“It’s the pioneers who get the arrows in their backs.” This is an expression that often comes to mind as I delve into the relatively new field of shooting feature films on digital video. Back in 1977, I formed Jim Mathers Video/Films with the intention of bringing film-quality lighting, sound, and production techniques to video. Even back then, everyone wanted to make video look like film, so I was very busy with a growing list of clients. I become increasingly frustrated, however, as I realized that producers were only interested in shooting video when they wanted it quick and/or cheap.

Following my passion for cinematography, I eventually made a conscious decision to get out of video and concentrate solely on shooting films. Recently I was approached by producer Geoff Garrett to shoot the feature Extreme Close-Up digitally. It was then that I had to ask myself: Is the time finally at hand to achieve real quality using digital origination? Or will I simply be collecting more arrows?

All things being equal, I think any cinematographer —myself included—would still prefer to shoot on 35mm film. There’s a comfort factor in using a system we’ve grown up with, one that has been in place for over 100 years. From a cinematographer’s point of view, there needs to be a pretty good reason to originate on digital. Our job is to visually tell stories, and so we want to select a capture medium that’s best for that, not just because it’s the fastest or cheapest. But all things considered, there were reasons enough to shoot this particular movie digitally.

C. Thomas Howell as seen from two angles via the background image onscreen. This and the next two stills in this article are taken from the 480P tape.

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Reprinted by permission from Digital Cinema Magazine