The process of making a movie has gotten easier as well as more complicated as digital shooting has established itself with a new generation of filmmakers. Will the new technology leave old-fashioned film production behind to become just part of a history lesson for a cinema student? That’s explored on the documentary Side By Side: The Science, Art, and Impact of Digital Cinema, airing on our local PBS SoCal, Friday, Aug. 30, part of the PBS Arts slate of programs.
Even if you aren’t a filmmaker the special is fascinating to watch, hosted and co-produced by actor Keanu Reeves, who investigates the history and process of both digital and photochemical film creation. Keanu gives an insider’s perspective on the industry, and it is interesting to learn what artists have accomplished with emulsion film and digital pixels. It certainly gives the viewer a greater appreciation for what you’ll see the next time you go to the movies or watch a TV show.
Reeves, himself a producer and director, offers an in-depth examination of how digital filmmaking is challenging traditional celluloid. He says, “I went into the documentary asking ‘Is it the end of film?’ a year ago. And now, film stocks are getting harder to get, and who’s going to develop it? There still seems to be an artistic pushback that I think will help it survive in a niche way. There are people who speak about the unique aspects and qualities of a photochemical experience, and they’re kind of the protector of that flame. Then there’s artists who have that feeling but through the particular story will utilize a different tool.”
Reeves laughs when he notes that his Matrix series of movies were all done on film but then digitized. He looks at other groundbreaking films in the special and how the needs and innovations have helped push filmmaking in new directions. “I would say that we’re seeing a lot of so much content, and now, digitally, not only through the camera but through the format of exhibition and distribution. We’re seeing a lot of short form storytelling and serialized storytelling. I would say the technology has influenced that in the sense of availability, cost, and means of production. I’ve got a phone and a camera and I can tell a story. I have the Internet, and I can share my story. I think, digitally, that had a profound effect in terms of exhibition and distribution connected with the tools,” he explains.
Reeves took Side By Side, directed by Chris Kenneally, to a lot of film festivals last year and he says what struck him was, “the love of movies and storytelling, and the interest in how the stories are told. The other thing that came across to me really strongly was the debate. I always called it an intersection. Is it an evolution or revolution, this moment in time between this new technology coming up and this gold standard technology? I think it comes across in the documentary, the personal passion for this idea for what’s happening now and how we’re telling our stories.”
Advancing the dialog and digital debate, Reeves had unprecedented access to great cinematographers and influential filmmakers such as James Cameron, David Fincher, George Lucas, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Robert Rodriguez, Lana and Andy Wachowski, Steven Soderbergh, and many more.
Reeves relished his job as the Side By Side host and insisted on being next to the camera and doing the interviews. “I wanted to be engaged in the conversations, so I tended to have the research that we had done and then to speak as a peer interested in this moment in time, to have a conversation about your interest and your passion about what we were speaking about. I was trying to be both objective and subjective.”
To hear everyone talking passionately about the craft is worth tuning in Side By Side. Reeves says, “You’re getting the life story of their art. That turns into their perspective on their craft, which was inspiring.”