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-   -   Why does video have to look like film? (https://www.dvinfo.net/forum/techniques-independent-production/9192-why-does-video-have-look-like-film.html)

Boyd Ostroff May 1st, 2003 08:23 PM

Why does video have to look like film?
Did anyone else notice the letter to the editor in the current issue of DV Magazine:

"....Why does video have to look like film? Early automobiles looked like buggies until they found their own unique value and form, so why does video have to look like film?"

It is signed by "Dennis Dunn, San Francisco"

Alex Knappenberger May 1st, 2003 08:28 PM

It's because it's usually the "home video look" that people don't want. Rather than calling it the "film look" it should be called the "professional look".

Ken Tanaka May 1st, 2003 10:58 PM

Yes, indeed, I did note that letter and found it to be a good question.

Certainly, there is some degree of practical aesthetic precedent that gives the "film look" such a broad appeal, even to those who have no idea what medium they're seeing. Resolution, contrast latitude, etc. all enable true film to express emotion and tone with more subtlety than most, if not all, of today's video sub-species.

But that observation evades the real point of the question, doesn't it? Perhaps the real question is why is video viewed as a perennial wannabe to film? In centuries past, Europeans viewed watercolor as being a cheap and inferior medium to oil-based pigments. But as access to travel and communication broadened, and works from Asia came into public view, it became apparent that watercolor could be just as powerful a medium as oil. Its translucency could be used as an exploitable attribute to achieve effects that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with heavy oil paint. Similarly, in the 1970's acrylic-based pigments were viewed as cheap alternatives to oil. It dried so quickly and did not blend as well as oil, it was claimed, that it would never be a medium of a true artist. But, of course, that, too, was proven silly. I must, however, also note that throughout their respective evolutions both watercolors and acrylics have undergone varying degrees of technical developments to provide artists with broader capabilities within the medium.

So, I believe, it is with video. Film has a powerful, 100+ year legacy which is deeply rooted in its projectability. The sheer costs of shooting and developing film, and the further costs of screening that film, created a wide moat around film producers and enabled them to reap fortunes through controlling, and tolling, public viewing.

Video today represents, in a very real sense, a backlash to film's unapproachability. Its legacy, when viewed in future generations, will be that of its inexpensive and flexible production and distribution, rather than projection. Like watercolors and acrylics, many are already mastering video as a medium as technologists continue to improve the medium.

Unlike the late Marshall McLuhan's observation, the medium is not the message. In my experience, if I find myself thinking about the medium I realize that the message it's portraying is not holding my attention.

I'll stop rambling here by simply suggesting that we're observing a very interesting transitional period for motion media that may not be repeated in out lifetimes. I enjoy both participating in it and observing it.

What do you think?

Robert Aldrich May 2nd, 2003 02:00 AM

Awhile back there was a push to get 48 fps in use in movies. It didn't fly, probably because it would have doubled film costs, but it did have a smoother look like video!

The whole point of looking like film is that the DPs who shoot film really know how to make an image stand out, to communicate what is being communicated, to serve the communication.

Video shooters can do the same, especially if they know how to light! That is the real fun of DPing to me! You are painting with light, and the tools are incredibly simple for what you get, a few C-Stands, flags, lights, nets, silks and you can make an image gorgeous!

Another thing, lighting is not always well-lit! One director wanted me to DEGRADE the image, blow out the background, throw the actor out of focus, etc. I tried this and the image was amazing! It totally served the story! (about a dying man's last few days of life)

Boyd Ostroff May 2nd, 2003 05:13 AM

Good food for thought certainly! As digital projection starts to gain a stronghold in the theatres we'll see how this influences peoples' notion of "film look". This is surely inevitable, and once the process starts it will probably overtake film stock with incredible speed, just as the calculator replaced the slide rule or the CD replaced the phonograph record.

It can be frustrating to bump up against all the limitations of DV imposed by its relatively coarse resolution and severe data compression. The detail that we admire in a film image just isn't going to be there. And we'll need to wait a few more years for mature, affordable HD to play with.

Video is a new medium for me to work in, so I'm just feeling my way along right now, trying things to see how they look. Then I evaluate the results, try something different and hopefully learn something along the way. That's pretty much how I've approached all the visual media I've worked in.

Bill Ravens May 2nd, 2003 07:47 AM

Hahahahaha....if you want your video to be jerky in pans, if you want to get that blurry, morning after look shooting fast motion scenes, if you want much graino, if you want the color balance to be skewed to look like it was lit with candles....go for the film look.

Why don't we go back to sepia toned, maxi-grained, talkies?

If you want to make a romantic, sappy movie, go for the film look.

If you want to strike out on your own, make documentary style movies, if you want to take the criticism of every two bit DP wannabe, shoot it on video and leave it with that cold video look.

No matter what you do, if you don't light it professionally, you'll get crap. It's really that simple.

As Sgt. Friday once said, "I don't invent the facts, ma'am, I just report them".

Adam Lawrence May 7th, 2003 11:54 AM

your "look" should depend on which form of videography you attempt.

IMO, i just cant take a "FILM" seriously if its shot on video. (interlaced or giving the feel of home video). no matter
how well its lit or directed.

when i say "seriously" I apply that I really appreciate the theatrical essence of movies, given that they are shot with film ...This ambience of filmic or theatrical signification just cannot be pulled of with the "look" of 11 o'clock news.

This however has rarely been achived with DV (e.g. Tape, Dancer in the Dark, ect.) and doen quite well in the indie industry.

