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10 Lessons Filmmakers Learn Shooting On Film


“Why every Filmmaker should shoot a project on film at least once… while stocks last!

Film vs. Digital… the old debate (argument) continues, but today we’re putting all that aside to discuss something more constructive than pixels and noise vs. emulsion and grain.

I want to share with you 10 Lessons Every Filmmaker Learns When Shooting On Film… and therefore why every Filmmaker should shoot a project on film at least once… while stocks last! (excuse the pun)

"Good ol' Arri"

“Good ol’ Arri”

You Learn…

  1. It’s Not That Hard

  2. It’s Not That Expensive

  3. Discipline

  4. Efficiency

  5. Patience

  6. To Trust

  7. Film Is Flattering

  8. Film Has That Filmic Look

  9. Film Separates You From The Crowd

  10. Film Is Fun

The first thing anyone who’s worked with film will tell you, is that “it’s a totally different experience”. Some of that is bravado (this industry is full of posers and you should aspire to not be one of them), but some of that is the truth.

So let’s look in more detail at these lessons and what makes film so “totally different”

10 Lessons Every Filmmaker Learns When Shooting On Film:

1.  You Learn — It’s Not That Hard

The first thing you learn is that it’s actually not that hard after all. It’s so easy to theorise about how complicated it can all be, when in actual fact shooting film is often less complicated than shooting digital!

Of course in the professional arena there is a hell of a lot to know, and Film Cinematographers and Operators are, in my opinion, true masters of their craft (and hopefully the next few points will indicate why). But when it comes to Student or Indie Filmmaking, just crack on with it!

Aye Aye, Captain

Aye Aye, Captain!

You don’t have to worry about histograms or codecs or bit rates or LUTs or blah! blah! blah!

  1. Buy a roll of film!

  2. Stick it in the camera!

  3. Check your light meter!

  4. Set your f-stop!

  5. Check your focus!

  6. SHOOT!

  7. Can it!

  8. Send it to the Lab!

  9. JOB DONE!

2. You Learn — It’s Not That Expensive

Are you a serious filmmaker or aren’t you?! If you’re serious then get serious and buy some film — Okay, so it’s not cheap, but you don’t have to be made of money to shoot it.

It’s not cheap to go for a night out ‘on the razzle’. It’s not cheap to go watch your favourite football team. It’s not cheap to go watch your favourite band in concert, but people do it all the time! So if filmmaking is your thing, then save up some cash, rent a camera for the weekend and buy some film.

I recently shot a 9 minute short on 800ft (22 mins) of 16mm Fuji Film — I got on the phone, got a deal on the stock and processing and it probably set me back £400. People go on and on and on about how extortionately expensive shooting film is, but it’s really not that bad if you’re sensible…

3. You Learn — Discipline

Shooting film teaches you discipline. When you start rolling it’s pound coins (or dollar bills!) going through that camera. Your money! And that sure gets your attention.


Business Cat Shoots Film

Digital breeds laziness. Digital gives the filmmaker endless opportunities to shoot and reshoot and god-forbid… shoot the rehearsal!?!

“Lets try an angle here… and let’s try an angle there… we may use it… we may not… who knows…?”

ARRRRRRGH! Get away from me!

Get yourself in check. If you want to be considered a professional then act like one. Shooting film teaches you to think things through, to plan and prepare. With film, every shot is costing you money and that financial risk makes you concentrate and bring your A-game.

This discipline is a skill that is being lost in the digital age, as it can only truly be experienced on film. But the beauty of film training is that once that discipline becomes habit, you take it with you everywhere — You can then shoot digital like a true Filmmaker.

4. You Learn — Efficiency

Efficiency is a direct result of your film discipline.

You’ve only got a finite amount of film — so you’re limited — so you planned things through — so you know what you want and how you want it. Your shoot has immediately become 100% more efficient. Now that sounds like a Director I want to work with.

Preparation also allows creativity. You’ve got your plan in hand and aren’t fretting about how it’s all going to cut together — because you worked that out last week! Today you’ve got time to be inspired, be creative and add to your vision, because you’re confident and in control.

5. You Learn — Patience

You’re going to have to wait for the film to be processed before you can watch it.

You can’t hit a menu button and watch and rewatch the last take. Whether you’re on a big budget or shoe-string, you have to send your exposed stock to the labs for processing. You may get to watch it tomorrow morning, you may need to wait ’til next week, but you’ll have to learn patience.

