Film vs. Video—Let the Games Begin

Ywd
Yesterday I was reading the summer 2007 issue of Your Wedding Day magazine and I came across a comment that truly shocked me. What’s worse, it was made by a fellow visual artist. Paul Korver is the founder of Fifty Foot Films. He is one of the most celebrated and perhaps the highest paid wedding cinematographer in the country. He shoots exclusively on super 8 and 16mm film, and has even begun offering weddings on 35mm. His work has been featured on television and he has a long list of celebrity clients. He recently started a subsidiary called Paper Tape Films that is designed to bring super 8 wedding cinematography to the masses.

In the YWD Spotlight article, Mr. Korver talks about all the subcontractors nationwide he’s hired to shoot for Paper Tape Films as being film school graduates. He comments:

“This is key because
shooting a film camera is far different than a video camera. It
requires knowledge of over 50 different film stocks, f-stops, film
speeds, shutter angles, gel filtration, and much, much more. You can’t
just push ‘play,’ point the camera, and get a good shot like you can
with video. There’s an entirely different skillset involved because
it’s a manual art form.”

I couldn’t believe I read what I just read. Here was a respected visual artist serving the wedding industry, a fellow filmmaker, basically saying that you don’t need any talent to shoot a video camera, but it takes a real artist to use a film camera. At least, that’s the implication I get. Yes, I agree shooting film is different than shooting video. But to suggest that all you have to do to get a good shot in video is push “play” (actually, it’s “record”, but I digress) is insulting to an industry of visual artists who work very hard at what they do to preserve the most precious memories in a couple’s life. There are an equal number of visual parameters a video shooter must master and monitor, many of which are the same as film (e.g. aperture, shutter speed, tape stock, 720p, 1080i, 60i, color space, etc.) And on top of all that, the video shooter also has to monitor audio!—UHF vs. VHF, true diversity wireless connectivity, audio channels, squelch levels, XLR, shielded vs. non-shielded cables, direct boxes, channel interference…you get the idea.

I wrote Mr. Korver personally to share with him how I felt and that I was going to write this article. I assured him that my blog article would not malign his name. He’s probably a nice guy and he’s obviously a smart business man. And I can appreciate a business setting themselves apart from the rest. But, to malign a whole industry the way he did, I feel is not only insulting and denigrating to those artists, but is a disservice to the industry and the brides in search for someone to capture those memories.

A Case of the Emperor’s New Clothes

Emperor_2 Since the start of Fifty Foot Films in 2001, super 8mm wedding cinematography has skyrocketed in popularity. Heck, even my company, Cinematic Studios, offers super 8mm and 16mm film productions. I love the look of film and no one can deny, that when in the hands of an experienced artist, the results are incredible. And used sparingly throughout a well crafted wedding video, it adds a very nice, artistic touch. However, in my humble opinion, most of the wedding clips I’ve seen shot on super 8mm pale in comparison to the most artfully crafted weddings shot on video. In fact, many of them look like my grand daddy’s home movies shot on his super 8. Not all, but many of the clips I’ve seen are underexposed, shaky, out of focus, and if the same footage was shot with video, it would be hailed as garbage. Yet, somehow, because it’s on filmstock, it’s art.

I’ve read time and time again in articles and on blogs how wedding videos are long and boring. So, to make up for that, some companies are offering Super 8. Hello! It’s not the medium that makes a wedding video long and boring. It’s how it’s edited. You can have a long and boring and cheesy wedding movie shot in film just as much as one shot on video.

It’s sort of like the Hans Christian Anderson story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The emperor was bamboozled into thinking he was wearing the most luxurious garments known to man. When in fact, the man was butt naked. Likewise, brides are being sold the line that true cinematography can only be done on real film. When, the truth is, the most “cinematic,” impressive, artistic, and creative wedding productions are all shot on video! Those of you out there who have done your homework know exactly what I’m talking about. But, many are given “Emperor’s Clothes” as a wedding movie and told it’s cinematic art. Again, lest I be accused of doing to film shooters what I’m accusing Paul of doing to video shooters, not ALL weddings shot on film are that bad (but a heck of a lot are. IMHO 🙂

It’s the Talent, not the Tools
Super8cam2
Mr. Korver mentions on his website that video is the medium used by soap operas, and that film is used by the people who make “real” movies. I feel that is gross misinformation at best, a lie at worst. It’s another way to prolong the stereotype that video is “cheesy.” The truth is, more and more Hollywood movies are being shot on VIDEO. Granted, it’s HD video, but it’s still video. In fact, many of today’s most talented filmmakers are even shooting movies on standard definition video—yep, the same mini DV tapes you buy at Wal-Mart for $5.99 a pack. Even such respected filmmakers a Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriquez, and Spike Lee have all shot feature films on video (in some cases standard video).

My friends, what it comes down to is the talent, not the tools. What sets true artistry from “Uncle Charlie” garbage, is NOT the medium that is used, but the person handling the medium. I don’t care if you shoot on super 8, 16mm, standard definition, HD, or even 35mm, what makes a wedding movie truly “cinematic” is not the medium. It’s how it’s composed, lit, edited, etc. Put a super 8mm or 35mm film camera in the hands of an inexperienced person, you’re going to get a crappy wedding movie. However, give a really talented and experienced artist even the cheapest consumer camcorder, and you WILL see true cinema!

