With more and more reasons to just stay home and #Netflixandchill, the awards season is a strong reminder that movies were made to be watched on the big screen. Damien Chazelle‘s gorgeous realized musical “La La Land” is truly a cinematic experience, and trying to immerse yourself in Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” on a laptop would be somewhat futile. And THR celebrates the lensers who made visual magic this year with their latest cinematographer roundtable.
Linus Sandgren (“La La Land“), John Toll (“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk“), Charlotte Bruus Christensen (“Fences” and “The Girl On The Train“), Bradford Young (“Arrival“), Rodrigo Prieto (“Silence,” “Passengers“) and Caleb Deschanel (“Rules Don’t Apply“) gather round the table for the talk, which inevitably touches upon the ongoing debate about digital versus celluloid. But for Bradford Young, it’s about more than the format.
“The conversation around digital versus film, this idea of pixels information, how much is there, how much isn’t there? One of the things I often say to aspiring, up-and-coming filmmakers is that it’s not the medium. It’s what it’s anchored in,” Young shared. “Where is your culture in that film? Have you shot your grandmother’s hands? If you’re going to shoot your grandmother’s hands, what’s going to be the appropriate format to shoot your grandmother’s hands? I can’t tell you that. The gatekeepers of film can’t tell us what that is. Only you can tell yourself what that is. In the 21st century, that’s where the conversation needs to go. They give us instruction manuals on all these cameras. You can literally go online, pull down the instruction manual, read it and be off on your way, right? Finding your voice, your language — that’s the real struggle, the real universal struggle for kids of color all over the world, from Asia to Latin America to Compton, California. I’m not interested in having a conversation with them about the pixels or the resolution. I’m interested in having a conversation about why a film could be a revolutionary adventure in our evolution as human beings.”
Meanwhile, Rodrigo Prieto explains that choosing a format is about finding the right tool for the job.
“I did two movies that are coming out at the same time, ‘Passengers’ and ‘Silence.’ And they couldn’t be more different thematically, but also visually. ‘Passengers’ was shot on digital: a 65 millimeter digital camera, the Alexa 65, to get a very clear image. And for ‘Silence,’ I shot most of it on film. For me, it’s all about how it feels. When I’m shooting tests, how does this image feel to me? Is it accurate to the movie, the story we are trying to tell?” he said. “In ‘Passengers,’ we were in a spaceship 600 years in the future. And it’s a luxury ship. So I felt that the image should be clean. And for me, [film] grain gives you a texture that didn’t feel that good for ‘Passengers.’ Whereas on ‘Silence,’ a lot of the film was about hiding. And that’s a very different thing. We needed clarity in ‘Passengers,’ clarity of the air. And in ‘Silence,’ it’s priests that are in Japan, most of the time hiding because if they are found, they will probably be killed. So a lot of darkness, candlelight. I used some digital for that. I used Alexa anamorphic lenses because of the low light capability. But I was able to shoot most of it on film because there are a lot of exteriors, and I felt that I’d push the film for certain scenes where I wanted the texture to be a little rougher. And then for the night scenes with candles, I used digital. So it was kind of using the best of both worlds, and it’s very exciting to be able to do that.”
But when they’re not working, do these esteemed lensers dare use their phones to take pictures? Of course they do.
“I use my professional cameras only for work — for scouting and for when we are shooting some things. But actually in life, I do use my phone to take photos. I’ve become kind of a fan of Instagram, because it has become a hobby,” Prieto added.
Check out the full conversation below.