and that will bring texture back into this sort of very hygienic digital domain.


You asked me how things are doing in our markets.  Right now in California we’re having some problems with people leaving the state to go to other states and other countries because of incentives and tax breaks and all that.  There were 23 new TV series during this year and only two of them were made in California and the other 21 left California because of the incentives.

There’s typically 70 TV series shot by the networks in the United States and every year some of those will cancel and it’s usually about 20 to 25 new ones.  With 23 this year, and only two new series remaining in California, that’s not so hot for us.  We have Alexas.  They’re all booked.  We’re very busy so we’re happy with that.  We have the Alexa Studios so Anamorphic’s very important.

The commercials, believe it or not, are shooting in Anamorphic.

And they do it for a few reasons.  Number one, they’ll shoot a commercial two or three minutes long and then they’ll show it in a movie theater with a trailer and they’ll cut that to a 15 or 30 second version for television.  I think they sold 400 million HDTV sets 40 inches and larger with the average size 46 Inches in the United States in 2010 and 2011. And letterbox Anamorphic on them is not bad.  It’s got a little black band on top and bottom.

And then in that black area, they put text.  For example, they might have a Mercedes flying down this road and then in the black area, so as not to mess up the beautiful picture, the text says “do not drive like this, it was a professional driver on a closed course.”

We were talking about digital. Well, we have to be a little careful there.  The digital packages rent for a whole lot more money than the film camera packages, so don’t let the producer tell you otherwise.

A typical show, not a big one, but with someone who shoots a lot of film, they’ll shoot about 8,000 to 10,000 feet of film a day.  That’s going to cost them about 8,000, 10,000 dollars a day in film and processing. So they’ll save 40,000, maybe even 80,000 dollars a week on film costs by going digital.  Don’t let them save it on your rates. You’re the one investing in the new technology. There’s a point where you just can’t let them give you that song and dance, because the digital equipment has a very short useful life and we are still learning how we can make a profit renting it. As it is we are making a profit on the lenses and some other non digital items.

However, I’m not convinced it is cheaper to shoot digital because, you know, the producers all want the latest and greatest cameras, which cost more money, and they just have to have them.  And they have to have all these beautiful monitors–now they want the new OLED monitors from Sony and all the best stuff from us.

All that new stuff will cost them a whole lot more money than what a film camera package might cost them, really fully equipped. The film package might be 18,000 dollars a week.  A digital package may cost them 28,000 to 33,000 bucks a week. It is going to cost more money in post. But maybe post is not their budget.  It may be the next guy’s budget. That’s because the production budget to shoot the movie may not include the line items for post production costs–and therefore a production line producer may not have to be concerned with those expenses.

I think in the end when it’s all over between film and digital, I’m not sure of this, but I think it’s a wash. Having said that, if they have a lot of CGI, a lot of green screen and blue screen work, if it’s a feature, then digital makes sense. But if they don’t have any of that effects work, then film is still the best way to go in my opinion.


What’s the split between film and digital?


I don’t really know.  My guess is, if it’s the big screen we’re talking about, my guess is 75 percent film, 25 percent digital. More and more is being shot Anamorphic. Almost everything in movie theaters is Widescreen 2.40:1.

It’s either shot with spherical lenses in Super 35, and projected Anamorphic, or shot Anamorphic to begin with.  So Anamorphic is very important.  I wish we had a bigger selection of Anamorphic lenses and many companies are working on that.  We hope other Anamorphic lenses are coming out in the future because Anamorphic so important.

The audiences are used to that big image.  We did a survey and of all the movies made for the theater they are almost always released Anamorphic 2.35 or 2.40.  About 50 percent of those are shot in Super 35 with spherical lenses, but the other 50 percent were shot Anamorphic.

It’s funny about Anamorphic lenses. They are all wrong, the aberrations they have, all the weird stuff, but you know what?  The director of photography and the directors are artists.  Many of them like those aberrations.  They think that’s cool.

Now ZEISS is coming out with some new Anamorphics.  I don’t know if they’re going to have those aberrations and also the lenses from Servicevision. Anamorphics are important and I think that’s all I’ve got to say. (applause)


Well, first of all, I’d like to thank everybody for coming.  I really enjoy these evenings.  The ability to get people from all over the world to meet other people and interact with them is really important to me and I really appreciate everybody participating and coming.  But I’d like to follow up on a few comments that were made.

This is not public yet, well, it’s semi-public knowledge, but we are in the process or re-branding the Panchro lenses from Panchros to Mini-S4s.  We’re doing that because I made a miscalculation.  I thought reviving the Panchro name would be sort of an honor and give respect to a well-established name and brand that was out in the world.

It turned out that this became a real issue. People confused the new Panchros with the old Panchros, the old Panchros with the new Panchros. It was a real problem.  So, in the future, we’re going to be calling them Mini-S4s, which we’ve already started to do in advertising. By the end of the year, we’ll have them re-branded Mini-S4s.

Danys, speaking to your point of the old Panchros, we have looked at ways of maybe modifying current lenses, but building the old Panchros is just not an option.  They were more difficult to build than S4s but we have looked at ways of modifying them to give the effect of the old Panchros.

I think what’s going on here with digital is, if you shoot a static scene in digital, every frame looks exactly the same.  If you shoot a static frame in film, even though it’s static, every frame is different and I think that really is what’s driving this need for anamorphic, for the need for older lenses, to try to give digital a personality. Luckily Cooke has the Cooke look, which has been a personality that the directors of photography over the last 125 years have really appreciated.

It’s interesting that every time we ask a director of photography what the Cooke look is, we get a different answer. But it all comes down to a picture that’s pleasing to the eye, that favors skin tones, that renders people nicely, that has a lot of dimensionality to it, and has a nice fall off of focus.  It’s all these things–but please don’t call it soft.

Note from FDTimes: See article about Cooke Anamorphics, revealed about 3 weeks after the discussion above: “Reliable sources confirmed that Cooke Optics Ltd is indeed working on Anamorphic lenses. They are planned to be ready by end of 2013 or early 2014, and my guess is they will be front cylinder, classic style Anamorphic primes, with the traditional ‘Cooke Look.'” Comments by Denny Clairmont and Danys Bruyère were prophetic.

Equal time goes to Otto Nemenz, who reported the following split in his domain: 25% film, 65% HD and 2K digital, 10% 4K digital. Otto cautions that widescreen 2.40:1 features heavy on effects may remain spherical, putting further pressure on development of higher resolution sensors. 



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