Something Brainy – Side by Side, a documentary by Kanunu

If you have Amazon Prime or Netflix you can watch an interesting documentary by Keanu Reeves called Side by Side about how digital film is taking over traditional chemical film for major motion pictures. He interviews lots of famous people (George Lucas, James Cameron, Martin Scorcese, Robert Rodriguez, David Lynch, David Fincher, etc.) and also adds some instructional bits about how film and digital are different and gives brief chronology of digital cameras and tools as they developed. Here’s a trailer:

Some takeaways:

  • George Lucas is not just a proponent of digital film – he’s a driver, pioneer, and advocate. And he’s been unpopular in Hollywood because of it.
  • People like Robert Rodriguez and James Cameron are pushing it as well – they don’t hate film they just are trying to work against its limitations.
  • I wasn’t aware of how much of a financial limitation film was for lots of people – it’s obvious for short films or web-content but for feature-length films the film itself is a major expense, which drove a lot of people into it originally.
  • Apparently the Dogma 95 people started with digital as well, making their stories easier and cheaper to tell.
  • As I sit back and think about people like PewDiePie and HolaSoyGerman who have among the highest numbers of subscribers in YouTube, I think it does say something about the influence people can have now without using the studio system for building content. They aren’t making feature-length films (although some people with popular channels are). And their content shows that the most rabid audience on YouTube is likely kids from 12-24, but the whole democratization of media thing is real. It’s just not the same anymore.
  • The most recognizable holdouts by far appears to be Christopher Nolan (he of the Batman) and his DP Wally Pfister. They both think it’s inevitable that digital is coming but film is still an option so they choose it, arguing for more possibilities in the light and color range and the texture.
  • One thing that doesn’t seem to be well addressed is archiving. Digital copies can be corrupted much more easily than film can, if it’s preserved right. Some people worry about this while others brush it off (Lucas). It’s something to think about, though – the same way tape is used in the tech world as a backup, film may end up being important as an (expensive) archival tool if nothing else.

I thought it was really interesting, and it’s interesting to see who can show up in a documentary if the person making the call is popular enough. Keanu  is a smart enough guy and asks interesting questions, although I was distracted by his awesome ever-changing hair.

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