“I’m not going to trade in my set of oil paints for a box of crayons,” one famous cinematographer tells Keanu Reeves in Side by Side, an exploration of the controversial move from traditional film stock to digital being made by many top moviemakers. To James Cameron of Avatar and Titanic fame, however, the new technology is much more welcome, as he tells Reeves, for it opens up “fields of possibilities that you just couldn’t do with film.” Who is right? In Side by Side, Reeves lets Cameron, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez and many other directors, cinematographers, editors and others in the movie business present the pros and cons and predictions for how movies will be made.
Reeve’s documentary Side by Side: The Science, Art, and Impact of Digital Cinema, airs on most PBS stations at 9 pm on Friday, August 30. (Connecticut’s CPTV has not yet scheduled an air date at this time).
Reeves both narrates the technical history sections of his documentary and conducts interviews with his subjects, many of whom have been making movies since the 1960s. He illustrates his hour-long feature with clips from classic as well as more recent movies, along with footage acquired from Sony, Bell Labs, Lucasfilm and other companies that started and continue to break new ground almost daily in digital filmmaking.
George Lucas, who pioneered the push to digital and whose Star Wars: Attack of the Clones was the first feature film shot in hi-definition digital, leads the charge for the new technology. “Film is cumbersome,” says Lucas, it is a “19th century technology, and one that has gone “as far as its ever going to go.” While most of the newer crop of directors and cinematographers agree with him, many others, notably Dick Pope who shot The Illusionist, still prefer what he calls the “grit and grain and texture” of traditional film stock.
Side by Side is often very entertaining as well as informative, and the technology is presented for the most part at the level of a high school class, with simple, clear illustrations, graphs and animations. It also offers viewers a look at how movies are not only shot but also edited – both with the old and new technologies. While such sections may not have a major appeal to the general viewing public, film buffs as well as student and amateur filmmakers will find these technical bits fascinating – and helpful.
While Reeves’ work is more supportive of the new technology than the old, the documentary and Reeves are careful not to disparage those who still use chemical film. To many filmmakers, as Side by Side lovingly notes, the medium that moviemakers have been using for over a century is not like “painting with the lights off” as whole-hearted convert Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) quips disdainfully; it is still the canvas on which many artists still paint, and one that for many will continue to be at least one if perhaps no longer “the primary medium for creating and sharing movies.”
Although Connecticut Public Television has not yet scheduled a showing, most other PBS stations will air Side by Side at 9 pm on Friday, August 30.
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Mark G. McLaughlin is a Connecticut-based free lance journalist and game designer with over 30 years of experience as a ghost-writer and columnist. An author whose first published book was Battles of the American Civil War, and whose games include the Mr. Lincoln’s War set, Mark continues to be enthralled by stories from the age of Lincoln. To view Mark’s 16th published design, the American Civil War Naval strategy game Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, visit his publisher at http://www.gmtgames.com/p-238-rebel-raiders-on-the-high-seas.aspx
…or his blog at http://markgmclaughlin.blogspot.com/
Mark’s latest work, the science fiction adventure novel Princess Ryan’s Star Marines, is available on Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats at http://www.amazon.com/Princess-Ryans-Star-Marines-Save/dp/1466218487/ref…
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