The Resurgence of Film Rachel King - by Rachel King,

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The Resurgence of Film in the Digital World

In recent years we’ve seen a huge resurgence in the number of commercial advertising and music video projects being shot on 16mm and 35mm motion picture film. Creative Producer Ben Kaufman explains why we’re now favouring analogue in the digital world.

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Copyright: John Lewis & Partners / Adam & Eve/DDB / Academy Films / Chayse Irvin


CineLab London, one of the UK’s largest film laboratories has seen an exponential increase in film stock being processed through their lab. In 2015 they processed 15 commercials shot on film, in 2016 that number increased to 26 and in 2017 that number was up to 157. Here are some possible reasons why.

The Lifeline. To understand the resurgence we’ve got to understand the decline; 2014 saw directors including Christopher Nolan, JJ Abrams and Quentin Tarantino lobby major Hollywood studios to strike a deal with Kodak to guarantee a certain amount of film stock would be purchased over the following 3 years, despite the majority of Hollywood directors and cinemas moving to a digital format preference for shooting and distribution. This deal enabled Kodak to continue their production of film stock. Many believe this saved the company, as shocking statistics prior to the deal being brokered suggest; in 2006 Kodak sold 12.4 billion linear feet of motion picture film, in 2014 this dropped a staggering 96% to 449 million feet.

This agreement has started the steady increase in Hollywood films and as a result commercial projects return to the medium.

The Aesthetic. With excellent digital cameras available from Arri and RED and more recently Sony and Panasonic, it’s been a fierce debate for the last few years as to why you’d still want to shoot on 35mm or 16mm film. Of course there is no simple answer however many filmmakers argue the quality of film cannot be surpassed. Christopher Nolan bluntly and succinctly summed it up in 2014;

“Film has tremendous balls. That’s just all there is to it. It’s like you say film is oak, digital is plywood; you don’t want to confuse the materials. They’re both useful for different things, but you have to know what it is you’re crafting with.”

The Practicalities. In the end, it really should come down to what best suits the project and the story needing to be told, Nike’s “Nothing Beats a Londoner” is a brilliant example of this. The decision to shoot on 16mm film was primarily made to showcase “the grainy view of the city” which it does perfectly.

John Lewis’ 2018 Christmas commercial, featuring Elton John was beautifully shot both digitally and on 35mm film by DOP Chayse Irvin. 35mm was used used to evoke feelings of nostalgia and help recreate the look of Elton John growing up and his epic rise to stardom in the 60’s and 70’s and the Arri Alexa was used for the modern and present day scenes, giving a crisper and cleaner look.

However, with the constantly compressing timelines and tight turnarounds of projects, often it just isn’t feasible to shoot on film. More and more often offline editors are on set, creating assembly cuts as the project is being shot. Then there’s the cost to consider too.

The Romance. The romance of shooting on film has to be a consideration. A synergy develops where the practical becomes tangible. This romance and nostalgia tends to bleed through the lens and embeds itself into everything. Ultimately story and content should be always be king, but if your tool of capture aids this, then it can only enhance what you are looking to achieve.

Here’s to many more years of celluloid existing and thriving. It shouldn’t be about “film vs digital”. It should be about giving filmmakers a choice to use the best suited tools for the job.


Ben Kaufman, Creative Producer Contra Film.


Rachel King - by Rachel King,
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