YOU Be the Judge
So, let’s let YOU be the judge. Film vs. Video? Who represents the truest version of “cinema?” (i.e. you feel like you’re watching a movie.) I’ve compiled a list of just seven videographers whose work has inspired or astounded me. They are some of the best video artists in wedding cinematography today. (I think we’re pretty good too, but for this list, I’m only mentioning my fellow colleagues). This is a very small list to be sure. There are many, many more that I just don’t have time nor space to mention. Some are multiple award-winners, some are less known. But all, you will see, are exceptional at their craft. I challenge you to view their work then compare it to the work of some super 8mm wedding cinematographers (the second list). For the record, I’m not making any judgments on the super 8mm cinematographers I list. Even though the medium is growing in popularity, there are still only a relatively small number of companies offering it exclusively, so there are only so many companies to name. I just listed the ones I already knew about or could find on Google. I have not seen all of their work, nor are these necessarily the ones I alluded to earlier in this article. I’m just listing them to make it easy for you to compare.

In this corner, the Video Shooters

In the other corner, the Super 8mm shooters

Whichever you like best, tell us why. Hopefully, if we’re lucky, we’re get a rebuttal to my post from Mr. Korver himself. Let’s see.

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10 thoughts on “Film vs. Video—Let the Games Begin

  1. I have to say I agree with Korver in general. With very, very few exceptions, wedding video tends to be pretty cheesy, and Korver’s work is more artful and tasteful, classic.

  2. Hi Jeannie,

    Thanks for the comment. I agree that there is a LOT of bad wedding videos out there. But my point is that it’s not the medium that makes a wedding video cheesy. It’s how the artist uses the medium. How it’s shot and edited. You could shoot a wedding in beautiful 16mm film, and still make it cheesy. Filming an event in “film” doesn’t automatically make it “art” whereas shooting on video makes it “cheese.”

    You say with very, very few exceptions wedding videos tend to be cheesy, but I obviously disagree. There are a vast multitude of great artists that shoot in video. Just curious, would you characterize the work of the colleagues I listed above as “cheesy?” I look at the breathtaking cinematography of Angel de Armas or Joshua Smith of Cinematic Bride (both listed above) and “cheese” is the last word that comes to mind. The list goes on and on and on of artistic, truly “cinematic” work that is shot on video. The colleagues I mentioned above don’t even scratch the surface.

  3. I was amazed to read this. I truly don’t even think there is any comparison between the two. While I see the artistic value in integrating film into a wedding video for effect, it just doesn’t compare to the capabilities of video. I could never turn over a video that shaky to a client and have it considered “art” using video. And yet, when it’s on film, it is? In my opinion, shooting on video warrants working HARDER because people expect it to look flawless. (well lit, not shaky, sharp and in focus etc) Why would you want your entire wedding video to be shaky, grainy, at times out of focus (especially during vows and rings, which are the point of your wedding day, hello!) , when you have the capability with video to have crisp, clear, smooth, vibrantly colored footage (which you can turn into a vintage looking style post filming with effects.)? It is my opinion that a wedding video is meant to help the bride and groom remember their wedding day in the best way possible. Anyways, just wanted you to know that I completely agree with you. I respect film and the value it can add to a video, but think that video has the best capabilities all around to capture a day beautifully and in a way that makes it look like a true “movie” (steady, great sound, beautiful color, and sharp details) and not just a really old home video.

  4. By the way, CVP was my personal wedding videographer and my video was a true work of art that I did not find boring or cheesy in the least.

  5. Hi Brittany,

    Thanks for the comment. I love your appreciation and understanding of all the work we do. And Brett Culp and his team at CVP do incredible work. They are heroes of mine and very inspiriational. I bet your wedding video is awesome.

  6. I really like film but I LOVE video! They offer different things. Personally I prefer to have a wedding shot mostly with video, however, a little film mixed in is always fun and can add a really unique touch. Regardless of the format you use it is more about the artist behind the camera and the editor. You can have the best equipment in the world, but if the camera operator or editor aren’t good at what they do the video or film won’t turn out well. I’ve always believed in that.

  7. I am a Photographer and Videographer (www.paulopics.com)
    I was surprised to read about what Paul Korver wrote.
    I believe that in today’s world, and a very soon future, all the old technology is being replaced for faster and better options.
    I do believe that because of that a lot of old professionals had or will have to make some degree of adaptation.
    I am not saying just Photographers or Videographers, almost everything related to technology have being replaced or is going to be replaced very soon.
    I don’t care if Paul Korver is an artist and one of the highest paid wedding cinematographer in the country, the truth is that a lot of old professionals don’t feel comfortable around changes, and I don’t think that is any different with Paul.
    I know a lot of photographers that still work with film, and they swear that Film is a lot better than Digital. Is that because film is better, or because they are afraid of changes?
    Not just changes but all the costs and re-learning process. When I start shooting Digital Photography, I had to learn all about editing (PHOTOSHOP) also. Not just that, but now I have to buy a new camera and computer every other year.

  8. As a proponent of film, video & stills I agree largely with what most people are saying here, however, I also agree with Paul that Video is much easier to shoot than film due to it’s WYSIWYG nature. You really need to know what you’re doing when you shoot film otherwise all you’ll get back is out of focus and badly exposed footage!(I speak from personal experience.) At least with digital technology especially dSLR, the camera does most of the work for you in terms of focus, exposure & colour balance, all you have to do is frame properly and depress the shutter at the right time (generally speaking) 😉

  9. I would've never guessed anyone felt film was better than video. I find interesting that someone like Paul being one of the leading paid talents in our industry would bash on video when he obviously doesn't use it. At least perhaps the real problem is he might not be as good at video as he is with film.

  10. I work for http://portobellofilms.co.uk While I really do admire anyone that would consider shooting film for a live event especially something so one time only as a wedding. Surely shooting on a Z7 or EX1 is going to be less staged and more natural. You can run constant record and capture all those fleeting moments. Don't get me wrong I love film, we even have F5 stills camera. But its going to be more about the couple and less about the film maker shooting digital

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