The Aesthetics of the Digital Revolution

Here is a piece from the New York Times by film critic by Manhola Dargis
You can read the article here and see Manhola’s list of the top 30 movies of the year here

IN the closing credits for his independent confection “Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench,” the young director Damien Chazelle doesn’t just announce that he shot on film — he also names the black-and-white stock: Eastman Kodak Double-X Negative Film 7222. It’s a fitting coda to an enchantingly sincere romance about two people in love, or perhaps not quite, who sometimes break into song and dance. Mr. Chazelle, born in 1985, wears his nostalgic influences lightly, including John Cassavetes and the French New Wave, and has said that film was the only way to go for the story and aesthetic he was aiming for. I bet he also collects vinyl.

But what is that aesthetic exactly? It’s a question worth asking, seriously and with feeling, as moviegoers continue to be swept up in the rush from celluloid to digital, thereby bringing an end to movies as we have known them for more than 100 years. Or so you sometimes hear. Yet even as digital supplants celluloid (and almost every film now involves some kind of digital processing), it can be difficult to gauge what has been lost or gained. Some of this year’s most acclaimed and talked-over movies, for starters, including “The Social Network,” “Black Swan” and “Tiny Furniture,” were either partly or wholly shot in digital. It’s no wonder that more than a third of my 30 favorites this year — because, really, why stop at 10? — were a combination of the two. Does it matter?

“The Social Network,” “Black Swan” and “Tiny Furniture” couldn’t be more thematically dissimilar: one is an unlikely psychological thriller about the creation of Facebook; the second is a claustrophobic, darkly humorous art-house exploitation joyride about a ballerina pirouetting toward a breakdown; the last is an intimate, quasi-autobiographical movie about a recent college graduate adrift in New York City. What really unites them is that their digital cinematography is a constituent, expressive part of the whole. No longer used only as an inexpensive substitute for film, as a vehicle for special effects or as an aesthetic frontier for industry outsiders like David Lynch, digital has gone so mainstream it’s doubtful that most moviegoers, critics included, see it when it’s right in front of their eyes.

A decade ago, when independent movies shot in digital video like “Chuck and Buck” (2000) started hitting the big screen, it was easy to tell you weren’t looking at film because the often smeary, muddy visuals looked about as bad as an old VHS tape. Audiences didn’t seem to care, possibly because, after decades of watching battered home videos on standard-definition televisions, they were accustomed to degraded imagery. For many the pleasure of being able to rent a Billy Wilder movie at their leisure outweighed complaints about how lousy the videos looked. But today’s digital has a far higher image quality than the low-res digital video used to shoot movies like “Chuck and Buck,” which makes it increasingly difficult to distinguish movies shot in digital from those shot on celluloid.

The director David Fincher has been using digital to make movies beginning with “Zodiac” in 2007. He has said he likes digital for its workflow convenience, cost and ability to capture images in low light, important for a filmmaker whose visuals are often as dark as his topics. Digital also frees him up to do numerous takes because he’s not burning through expensive film, just adding data to either reusable flash cards or external hard drives (turbocharged versions of what you might have at home). And Mr. Fincher likes a lot of takes, having shot the first scene of “The Social Network,” in which the protagonist Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), learns a harsh life lesson from a soon-to-be ex, in a whopping 99 takes.

Like all of Mr. Fincher’s features “The Social Network” is beautiful, its subdued, dark palette punctuated by a dazzlingly bright rowing race that puts the differences between the main adversaries into symbolic and chromatic relief. The camera that he used, a souped-up Red (he actually shot with a couple of Reds, two borrowed from his friend Steven Soderbergh), approximates the appearance of film without ever really looking like it. Digital images still don’t look as rich and sumptuous as film, which was developed to reproduce the way our eyes see the visible spectrum. But in Mr. Fincher’s hands digital has its own striking, somewhat hyper-real quality, and a coolness that suits the stories he likes to tell.

