Do audiences care whether a movie is biochemical (imprinted on film, as it has been for a hundred years) or digital (no film involved–images converted into numbers and then turned back into images when projected)? Probably not, although it appears that one day digital will have higher image resolution.
In Side by Side, a new doc co-produced and on-camera narrated by Keanu Reeves, the past and future of movie projects are discussed and dissed by name moviemakers such as James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, David Fincher, Danny Boyle (whose Slumdog Millionaire was the first digital film to win a Best Picture Oscar), Christopher Nolan and Steven Soderbergh, plus a bevy of industry mavens.
Reeves calls this a “quiet revolution,” and attempts in his film, directed by Chris Kenneally, to trace the illustrated history of “film,” including that which is gathering momentum in the last decade–digital.
Side by Side is as technical as it needs to be, but not so technical as to be daunting to average movie-goers. It’s obvious that certain aspects of shooting are, in digital, “easier” than in celluloid–that is, quicker, a point not liked by all movie-makers.
Both production and projection are lighter-weight in digital. James Cameron says that by 2025 there will be l5,000 digital-equipped theaters in the U.S. (2,000 are in service now, including Honolulu). The highest-resolution movie currently in release is Samsara, due to return to town in mid-December (and, by way of disclosure, in the production of which I had a hand).
The one director who insists he will always stick to bio-chemical is Steven Spielberg, who does not appear in Side by Side. But most other directors, for reasons of production and post-production, are swaying toward the digital format. Among the most zealous advocates for digital are the Wachowski brother-and-sister writing-directing duo, whose Cloud Atlas opened in Honolulu last week. Reeves refuses to take sides, but his face lights up when he discusses digital.
It’s too bad that this 99-minute film does not discuss other, equally important aspects of its subject, including the effect on film schools (in terms of costs and kinds of equipment) and consumer-use, but it’s a start. Keanu Reeves, one of the wealthiest of all Hollywood stars, and his cohorts should start on a sequel as soon as possible. As it stands now, Side by Side is, as new-fangled media maven David Byrne writes, “as high and fun … and crazy enlightening as it (now) gets.”