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Is the resurgence of celluloid more than just Oscar and BAFTA-bait?

Tarantino once proclaimed, “If I can’t shoot on film, I’ll stop making movies,”. The prominent director is far from alone in his love for celluloid, with 52% of 2020’s Oscar nominations being shot on film, not digital. With film used in so many of this year’s critically acclaimed features, we ask, are we in the age of a celluloid resurgence?

 

On Monday evening Mark Jenkin introduced the BAFTA-winning film Bait (2019) at the BFI “my love of film was reignited through the medium of it” he told the audience. Part of the appeal of Bait is the authenticity that comes from filming and hand-processing on 130 rolls of 100ft rolls of B&W Kodak grainy stock, captured on a 1976 16mm clockwork Bolex camera. The film was a labour of love for Jenkin, it took three months to be hand-processed at 2’30” per 100 foot.

 

The film tells the story of the modern tensions that arise from the changing tides of gentrification and the build-up of cultural divisions in a Cornish fishing community. Seeing the physical dust and blotches of celluloid film on screen, reminds us of the fragility of celluloid, this contrasted with the fragility of the community at the heart of the film makes for a captivating watch.

 

Adrian Bull, MD of Cinelab, a full-service film laboratory in London, believes that shooting on celluloid can provide creative freedom for directors “Shooting on film has a 130-year history, the process has both evolved and refined over that period. The creative decision is driven by both the aesthetic look and a discipline that is unique to film. Film grain means that even on a static shot, something is still happening visually. The way film captures light, specular highlights and skin tones is still very different to digital.”

 

The natural and organic feel of film is often said to be a part of its appeal: “Every image at twenty-four frames per second exists and is real whereas in the digital world it is synthesised with an array of pixels and subsampled colour channels attempting to recreate the image.” Says Bull “Film falls off gracefully at the limits of resolution and dynamic range whereas digital images can suffer from aliasing and quantisation.”

 

He believes that the demand for high quality digital distribution has been a factor in its current popularity “As an acquisition format, film comfortably delivers both 4K and HDR, ironically I believe the demand

for higher quality digital distribution has had an effect on clients going back to shooting on film.”

 

Jenkin has said that the economy of film can be one of its greatest strengths “So a lot of it’s borne out of those limitations. If I was shooting digitally and I didn’t have those constraints, I never would have considered those close-ups, those cutaways.” he said in an interview (https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/interview-mark-jenkin/). Bull agrees that “Cinematographers often comment on the creative control that they retain more personally when shooting on film and that when they finish for the day, they can focus attention on planning the next shoot day rather than the temptation with digital which is to review what you have shot that same day.”

 

Despite the popularity with cinephiles, less that 1% of studio film productions are shot on celluloid, as digital remains dominant in high-end drama and mainstream cinema. The cost and time constraints of film are often cited for why it is the reserve of top tier filmmakers, Bull contests this "Shooting ratio is the most important influence on budget when shooting on film - film camera hire costs are typically very competitive when compared to digital cameras that have a relatively short lifetime. The efficiency comes from controlling the shooting ratio. Budget for a 2-camera 6 week shoot with 10:1 shooting ratio is comparable between 35mm film and an Alexa - if you shoot a lower ratio then film becomes more competitive and if your shoot time increases then film also becomes cheaper assuming the shooting ratio remains consistent.” However, he admits “Film requires light for it to be exposed, so it is a fair comment that lighting budgets are usually higher with celluloid film.”

 

Film does arguably have more range to its capture “The dynamic range of film though is still tremendous and allows it to excel with highlights, skies and explosion sequences where often digitally acquired sequences require VFX work to add this detail.” states Bull “Film dailies are usually available to production the next day and will often be available in the morning before they start shooting.'

There are many reasons why digital is so dominant in film and television production, not least cost (especially when factoring in lighting), required skillset, malleability and low light performance. And of course there’s the creative execution which requires more choreography and control in film. Film still has a niche and can engage and connect in other ways and with stunning stand-out images. Bait might be an extreme stylised example of this but it’s difficult to imagine the film having the same impact and connection if shot on a digital camera.

Posted 06 February 2020 by Sam Napthine

3 Mills plays host to Esports giant

 Last Friday (31st January) 3 Mills Studios played host to a new 21st-century phenomenon, on track to disrupt the broadcasting world with its own kind of technological revolution. It almost felt like a bombastic space ship had landed with fanfares and pyrotechnics in one of the UK’s leading film and TV studio complexes.

 

3 Mills Studios is best known for feature films (Like Legend or Isle of Dogs), drama (Killing Eve 2 for the BBC and Giri/Haji for Netflix and BBC2) and entertainment (RuPaul’s Drag Race UK for BBC 3 and Masterchef for BBC).

This unexpected staging at a ‘traditional’ studios complex might be described as a coming-of-age moment for esports in the UK. Once the reserve of niche gaming fans, then YouTube vloggers now watching other people play video games live and streamed is a multi-million-pound industry. According to YouTube Gaming, viewers watched more than 50 billion hours of esports in 2018.
 

BLAST, a Danish based esports entertainment platform, is using 3 Mills as the London location for BLAST Premier, a tournament for the video game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. BLAST Premier will culminate in a Spring Final in June 2020, the winner will be awarded $500,000 USD and a place in the global final, where teams will compete for $1,500,000.
 

Nicolas Estrup is the Director of Product & Experience for BLAST. He remains calm in the minutes building up to BLAST's January 31st launch, where he oversees the goliath task of running a live esports tournament in front of a live audience and streamed to over 150 countries and territories. The studio design and workflow is set up to maximise intimacy between the viewer and the players “if you look at the player, you will see a small camera mounted next to each of them. That's because what is expected in Counter-Strike is that you can see a video feed of the player when you see that player’s avatar inside of the game. The fans want to see the [player’s] face, they want to be in your face, see them live, see their reactions.”
 

BLAST is streamed from the Twitch platform but is also shown on YouTube and re-versioned for local markets. Estrup sees no distinction between the studio and the virtual world “Normally in sports, you have a ball on a field, and you just point the cameras out, and then you kind of see what happens. Instead, we have a virtual field, and every single player, that's a camera, that's a point of view that we can shift to. inside of the game, we mount or position virtual camera to get high-flying drone-style shots.”
 

The event has scale. The production company brought in 600 square metres of LED, its own flypack for a vivid, complex and dynamic live workflow. The sheer weight of the lighting grid was one of the reasons they chose to shoot at 3 Mills.
 

The production is constantly curated by a group of storytellers, who in real time must make sure any noteworthy action from the two competing seven-player teams is captured and available to stream. “The biggest task is just making sure you understand the game - the actual match that's going on - while telling the story of what's happening." says Estrup "I think one aspect where the community here is really unforgiving is that they want to see the highlight from the perspective of the player doing it. You don't want to see the player going around the corner and then being shot. So, you want to constantly make sure you get it from the right angles at the right time”

Staging BLAST at 3 Mills studios is representative of a coming of age for esports, as the tournaments attracts ever more sponsorship, prize-money and ever-larger international audiences. With studios such as 3 Mills moving into the esports space, it looks as if the genre is set to become an ever-greater force in the British production world.

Posted 06 February 2020 by Sam Napthine
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