Mr. Fincher is helping to redefine what we think a movie looks like, and he isn’t alone. Working with the cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Darren Aronofsky shot most of “Black Swan,” about a ballerina (Natalie Portman) who loses herself to her art, on film. But when it came time to get down and dirty in the New York subways (and without the requisite permits), Mr. Libatique switched to a couple of digital single-lens reflex Canon cameras: in other words still cameras, with video functionality, which are not much different from the kind you might use to load your iPhone up with shots of the new puppy. Created for the prosumer market, the cameras weigh less than three pounds and run for $1,699 and $4,999.

Lena Dunham used the less pricey Canon to shoot her second feature, “Tiny Furniture.” To put this staggeringly low sum in perspective, consider that Panavision, which makes much of the equipment used in the mainstream industry, does not even sell its cameras (it rents them), while the Red starts at $25,000 — or about what Ms. Dunham apparently spent to shoot her movie. “Tiny Furniture” also looks as if it was shot in digital, but its humble, unadorned visuals are a perfect fit for a story about a college graduate (played by Ms. Dunham) who returns to her mother’s TriBeCa loft, where she struggles to find a voice, including a way with images, of her own.

It’s exciting to witness how digital is allowing young filmmakers to shoot fast, cheap and in total creative control. At the same time it’s hard not to feel apprehensive about the digital revolution, given what’s happening to film. You may not miss the battered and scratched and badly projected film prints of the good old grindhouse days, but, much like those who prefer vinyl records over CDs, you may soon miss something else: an image with depth and warmth, however attenuated by abuse. Film stocks come and go, but it was hard not to mourn when Kodak announced last year that it would no longer make Kodachrome. John Ford shot his World War II documentary “The Battle of Midway” with that stock, and Abraham Zapruder used it to film the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Kodachrome is also beloved by the experimental filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky. Some of his recent films — exquisite abstractions of flora and human figures shuddering in often crepuscular light — have been making the alternative rounds this year, including in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, where they were quickly etched into my memory. One, “Compline,” turns out to be the last Mr. Dorsky shot on Kodachrome, which he had been using since he was 10. In his program notes he described “Compline” as “a loving duet with and a fond farewell to this noble emulsion” and, after the screening, spoke of Kodachrome and its soul. That isn’t a word you usually hear when people talk about film; certainly you don’t hear it in connection to digital.

Does digital have a soul? Maybe Mr. Dorsky has an answer to that question.

Mammy Murphy will be pleased…

Tonight Setanta start broadcasting their new series “On the Fly”. This is a six part series that I edited five episodes of and I think is pretty deadly. It’s a fly-fishing/celebrity chef mash up. Yeah thats what I said. But even more exciting then this news is the fact that right after the show(Tuesday 10pm) which was edited by me, John Murphy is ‘Off the Ball’ starring none other then little brother Ciaran Murphy. It’s an hour of Murphytastic television that cannot be missed and I mean that literally, both shows are repeated five or six times this week.

But do try and watch tonight, the camerawork by Phillip Graham in the series is quite something and all the episodes are enjoyable and feature Ireland at its best, which is not a bad thing today of all days.

Here comes the press release.

Setanta Ireland will televise a six-part series on fly-fishing each Tuesday over the next six weeks. The first of these programmes starts tomorrow at 10pm. The series is produced by Loosehorse (

Stunning landscapes and classic characters come together in a fascinating look into one of Ireland’s most popular pastimes.

Leading chefs take to the rivers and lakes to learn how to fly fish. If they succeed in making a catch, they serve it up in their own style.

Each episode features a different chef exploring the art of fly fishing, as well as a different part of Ireland.

The first programme features chef Kevin Thornton (Thorntons, Dublin) as he spends time on Lough Corrib during the mayfly season to catch a trout. His first trip in blazing sunshine makes for a pleasant boat trip but poor fishing, and his second trip brews up a storm.

Show times On The Fly – Tuesday 10pm – Wednesday 6pm – Friday 3pm
Off The Ball – Every half hour or so.

Harrison Ford. Are you there?

Heres an interesting piece from the LA Times about Harrison Ford by journalist Steven Zeitchik

He traversed distant galaxies with Chewbacca, shot sword-wielding assassins with Marion Ravenwood and outfoxed federal marshal Samuel Gerard all by himself.

