Typically when watching a documentary about something you have no great interest in, you expect it to be mundane and lackluster. That was not the case when watching Side by Side. Seeing it got a 92% on rotten tomatoes was no surprise. The film offers an interesting view of how cinema has changed with the development of digital film making. Actor Keanu Reeves interviews the elite of the film making industry such as James Cameron, David Lynch, George Lucas, and many more.
The film explores the pros and cons of recording on film verse digitally. Film has been around since the 1890’s and has been the most widely used method of filming. Although it is extremely expensive and time consuming, many of those interviewed said there is just something about the tangible nature of film that is so alluring. The texture is superior and the grain structure of the film creates a romantic feeling. The disadvantages include cost, the uncertainty, and the meticulous editing process. Film is absurdly expensive. After looking up costs, it can range from $100-$1,000+ per roll of film (about 11 minutes) and there is no way to see the work you have shot until processing the film. Once shooting is complete, the processing costs are also exorbitant. In Side by Side, shooting on film was described as “painting with the lights off” and that a true leap of faith must be taken. There is much more pressure on the actors and talent performing to hit their mark and say their lines perfectly, because each take costs a great deal. Although many producers, directors, etc. find film superior, they have learned to operate digitally for cost purposes alone. You must be much more decisive when editing film and can make no mistakes. Editing is a very nitpicky and time consuming process.
Digital filming has been around since the 1970-80’s and has come a very long way. The highest praise digital filming receives is not just the ease of accessibility and low cost, but also the freedom of movement that a digital camera allows. When filming digitally, a producer or director is able to see the work instantaneously instead of wondering if they captured any good shots that day. Likewise, there is less pressure and more chance to build better relationships between the actors and the directors since the takes are limitless. A director has greater opportunity to get the exact shot they envision without worry of cost. Another pro that many described throughout Side by Side was the luxury of continuing to roll the camera. There is no chance they will run out of film and they have better chances of catching moments they may have never captured on film. If there is great chemistry or what many directors describe as “magic” they are not limited to the constraints of film.
It was a very interesting documentary that allowed both sides of the aisle to give their truest opinions and reasons for working with either film or digital and the benefits of each and the interested debate that each filmmaker had regarding the topic.