Is Film Better Than Digital or Just Nostalgic?

Christopher Nolan, director of the new successful string of Batman films, has recently gone on record in a Directors Guild of America interview defending film while denouncing digital moviemaking.

Nolan isn’t the only one. It’s an old argument. But in the interview, his strongest supporting statement was that film is “far better looking.” That is about as subjective as it gets.

Who says film is “far better looking”? For the most part, there’s been very little discrepancy between digital and film. In the last few years, most movies were shot on digital without anyone noticing a difference at all. Not only that, but many times digital has a much clearer and less grainy image as a whole.

It’s the same dumb argument people use when defending vinyl as opposed to digital music: “It has a warmer sound.” Bullshit — and even if it is true, digital can replicate that if you really want.

And while it is true that in the past digital has had trouble replicating film’s look, that is no longer the case (such as in the recent film, “The Avengers”). Digital is also trying to go above and beyond, pushing the limits of what movies can do with the moving image, as with the upcoming “The Hobbit,” which is being shot on 48 FPS (instead of the standard 24 FPS, giving it a more realistic feel).

Don’t get me wrong: nobody loves Christopher Nolan — or Batman — as much as I do. But, in my opinion, this seems like the same type of rhetoric that could have kept films black-and-white and silent. I’m not saying that there is necessarily anything wrong with black-and-white or silent films, as this year’s hit, “The Artist,” can testify, but not allowing the technology to grow seems regressive at best, and downright dictatorial at worst.

Of course, in the same interview, Nolan says that he does not want to ban digital by any means. Rather, he would like to see increased resources to keep film as a viable shooting option. However, the fact that he keeps referring to digital video as an inferior means of producing films does not take away the elitist and nostalgic tinge of his arguments.

In the same breath, Nolan also says that it is cheaper to shoot on film than on digital, which does not make sense at all. I don’t want to go into technical details — one, because it’s boring and I have a word limit, and two, because I’m not an expert on the details of big-budget moviemaking.

However, as a student filmmaker, I can say Nolan’s economic argument is also bullshit. Making a short film on 16mm film is close to $1,000 to $2,000 just to develop. That does not even factor in the cost of the rest of production. For a big-budget film like “The Dark Knight Rises,” that’s pocket change, but for aspiring filmmakers, that’s three or four months’ rent. And that makes a difference.

We are in a new age of digital production and distribution. With cheap cameras, like Canon DSLRs, and readily accessible editing software, people can make films more easily than ever before. This follows the democratization of art, wherein more voices can be heard and different viewpoints can be expressed.

Of course, there’s a fear of over-saturation of product — if everyone and their grandma makes a movie, film will be overloaded and impossible to sift through. Have you seen the clutter on YouTube? However, if you make something great, it will stand out.

Just because the cameras, editing software and sound effects are cheap doesn’t mean movie productions will ever be cheap. You still have to buy or make costumes, props and sets, as well as pay for food, transportation and, if you’re smart, talent. But the cheaper the cost of production, the more filmmakers can focus on the mise-en-scène and getting great actors, rather than spending all their money on buying and developing film.

Now, if you want to shoot on film and can afford it, go on ahead. There’s nothing inherently wrong with shooting on film. While I don’t agree that it looks better than digital, I also don’t agree that it looks bad. Does film have its own look? Perhaps — although in this day and age, it’s subtle at best. And to Christopher Nolan: I love your work, and keep making awesome films whichever way you deem best. I am looking forward to “The Dark Knight Rises,” just as almost everyone else is.

But, seriously … fuck film.