But these days all those things may as well have happened to a different actor than Harrison Ford, who in the last decade has robbed banks, sought rare cures, captained Russian subs and investigated murders of hip-hop stars, all in the land of obscurity. (“Firewall,” “Extraordinary Measures,” “K-19: The Widowmaker” and “Hollywood Homicide,” if you were trying to guess what movies those were.)

This weekend’s release of “Morning Glory” painfully underscored Ford’s marginality. The actor plays a grizzled, serious journalist who’s forced, through the unique power of Hollywood cause-and-effect, to take a job as a bantering morning host. The comedy-drama about the state of the news business was marketed heavily using Ford’s name and visage, and the actor gamely went on the likes of “The Late Show With David Letterman” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to promote it.

For all the critical jibes, Ford is actually not bad in the role, stalking around with a dour face while doling out digs to his co-anchor like, “Do they have rehab programs for bitter beauty queens with self-esteem issues?” But few, apparently, wanted to see him do that. The movie failed to reach even $10 million in domestic box office this weekend. If you show some chops but no one is there to see it, did you really show them?

What’s most disappointing about “Morning Glory” is that, after a decade without a comedy, Ford’s turn in something more spry was supposed to mark a new chapter by getting him back to his crowd-pleasing ways. But the movie’s disappointing performance adds one more nail in a coffin that’s been enveloping Ford’s career, “Buried”-style, for years. The actor has been striking out repeatedly as the heroic action figure and didn’t fare better when he went somber as a medical miracle worker in “Extraordinary Measures” earlier this year. Now it turns out we don’t want to see him in a comedy either, not even when he’s playfully riffing on his own taciturn persona.

In his heyday, Ford was much more than an action hero, of course; he was winning over audiences with dramas such as “Regarding Henry” and even gaining decent notices in romantic comedies like the “Sabrina” remake — exactly the kinds of roles he should be excelling at as he nears 70 and can’t leap into waterfalls anymore.

What happened? Did we outgrow Ford? Or was his range never as great as we thought it was?

Some would say that this is all a function of bad choices and that, to salvage his career, the actor should go back to action roles, maybe self-deprecating ones. (The Jack Ryan reboot is a natural candidate). The one time he did that in the last few years, after all, was with “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” and the fans turned out. But with the bad taste that movie left in some mouths, it’s hardly clear that would work either.

In a sense, Ford has had the opposite career of his “Star Wars” costar Mark Hamill. Unlike Ford and his prolific output, Hamill hasn’t been in a major motion picture in more than two decades. That’s not exactly Hamill’s own choice, but it’s had an oddly positive effect on his reputation. While Ford’s series of poorly received movies has lately relegated the actor to self-parody, Hamill has paradoxically remained in a good pop-culture place, his image unravaged by time or bad roles.

Ford next stars in the science-fiction-western hybrid “Cowboys & Aliens,” a movie that stays close to his trademark action heroism but branches out in enough new directions that we might be willing to embrace him again. He should hope we do — he’s running out of genres to come back with.

KT Slatey

The wonderful Katie Holly got a very nice write-up in Variety no less over the weekend. You can read the article from their website or you can just read it below as i have shamelessly copied and pasted it here.

I edited a short film several years ago that Katie produced which you can watch here

Spinning a little low-budget Celtic sorcery, Irish producer Katie Holly has parlayed her first feature — the post-apocalyptic “One Hundred Mornings” — into an attention-grabbing indie that won a week’s run in downtown L.A. (courtesy of the cutting-edge Workbook Project). Her second feature, “Sensation,” created precisely that in Toronto this fall. And her next project “Citadel” is a dystopic thriller set in Scotland, whose central character is an agoraphobic. Will it draw the chronically housebound into theaters? “That’s going to be tricky,” Holly says with a laugh.
Holly chalks up much of her tyro success to timing: The Trinity college grad happened to be looking for work when Screen Training Ireland was doing its annual executive education sessions, leaving desks empty at various production companies. “It was just my luck that Treasure (Films) rang up,” said Holly, who after a certain amount of grunt work became an assistant to Treasure’s Rob Walpole (“I Went Down,” “The Eclipse”) and even spent a six-month stint making a Roddy Doyle-authored stop-motion animation film at a castle in Westmeath. “I was off buying Play-Doh and all this stuff,” she said. “We shot a minute a week.”

