35mm Shoots vs. Digital

A recent project I completed reminded me of some of the key differences between a film shoot and a digital one, and I thought I'd share my opinion on the primary differences, at least as far as how it will affect a location sound mixer and the crew in general.

The shoot was a very fun project shot entirely on 35mm film using a Panavision Panaflex GII, and the results were fantastic. Our crew transformed a diner in downtown Greensboro, NC into the ‘Waking Waffle’, and each night around 7pm we set up and shot until 6am the following morning.

Most projects you'll work on in this day and age are going to be digital. Today, even top tier union work is shot almost entirely on digital cameras (Arri Alexa, RED cameras, etc.). Unlike film, one of the things about digital projects that I don't appreciate is that there is a tendency to plan less and shoot more, particularly with young directors. I mean no offense to any person's artistic vision, but proper planning prior to a shot has it's place to be sure.

With film, it's the exact opposite, and everyone from the PA to the director has to be on their game to finish the project within budget and on time. After all, every minute of 35mm film costs roughly $100.00! (Estimate based on 400' rolls of Kodak Vision 3 250D #5207 35mm Color Negative Silent Movie Film shot at 24FPS).

What does all this mean? It means that in general, the workflow with film projects is much higher pressure than digital projects. It means you have to be on top of your game when shooting film, and you can't ever be unprepared. Have thirty minutes between setups? Is the camera team working out dolly movements? Any breaks like those are your cues to be on the lookout for how you can manage the next shot when the crew is ready. This might sound self explanatory to the seasoned mixer, but it's a point worth noting to those who are new at the game.

With film, it's often just one or two takes, so as the sound mixer, boom operator and sound utility on set, your team had better be ready to 'Roll Sound!'.