Ten years ago, Richard Crudo, the current president of the ASC (American Society of Cinematographers), went through a deep depression, and he’s certain most cinematographers went through the same. The reason? Film was coming to an end, and trying to stop celluloid’s demise would be like trying to hold back a tidal wave.
Before becoming the president of the ASC, Crudo worked as a cinematographer for many years (American Pie). “I was born, raised and worked in the film era, and I still think it represents the gold standard of visual imaging,” Crudo says. “However, one must be realistic. Film is essentially dead. And to try and keep it going on some rarefied level is certainly admirable, but it really has no application to the rest of us. Clearly we live in a digital world and it’s going to be a digital future. You shoot film, where do you get it processed these days? So many labs have closed. And a laboratory can’t be a boutique operation and be expected to operate with any level of efficiency or perfection.”
For a long time now, the writing’s been on the wall for cameramen and film fans alike. Once esteemed cinematographers like Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption), and Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters, The Deer Hunter), as well as directors like Martin Scorsese (GoodFellas), made the switch to digital, you knew it was all over. Then again, you also knew that as long as directors like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, and JJ Abrams kept working, film would still be around, at least for a little while.
In fact, this summer Nolan and Abrams helped keep Kodak in business. The CEO of Kodak, Jeff Clarke, said in a statement, “After extensive discussions with filmmakers, leading studios and others who recognize the unique artistic and archival qualities of film, we intend to continue production. Kodak thanks these industry leaders for their support and ingenuity in finding a way to extend the life of film.”
Still, cinematographers today are long past the denial and anger phases of celluloid’s death, and they’re now in the acceptance phase. “The digital image that we see today is as bad as we’ll ever see, and it’s only getting better all the time,” Crudo says. “There’s a couple of developments around the corner that I think are going to cause it to exceed film. This coming from a person who would never dreamed he would be talking like this ten years ago. If I heard myself talking this way back then, I’d have chopped my own head off!"
“The scale has tipped 180 degrees from what it used to be,” Crudo continues. “Early on, you’d be very suspect about shooting digitally, and you wanted to shoot film because it was the established standard. Today I’d be very dodgy about shooting film vs shooting digital.” But it's not just about the manufacture and use of film stock that needs to be maintained. There's another side to the equation.