Four years later, when Irish director Kieran J. Walsh (“When Brendan Met Trudy”) and his producing partner Richie Smith wanted to set up Blinder Films, they called on Holly to establish an inaugural slate of projects to undertake. “Then, after we’d been up for about two minutes,” she said, “the film board announced this Multiple Project Development program, which was basically a slate-funding scheme. It was really the game changer for us.”

“One Hundred Mornings,” helmed by Conor Horgan, takes place after some unspecified horror has beset the Irish countryside (it was funded by the film board’s Catalyst program). It went to Slamdance this year, where Holly says she came to appreciate the plight of American independents. “They’re so incredible resourceful compared to how I’ve been able to raise money,” she says. On the other hand, “there’s only so much money we can raise in Ireland — broadcasters don’t put anything significant in, so it does make you very outward-looking.”

One way she looked was toward the Workbook Project, and its inaugural Discovery and Distro award, which provided the week’s run in L.A. “I think it’s really important what they do,” she says. “Building communities for filmmakers — not just social networks, but a lot of event-based talks and screenings and open-source technology, and sharing information with filmmakers and not looking for recompense for it.”

Holly represents a new generation of creative producer who understands the new models, but appreciates hard work. “You still kind of have to bang on distributors’ doors and show them how you can make something work,” she says. “Or do it yourself. For me, I would like to do it myself — if I could find someone else to handle the paperwork. Because I like producing.”

My Television Acting Debut

I took some time yesterday at work to load up this little clip from the Abu library. It’s my starring role in the TG4 series “Fear an Phoist”. My little cameo as Diego Garcia, International Man of Leisure was undoubtable a high point in the shows lifetime. Interestingly I was the only person in the whole series who was allowed to use synced dialogue. The series was directed by the man who directed Benny Hill but my part was done by the one and only Dathai Keane. Without him getting the chance to direct this, would he have been able to go to direct “Seachtar na Caisce”. Who can really say?

We are still waiting on TG4 to get back to us about commissioning the “Diego Garcia Funtime Pleasure Hour: Live from Kinshasa”.

Benefit Gig Remembers Donal Gilligan

Irish cinematographer Donal Gilligan passed away on Sunday, September 19th. Aged just 46, the two-time IFTA nominee suffered a sudden heart attack. Held in high esteem amongst his friends and colleagues within the Irish film and television industry Donal’s funeral was attended by 1,200 people. A benefit gig has now been organised for Donal’s wife, Charlotte and three young children.
Donal began his career in the industry in the early nineties and worked on dozens of successful Irish projects throughout the years including ‘Omagh’, ‘Dead Bodies’, ‘Mystics’, ‘Watermelon’, ‘John McGahern: A Private World’, ‘Primeval’ and ‘Raw’.

The benefit gig will take place on Saturday, November 13th in the Button Factory and will feature performances from The Walls, Mundy, Kevin Doherty and Liam O’Maonlai. All proceeds of the event go to the Donal Gilligan Trust Fund, which will benefit Charlotte and the family.

€20 tickets for the event are available to book by e-mailing or on the door of the Button Factory on the night. The gig will start at 7.30pm on November 13th. Anyone who cannot attend on the night and would like to make a contribution should visit the event’s Facebook page – click here.

PJ Dillon on Rewind

An article from today’s iftn about tonight’s IFTA screening of Rewind which I edited in the lighthouse cinema in Smithfield

The Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) will host an exclusive screening of PJ Dillon’s ‘Rewind’, his debut as a feature film director. The screening will take place on Thursday, October 28th. The director will attend the screening along with lead actors Amy Huberman (A Film With Me In It) and Allen Leech (Downton Abbey).
‘Rewind’ marks PJ’s debut into feature directing. The director of photography scooped an IFTA award for his lensing of both ‘32A’ and ‘Headwrecker’ (which he also directed) alongside a 2007 Hamptons International Film Festival win for his camera work on ‘Kings’. His other notable projects include ‘An Ranger’ which he shot and directed in 2008 and Timbuktu’ in 2004, both of which led to IFTA nominations. His recent television work includes a role as director of photography on TV Movie ‘Little White Lie’, ‘The Big Bow Wow’ and recent comedy series, ‘Val Falvey TD’ which he also directed.

