A story published in the Los Angeles Times on July 11,
2002, noted the following: "Frugality ... is pushing studios
and filmmakers to consider digital tools. Advocates insist that
the technology cuts costs, partly by eliminating key parts of the
moviemaking process. For example, there's the time-honored and
time-consuming ritual of handling [film] dailies. When a day of
shooting wraps, the crew sends the footage to a processing lab.
After the film negatives have been developed, the reel is returned
to the set. The director and often the crew gather inside a screening
room. Then, they cross their fingers. What they want to see up
on the screen - and what the camera actually captured - aren't
always the same. Perhaps the spotlights burned too brightly and
washed out the image. Maybe the director didn't spot the catering
truck parked in the background. If someone loaded the film in the
camera incorrectly, the reel might be blank."
In truth, film dailies serve multiple purposes, mainly involving
aesthetic decisions that affect how a story will resonate with
audiences. Nuances in contrast, subtleties in colors and critical
focus all speak to the audience, frequently on a subliminal level,
in the same way that an actor's variations in voice or body language
can accentuate emotion.
At the recent Hollywood Film Festival, ASC president Richard Crudo
moderated a panel that included fellow Society members John Toll,
Allen Daviau and Jack Green. The topic was ambitious: the future
of the art and craft of cinematography. But one of the main topics
the group addressed was the pressure they were under to view dailies
in HD and other digital formats rather than on film.
Their reactions were unanimous and unambiguous. Green noted that
he and director Tim McCanlies were equally adamant about projecting
dailies on film while they were shooting Secondhand Lions (see AC Nov.
'03) for New Line Cinema at practical locations around Austin,
Texas. Most days they had open dailies that were attended, at least
in the beginning, by the production designer, hair and makeup personnel,
producers, the editor, camera operators and assistants. Eventually,
the crowd thinned out to include Green, McCanlies, the editor,
members of the camera crew and an occasional producer. "One
of the most important advantages of film dailies is focus," Green
says. "Every film I have seen with focus problems can be traced
to viewing dailies and editing without seeing film projected. Contrast
is also a nightmare for cinematographers with DVD dailies, because
in the beginning of production you need information that only film
dailies can provide. You need film dailies as a reference for making
Toll noted that "the reason we watch dailies is to evaluate,
on a day-to-day basis, the status of our work. Seeing it in a form
that most closely resembles the finished product is absolutely
essential. From a creative point of view, nothing else makes sense
to me. Watching dailies originated on film, but transferred to
video, HD or otherwise, misrepresents the quality and characteristics
of the images."
Toll's comments run against the tide of reporting on this issue
in the trade press. For example, the cover of the June 2002 issue
of Film & Video highlighted an article headlined, "Cost-Effective
Digital Dailies Offer New Options." The six-page article spotlighted
a JVC system for displaying "high-quality" HD dailies.
It quoted Bruce Markoe, MGM senior vice president of feature postproduction,
who said that the idea was to save money for the studio by eliminating
film-printing costs and editing time. Markoe estimated savings
of $125,000 per picture. The journalists who wrote this story identified
their sources, which were primarily hardware and software vendors
and executives of post houses that offer HD-dailies services. The
story didn't include comments by a single cinematographer or director.
To be fair, Markoe and the same cast of advocates have been saying
virtually the same things in articles published by many other magazines,
including this one. They have also been speakers at film festivals
and industry conferences, including at least two seminars targeting
members of the Directors Guild of America. During most of these
dialogues, the opinions of cinematographers have either been missing
or marginalized. This article is an attempt to tell the other side
of the story.
"I believe that as long as we use film to shoot movies that
will be finished and projected on film in theaters, we should be
watching film dailies to see our work in progress," maintains
Toll. "All of the creative visual departments, not just cinematographers,
rely on accurately reproduced dailies as a check on their work.
Without them, the quality of that work suffers. Arguing that film
dailies should be eliminated on the basis of cost is like arguing
that the quality of images has become an expendable budget item.
I can think of several items in the budgets of the last couple
of pictures I have been on that I would consider eliminating before
doing away with watchable dailies."