I recently produced a short film, Always Remember Me, which was shot on 16 mm film. I’m a producer, so naturally my first inclination was to try to convince the director and executive producer that we didn’t NEED to shoot on film as it’s a much more expensive medium. The film stock costs a lot of money plus you have to pay to have someone digitize it in order to edit it and screen it in all theaters today. Why shoot on film just to have it turned into a digital medium?
This particular short had been in development for some time and I came into the process about a month before we went into production so I wasn’t part of the original decision to shoot on film. I understood all of the reasoning behind wanting to shoot on film, the feel and the look that it provides, the nostalgia, the challenge, but I knew how much easier it would be to shoot it digitally. Alas, the Director Nell Teare, DP Julia Swain and Executive Producer Luci MacNair, prevailed and we ended up shooting on 16 mm film. It was an incredible experience and one that I’m glad we had.
You know what the number one thing that I learned from shooting on film was? That making movies on a digital medium has made us very lazy filmmakers. Sure, there’s a certain creative freedom and casualness that we’ve found with digital film, but it made me question whether I had always been doing my best work, or if I was simply getting by because we had the freedom to just roll, or explore while filming.
Let me explain what I mean, film is expensive, therefore you can only buy a certain amount of it and when you run out, you run out. Shooting on film made us all better artists because we all had to be at the top of our game. When you roll with digital cameras, there’s a freedom to “just let it roll” and to “roll on rehearsal”. When you shoot on film, there’s none of that. If you roll, you’re going for it and you better get it right in one or two takes because we will literally run out of film if we don’t’.
The director, Nell Teare, had to have a very clear vision and idea of what she wanted. She sat down with Julia Swain, the Director of Photography and talked through every moment, every shot and made a very, concise plan. Julia spent hours storyboarding and making sure she understood the look and shots that they wanted to achieve. We had rehearsal with our actors to make sure that they were as prepared as they could be once we hit our shoot days. They pushed themselves as artists as they prepared for their roles. They had multiple conversations with one another, asked questions they needed answered and not a one of them had to call for a line when the cameras were rolling. The crew moved with purpose, but grace. The camera was handled with an extreme amount of care and there was a hush, as the 1st AC would remove the film and load up a fresh roll when we needed one.
Maybe it wasn’t all because we were shooting on film and partially because of the great story we were telling, but something about this shoot was different than any I had ever experienced before. Every time we began rolling, everyone snapped into their positions, there wasn’t any residual movement on the edges or behind the scenes because we all knew how much was at stake every time we yelled, “Rolling!” We had a very specific plan and as a result, the end product is magic. Shooting on film has created a wonderful feel and tone for this story and in the end; the decision to shoot on film was worth it.
Moving forward, with future projects I will challenge myself as well as my whole team to prepare, act and shoot as though we were doing so on film. Let’s move into every project valuing and respecting the art we are creating. Let’s honor everyone’s time the way that the lack of film forces us to. We can create magic, stick to schedules and allow for the freedom of creation to happen on digital just as much as we can on film.
- Keep your eyes out for Always Remember Me, a narrative short film.
- A young woman confronts her past at her childhood best friend’s birthday party. Which is complicated because her friend has been dead for 18 years.
- Join us at the party when Always Remember Me makes its debut on the festival circuit this year.
- Always Remember Me, IMDB page.