Imagine how much time is wasted each shooting day, with everyone huddled around a monitor ooh-ing and ahh-ing at that last shot. If you’re on a reasonable budget you’ll probably have some form of playback to check the shot, but on a low budget — no chance. Did Hitchcock have a playback system? No, he didn’t. Did Hitchcock need a playback system?… No, he didn’t.

Why? Because he saw it the first time — and he trusted…

6. You Learn — To Trust

Obi wan

Obi-Wan Knows It To Be True

A wise old man once said — “Trust your instincts”.

Trust is essential. And for a film crew, it’s more than that, it’s everything. When you shoot on film that level of trust is magnified. You have to surrender to trusting others, and in a way, that’s liberating.

You’re trusting everyone else to do their job correctly — the way it’s expected to be done — the way they’re being paid to do it.

When you shoot on film, a monitor won’t show you what the finished image will look like — it’s just a framing reference. You don’t get a committee crowding a monitor, armchair directing from the back-seat. You and your crew are in command; an elite team, each with specialist knowledge and experience, covering each others backs and making sure the best work gets done.

Your authority as a Director is also elevated. The actors can’t check their performance on playback… they have to trust you. You said it was good, so it was good! Let’s move on. But that also means you have to pay more attention to know it was good in the first place… You can’t fall back on that pesky playback either – so stay focussed – that’s your job!

There’s also an added trust in the film stock itself. You’ve done your bit right, now it’s down to the stock to do what it does best.

7. You Learn — Film is Flattering

Film is a thing of beauty.

The film image is one of the greatest achievements of mankind. The ability to expose a sheet of plastic coated with a sensitive emulsion to a light source and then, Voila! an image… a perfect replica frozen in time.

It’s easy to look at film as old fashioned technology when compared to the wizardry of a digital sensor, but the science behind film is truly amazing.

And the image film creates is like nothing else. It’s subtle, it’s flattering for actors. It’s softer than digital’s clean clinical renditions. Film is like an oil painting; if you look closely enough you can see the artist’s brush strokes and signature. And then suddenly…

8. You Learn — Film Has That Filmic Look

Nic Cage

Sorry Nic, had to be said.

We’ve all spent years dreaming of a time when digital will finally have that ‘filmic’ look.

The frame rate, the latitude, the grain, the colour… digital now has it all — or at least it’s pretty damn close. But you know, film has had that filmic look all along.

If you want that film look then there is no substitute, just shoot film. Why bother with a grain package or emulsion LUTs when you can work with the real thing?

9. You Learn — Film Separates You From The Crowd

In this internet-age, shooting on film will immediately separate you from the thousands, if not millions, of other filmmakers out there shooting digital.

As a filmmaker, you’re always looking for ways to get your film seen and distinguish it from the crowd. Shooting on film is a 100% guaranteed way of jumping to the head of the queue. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee your story is good, but if you’ve got the mindset and ability to shoot film, then you’re probably the type of filmmaker that doesn’t cut corners in the script department either.

You’ll join the proud ranks of filmmakers who’ve worked on film. You’ll be respected by other film users, and admired by those that’ve never touched the stuff. And with film likely to become very rare in the comings decades, you could be one of the last generations to work with this magical medium.

10. You Learn — Film Is Fun

Personally I love film; it’s magical, it’s chemistry – but that’s just my preference.

If I had an endless pot of money I’d shoot it all day, every day, but not because it’s going to make my project look better, but because it’s going to be more fun!

Because for all the above reasons and so many more — film itself demands more from you, the filmmaker. It pushes you to be your best and do your best work. And that’s why film is still worth shooting.


After all that, it may sound as if I’m biased to film, but I’m really not. I owe 90% of my training and experience to digital.

It’s very easy to harp on about film, film, film if you’ve got the money, but when you’re under a tight budget, digital will come to your rescue. Digital is an incredibly liberating tool and thankfully has been embraced, and because of that, a new generation of filmmaking talent has a chance like never before to create and pursue their passion.

At the end of the day, whether you’re fanatical about film or devoted to digital, I think we’ll all agree that Filmmaking is Storytelling – and Storytelling is much more than the image alone.

What are your thoughts on film training? Am I talking sense or totally off my rocker? Let me know, I’d genuinely like to open this up for discussion and hear what you all think.

Zand & Ell

Zand & Ell

Thanks for stopping by.


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