The film stars Amy Huberman as a mother whose life is thrown into turmoil when an old boyfriend, in the shape of Allen Leech, turns up unexpectedly to reveal a past she has kept secret from her now husband. The past invades and shatters her idyllic present, and she must confront the person she once was but thought she had buried forever. Ghosts must be laid to rest, and horrors acknowledged, before the perfect surface of her life will be restored. The pair’s other cast members include Simon Delaney (Happy Ever Afters), Owen McDonnell (Wild Decembers) and Simon Hubbard (Inspector George Gently).

PJ tells us that a previous project let him know that his two leads had it in them to take on their respective ‘Rewind’ roles: “I’d actually worked with both of them before on a short film called ‘Deep Breaths’ in 2006. (Or 2007 possibly)” He explains. “After that then I knew what both of them were capable of. So then when we were coming up with the story for the film I had Allen in mind from the get go and then, as we went through the writing process, Amy’s character came more to the fore and the film became more of a two-hander.”

‘Rewind’ is one of three films that came about as a result of the Catalyst project of 2007/09. An initiative of the Irish Film Board, the training and production scheme provided the majority of the funding (in partnership with the BAI, the Arts Council and TV3) for three feature films to be made on ultra-low budgets. A total of €825,000 was awarded to selected teams of filmmakers to enable the production of three feature films with a maximum budget of €275,000 each. PJ and his team began work on one of these, a feature initially titled, ‘Redux’.

The fact that the feature was PJ’s first as a director, paired with such a small budget would appear to be hugely challenging, but PJ tells us it was quite the opposite: “Yes, it is enormously challenging,”he starts. “But the upside of it was that what they were able to promise us complete creative control. That, if we were to take the money, there would be no pressure from financiers and we wouldn’t have any of the creative pressures that filmmakers usually have. As my debut that was the most important thing – that I could flex my creative muscle any way that I wanted. In a way it took off a lot of the pressure that a first feature usually brings with it.”

The filmmaker was equally unfazed at the prospect of overseeing and directing his first feature film. “I’ve shot dozens of low budget features so I knew what I was getting into and I knew what it would involve. He explains. ” We didn’t take on anything that we didn’t think we’d be able to pull off – it was very much done on that basis.” PJ’s previous experience in the field of directing was of shorts such as the aforementioned ‘An Ranger’ and ‘Deep Breaths’ and he reassures us that ‘Rewind’ does not mark his permanent departure from short filmmaking. ”Absolutely not,”he says. If the right short came along I’d definitely do it. I mean you won’t make any money from doing a short but then again you won’t make any money from most features either but you have a slightly better chance! But I am primarily a director of photography, that’s the day job. I will continue – hopefully – to direct stuff if the right project comes up.”

PJ is hard at work at said day job as we speak, he is working on what are now the final days of the Irish ‘Primeval’ shoot which is set to wrap on Friday, October 30th. He tells us he has had a surprising amount on fun on set: “It’s been absolutely great,”he gushes. ”I’ve been involved for the last four or five episodes and it’s great fun to work on. There are absolutely loads of Irish people involved with it too, which is brilliant. The Irish cast have been doing us proud and of course Robert Quinn was directing a few episodes.”

Arthurs Day 2010

This is a clip from the Arthur’s Day show that recently played on TV3 which someone has uploded onto YouTube. I am posting it up here as I happened to work on the show. I say work but all I really did was load and transcode the XD footage onto drives. It was handy if somewhat boring work but it meant I got to go to all the shows that night and could have a rake of free Guinness afterwards. Which I did with some fine people over from England who were producing it. Most of the gigs were muck mind!

Adrien Brody Sues To Stop Movie Release

Back in 2008, the casting of Adrien Brody in Dario Argento’s ‘Giallo’ was greeted with some excitement at the prospect of Argento possibly making some headway into the mainstream American horror scene. Now, on the eve of the film’s DVD release (set for this Tuesday), Adrien Brody has sued to keep the film from hitting the shelves.

