The F Word

Okay, it’s not what you’re thinking. This is not an expose’ on the merits of an overused expletive appearing not only in everyday life, but in crashing symphonies of dissonance in virtually every pay-for-TV dramatic show now airing. Instead, I’m referring to that other “F” word that’s thrown around as carelessly as “Kleenex”, “Xerox”, “Googling” and a host of other phrases that once proudly referenced a one-of-a-kind product or brand. The F word is “Film”. As in, “Quiet, we’re filming!”, or “I hope you have enough film in the camera for this.”, or “Are you filming now?”

In virtually every case, I can assure you there’s no film involved. In fact, there’s nothing even remotely mechanical that suggests that the camera or recording medium is “running”. Today, sadly, it’s mostly photons of light hitting silicon chips that create an endless stream of digital bits recorded to a frozen slab of God-knows-what in an organized procession of data. You can’t pick up a memory card and “see” what you’ve “filmed”. And if something goes wrong with your “filming”, there’s not even a scratched, jumpy image to console you – there’s usually just a silent slab of jumbled recording bits, unable to acknowledge that you even attempted to “film” something.

As one who worked through the age of film, then videotape, and now digital technology, I admit that digital certainly offers speed, convenience, and portability completely surpassing the analog technology of film. It may even be “technically“ better when comparing resolution, steadiness, and dynamic range (arguably). It’s certainly cheaper. For some things however, especially dramatic shows or movies, I still prefer the look, or rather, the “feel” of film. It’s still easier for me to get sucked into the drama, to suspend disbelief when I’m watching a film-originated movie. It seems that many TV programs have tossed aside the traditional look of film and have gone for a unique “digital” look using the standard 24 frames per second film timing. A lot of people don’t notice the difference, but for me, I can’t help feeling that the actor is on a set, the microphone is just out of sight, and dozens of people off camera are ready to move to the next scene, adjust make-up or call in craft services. Maybe it’s just me, but the psychology of “filming” affects my brain in the “make-believe” center unlike any other media. Perhaps it’s the hundred plus years-worth of filmed material that exists and the countless hours I’ve spent watching real “filmed” entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing digital. In many ways, for many things it’s an utter lifesaver. It’s provided a means for many programs and shows to be created that otherwise would not have survived the economic guillotine. And digital does have its own interesting aesthetic that we’ve only just begun to explore. On the downside, digital is so cheap and accessible that reams and reams of digital recordings are made in the hope of editing “something” out of it. In many ways, digital has cheapened the discipline of filmmaking. The planning and thought required to efficiently film something inevitably leads to a tighter, more choreographed product- a fact often forgotten in today’s digital glut. I guess my argument is that film doesn’t deserve to be looked at as old or outdated. It’s simply another way of telling stories or sharing experiences. Film’s unique aesthetic still makes make-believe more believable, actors more beautiful, and stories more impactful than most of the digital media out there.

As for anyone who uses the phrase “filming” to refer to an activity where moving images are captured, more power to you! I don’t see it as technically “wrong”, but rather as a salute to the long heritage of film itself – long live film, and long live “filming”. The finest F word I know.

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