Recently, news broke that Martin Scorsese’s new project The Irishman left Paramount and decided to go to Netflix. Industry eyebrows were raised and film big-wigs were shocked – for what it’s worth, we’re talking about Martin Scorsese, the absolute legend that has devoted his life to the medium that is film. Scorsese, a remaining bastion of traditionalism, has always supported the value of shooting on realm film over digital cinematography. His organization, The Film Foundation, fights tooth and nail for film preservation. Why would a man so firmly entrenched in classic Hollywood turn to the digital beast that is Netflix? If a staunch supporter of pure tradition and artistry has bowed out, is film even a thing anymore?
Cue the Digital Revolution
Whether it is film, your car, or your home – the world is becoming a digitally-connected tech ecosystem. The film and television production industry has a front row seat to this process, weighing the pros and cons of simplifying an art form into 0s and 1s. Since the beginning of produced films, still images captured at 24 frames per second printed on film created just the right amount of magic to convey movement. Quentin Tarantino argues that this very magic makes movies – film and its limitations as medium make the art form something special.
The problem is…film is expensive. It’s cumbersome, difficult to manipulate and edit, and old school. When digital filmmaking came onto the scene, it was almost a no brainer. Fast forward some years and it looks like digital has won – most commercial projects are shot digitally, and even if you shoot your project on film, it will be digitally converted for screens across the globe. Digital might have less charm, but it’s cheap, easy to edit, and can be adapted on the fly. Why even mess with tedious film?
A Market Shift
While the above seems like a stalemate between old school artistic traditions and new digital processes, film as an art form depends on different technologies to advance the craft. However when it comes to the marketing and consumption of film, digital is shifting perspectives and changing priorities. Filmmaking tools have been democratized for the masses – today, anybody can shoot a movie, make some quick edits, and put it online.
Instead of traditional cinema experiences, the digital revolution brings film to you. You can stream feature length films, quirky documentaries, and independent TV shows right on your devices anywhere you can go. There was a time where film producers and television producers didn’t cross boundaries, but thanks to platforms like Netflix, Hulu, etc…a new market exists for content that wouldn’t otherwise find a home. These new markets also give filmmakers an opportunity to express creative freedom in their projects, breaking new ground that would not be possible under a large production house with monetary objectives.
Tell The Story
Regardless of your production choices, media formats, or stylistic hallmarks, film as an artform really boils down to one thing: telling a good story. With so much to worry about when it comes to financing, shooting, and editing a project into a finished product these days, a lot of directors overlook the pure vehicle that makes the artform. Digital production techniques are both a blessing and a curse – they allow so much flexibility that you’re presented with a myriad of variables that also can let you get lost in the weeds.
Perhaps what Scorsese advocates for is a push for development in film, rather than a struggle over recording medium. His films are the perfect example of storytelling – there’s a beginning and an end, there are characters that are gradually built up, there are characters that crash and burn, there are emotional struggles, there are moral development arcs, there are twists and turns. Instead of worrying about how your film will be consumed, you must be mired in the details that push boundaries under the common banner of aesthetics and quality. Digital versus analog really doesn’t matter. Real film might not exist in a traditional sense anymore, but it’s the inspiration behind the art that lives on.
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