The reason for the lawsuit is predictable: Brody says he was never paid the $640,000 he is owed for starring in the film. Why does that entitle him to prevent the producers from releasing the film (rather than just suing for the money)? Well, Brody signed a contract that entitled him to “withhold consent to the use of his likeness in the picture” in exchange (and as collateral) for deferring payment of his salary. According to Brody, the producers brazenly never paid him (and never intended to), and have ignored his attempts to exercise his right to keep the movie from being released.

The complaint lists Dario Argento as a “non-party co-conspirator,” implying that the venerable Italian filmmaker, though not himself a Defendant, had a part in repeatedly lying to Brody to induce him to complete the film. Brody asks for either full payment of the $640,000 or an injunction barring the release of the film, and $2 million on top of that for fraud.

On Friday, the judge denied the Plaintiff’s emergency motion for a restraining order, so the Court will not issue an injunction in time to prevent the DVD release tomorrow. It could still conceivably order the producers to take the movie off the shelves at a later date, though a more likely outcome is a confidential settlement and dismissal of the lawsuit before the Court has a chance to act.

Meanwhile, has anyone here seen this thing? The early reviews did not inspire confidence. If Brody buries ‘Giallo,’ how much are we losing?

From By Eugene Novikov

Job I’m about to start

I get namechecked in this piece from iftn, its about the new series I’m about to start. Once again they said I edited Operation Transformation which I did not. Not sure how this rumour started but it wasn’t me!

Abú Media have just wrapped the Candian block of filming for their new documentary series, ‘Mobs Canada’. The shoot will move to Ireland at the start of November to capture historical reconstructions and further interviews in and around County Galway. The production company are also currently in production with ‘Clontarf’, a two x one hour series for TG4 that will investigate the infamous historical Irish battle.
‘Mobs Canada’ is a 6 x 30 minute historical documentary series that will focus on Irish/Canadian Mobsters. The series started shooting on Red One in Canada on September 23rd and has just wrapped having filmed interviews in Montreal, Ottowa and Toronto. Directed by Dathai Keane (Bothar go dti an Whitehouse) and produced by Brid Seoighe (Garrai Glas) for TG4, ‘Mobs Canada’ director of photography, Colm Hogan (The Listener) will shoot dramatic reconstructions and interview with those involved who now live in Ireland.

The series looks at Irish Canadian gangsters such as Brian O’Dea, The Stopwatch Gang and The Donnelly’s. Producer, Brid Seoighe tells IFTN that she is delighted with the Canadian footage which just arrived back to Abú’s Galway base: ”We have absolutely fabulous footage and some amazing interviews already,” she says. ”The show is very in line with the previous series such as ‘Mobs Mhericeá’ in that we talk with historians but also with the actual mobsters, their wives and their girlfriends.”

The series will be edited in-house at Abú Media by John Murphy (Operation Transfomation) at the end of November and is expected to transmit January 2011. Bob Brennan is overseeing sound on the project and James Ryan is the series’ production manager.

Abú’s other historical series, ‘Clontarf’ is in the middle of shooting, having started on October 1st. The 2 x one hour historical documentary series will shoot for four weeks in locations such as Galway, Westmeath, Limerick, Clare, Dublin and Armagh and will tell the story of the historic 1014 Battle of Clontarf through interviews, dramatic reconstructions and rostrum images.

The battle saw Brian Boru lead his forces against the Vikings and Norsemen of Dublin leading to a defeat of the invaders and victory for the Gaels. Then with this great victory assured Brian was cruelly beheaded by the evil Bordir who was fleeing the battlefield in defeat. Or at least that is what we were all taught at school up to now. Abú Media’s ‘Clontarf’, will look to peel back the layers to see what actually happened using new evidence to show this was more like a modern day battle of Munster against Leinster at a the site that is shown to be beside modern-day Croke Park and not Clontarf.

’Clontarf’ is being directed by Niamh Sammon (Haughey) and produced by Pierce Boyce (1916 Seachtar na Casca) and the director of photography is Cian de Buitlear (Man About Dog) who will shoot on Red One. It is to be edited in house at Abú Media by Neil McLoughlin Its transmission date on TG4 is TBC.