Legendary Cinematographer Roger Deakins Says Film Is Dead

roger deakins skyfallBy Danny F. Santos (doddleNEWS)

When I say film is dead, you can argue that I’m wrong. When a studio head says film is dead, you can say they may understand the business, but not the tools. However, when one of the best cinematographers in the world says film is dead, then perhaps it’s time to pack it in, and move on to digital.

That’s exactly what Roger Deakins told Variety when they asked if the Coen Brothers would ever shoot on film:

“Oh, I think they will. As I say, just the technical problems with film, I’m sorry, it’s over.”

That isn’t some personal speculation either. Deakins revealed that the Coen’s upcoming film Hail, Ceasar! was almost shot digitally.

“Apparently, Ethan at some point was talking about shooting the next film digitally. And then it turned around. They’re really debating it. I was in Albuquerque shooting “Sicario” and they were talking about it and they said, “I don’t know how you feel about it, but I think we want to go on film.” And I said, you know, “I don’t mind. I’ll shoot it on a cell phone if you like. I don’t mind. I really don’t.'”

The heart of the problem isn’t that film is a poor medium, and, in fact, there can be a huge case made for or against it. Rather the issue is one of infrastructure and available film stock.

Where in the past, there was an abundant selection of stock and processing option, the reality of modern filmmaking is that those alternatives no longer exist, and the infrastructure to process it has almost completely disappeared. Deakins elaborated:

“Film stocks today are nothing like the film stocks they shot with back then. Do you know what I mean? So you can’t make a choice. You can’t even process differently these days. You don’t have that option. You’re pretty restricted with what you can do with film these days. So I mean there’s now many stocks now? Four or five? Your choices are very limited. But as I say, that was fine. I wasn’t going to do much in terms of the way it was processed, so I probably wouldn’t have gone that way even if I had the choice.

“We did have some problems. We had some stock issues and stuff like that, which was really disconcerting. And I’ve heard that’s happened to a lot of people lately, you know, stock and lab problems. That’s unnerving. I mean I never really remember having those kind of problems before. But it makes me nervous now. I don’t want to do that again, frankly. I don’t think the infrastructure’s there.”

Kodak continues to have support from filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Chris Nolan, while also introducing new initiatives, such as a brand new Super 8 camera to attract a new generation of filmmakers. At this point, I don’t think that film will ever be completely abandoned, but increasingly pushed to the fringes where it will be more of a novelty rather than a mainstream option.

About Danny Santos

Freelance writer, filmmaker, actor, musician, and visual artist. Writing online professionally for 4-plus years and has produced and performed in over a dozen films and webseries. He has also been everything from a social media consultant to managing a JUNO award winning musician.


  1. Skeleton Man says:

    The new economy is exactly right. It doesn’t matter which one looks better if one of them isn’t supported anymore. It dies and that’s that. People want everything faster and cheaper. If it means you have to do more jobs by yourself, for less pay, that is perfectly fine for the clients.

    Aside from the big blockbusters, they want films made under $2 million now. They want animation for a third of what it used to cost, and in all cases, they think you can click a few buttons and make it happen, so naturally it should be much cheaper.

  2. Andy Umbo says:

    Same old story…I’m a still photographer and it’s the same with professional transparency film, and “ditto” for lab problems and the ability to get film stock. I don’t remember ever having a lab problem from 1975 to 1999, and then digital came in and the cheapsters started using it, and those labs hired less accomplished people, for less money, to make up for the lack of volume (and then the processing problems started happening), and then Kodak pulled the film I was using, etc., etc. I’ve been pushed into using digital, and I don’t like the workflow, because the professional services and film stocks are dying. Their survival was based on everyone from amateurs to pros using it. Eventually there will be one lab in the country doing high end E6 processing.

    There are certainly a lot of people who have spent years dancing around the grave of chemical imaging. These are all the people that went down the digital road from day one, when digital truly looked like crap, and they’ve lived in fear of someone waking up some morning and saying: “…I guess a lot of people are right, film really does look better!” These types were making outlandish quality assumptions about digital far before it was even close, any lie to kill chemical film and promote what they placed their bets on.

    The problem with the digital workflow, is it’s made us all poor sharecroppers. As a still photographer, I now have to work on the file and do what the lab did, and the pre-press house did, for no additional money over the photography fee. My cinematographer/videographer friends tell me that now jobs where they were just the CO on, come through for low-end bids where they have to edit and color/contrast match as well; even tho they have no training in that, and in reality, no one does all those functions well.

    Welcome to the new economy.