I think this is why videographers strive for the filmic "look",
hoping to emulate the filmographer in their theatrical productions.

Rob Belics May 7th, 2003 09:34 PM

Face it. Video is margarine and film is real butter. You never hear of a dp going for the video look, do you?

Until video can approach the resolution, contrast, lighting dynamics and color values of film, it will be second best and a poor man's alternative.

Alex Knappenberger May 7th, 2003 09:46 PM

Heh, if your so against video, and have such low hopes with it, then why are you on a Digital VIDEO forum? Just a thought. :D

Can video be transfered to film and be taken seriously? Of course, it has been done many times. To the untrained eye, meaning your average joe, they could care less if it's shot on video or film.

This kid I know had to do a video project deal for one of his classes, and I offered to shoot his video for him and all of that, and edit it -- all for free, and he turned me down, he knew I can pull off something good too. He ended up using the teachers Hi8 camera and doing something really crappy, in class. Normally I would watch it and support it and think it's cool, but since he turned down my offer, I kind of sighed at the crappiness. Was I jealous because he had like 2 classes in there with lots of hot cheeks watching his poorly made video? Yes, especially since when a week or so previously, I had made a video for similiar purpose, and only one class saw it with all people I don't like in it, they enjoyed it never the less. Oh yeah, just for sake of this relating to this topic, even though his video was really crappy compared to what I could do, he still enjoyed it, and apparently so did others. I guess that makes this relative. :D

Frank Granovski May 7th, 2003 10:10 PM

My 2 cents: much of the technique to make better film also applies for making better video. But to make video look like film requires subjectivity, because film has many faces and wears many suits (and dresses). So before the film look is tossed about, one should first define what the film look is, for he or she.

Bill Ravens May 7th, 2003 10:51 PM

There are realities that some people just don't have a clue about. Film, as beautiful as it is, is VERY expensive. There are SO many visions in the world, so many ideas waiting to be expressed, that can now be done because DV is available. Of course, there will always be film snobs. That's just the way it is. So, if you're a film snob, I wish you my best...don't spend any time thinking about all the beauty of creation you're missing because your reality is that video is only video. You are sadly deprived. Oh well, that's life, too.

If you're in a place where you can film because someone else is paying your tab, I'd be willing to bet you weren't always on the dole. Count your blessings, and have a heart for those who aspire to your resources. Pray that they don't become as jaundiced or arrogant as you have become.

Frank Granovski May 7th, 2003 11:03 PM

Bill, who are you talking about? Me? What I said was this:

1) a lot of film shooting techniques can also be applied to video

2) the film look is allusive and difficult to define because it's subjective.

Re: "Count your blessings, and have a heart for those who aspire to your resources. Pray that they don't become as jaundiced or arrogant as you have become"

Bill Ravens May 8th, 2003 07:06 AM

You, Frank?
LOL..no way, man. I didn't read anything more than what you said. Yes, I agree with you. I'm referring to those people who turn their noses up a DV. Why are they even on this forum, if that's how they feel? The concept that film is somehow better...it's only what has been around for a long time. Humans don't like change, and most see change as threatening. Oh well....they have my best wishes for enlightenment. I 've seen some very beautiful digital transfers to film. In fact, most film footage is digitized for editting. So how can these film snobs be so out of it?

Zac Stein May 8th, 2003 07:55 AM


I believe the crux of the want for a film look comes down to acceptance. Most people are actually proud of what they shoot, whether it be a home movie or prize winning short, but become dissapointed when they weigh it up against a better resourced, read: done on film, production. Why is that?

Well a lot of it is the acceptance by the many that this look is how a movie should look, and the attributes make part of the quality of the production you have made.

Narrative for one thing when broken down in film school speak is, Story + Filmic elements (production, composition, FX ect ect) + audience expectation.

The last of those 2 elements relate directly to why a film look really is what people strive for, as well the makers of the movie are the most critical audience you will find.

When you make something you want it to conform and look a way you have established in your head, and it becomes unavoidable that you want it to look like the best stuff you have seen, which is almost always shot on film.

Anyways that was my 2 cents.


Bill Ravens May 8th, 2003 08:11 AM

Well, let me suggest a metaphor anyone over the age of 40 can relate to. For years, Americans drove the manufactured products of Detroit, thinking that this was the ultimate in the driving experience. Two tons of Detroit steel were considered the best available. When the Japanese entered the market in the 70's, they turned both production and design on its ear. At the time, there were plenty of naysayers willing to drive their 2 tons at 8 miles per gallon. Times sure have changed. Today, each has its place in driving choices.

All I'm saying is that it's a no brainer to say that there are differences between film look and video look. To say that video can't look beautiful is like saying that film can't do documentary. They are two different media, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. To default for the film look because everyone says it's the ONLY way to go is shortsighted. Sure, everyone would like to have the budget of Speilberg, but, realities are that they don't. An example that comes to mind is ATANARJUAT, recorded on digital, transcoded to film. I actually saw a preview showing that was projected with a digital projector. The movie was photographically beautiful. If film snobbery had kept me away. I would have missed an awesome movie. But, then, that's just one man's opinion...mine. Nothing more, nothing less.

I will say that most paying movie-goers can't tell the difference between film and video. It's only the people that work with the medium every day, that see the difference. It's an illusion created by the industry that film is better. I recognize that my viewpoint is ...umm....well, avante guarde. Ha...so be it. It's not surprising to me that an industry based on illusion, engages in illusion.

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