Keanu Reeves Schools Audiences in Digital Filmmaking

by: submitted by Jenny Perez

Keanu Reeves Schools Audiences in Digital Filmmaking

Via: Blog WSJ

Neo, the lead character of “The Matrix,” may know martial arts, but the man who played him, Keanu Reeves, knows digital filmmaking.

As a producer of and narrator for the upcoming documentary “Side By Side,” Reeves spent the past two years, between acting jobs, interviewing A-list directors and cinematographers about the evolution of digital cinema. The film traces Hollywood’s shift from using photochemical film to digital prints and uses Reeves’ interviews with the likes of George Lucas, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese and Christopher Nolan to help paint a fuller picture.

Reeves says he first came up with the idea for the documentary while in post-production on the 2010 drama “Henry’s Crime.” As a producer on the film, in addition to its star, Reeves got a front-seat view of the digitalization and color-correction process for the drama and says it “suddenly hit [him]” that the filmmaking world was changing and he had a lot of unanswered questions. To help satiate his curiosity, the actor figured he was just as qualified as the next person to make a documentary and recruited his “Henry’s Crime” post-production supervisor Chris Kenneally to direct his venture. “I asked him to take this journey with me,” says Reeves. Why not?

A central challenge for the filmmakers was finding the right tone for the project. Pixel resolutions and color correction techniques can be dull, to put to mildly, so the two men tried to get interesting anecdotes from a parade of filmmaking veterans. For instance, David Fincher relates a story about the actor Robert Downey, Jr., who starred in the director’s serial killer drama “Zodiac,” to illustrate a key difference between shooting digitally and on film. A traditional reel of film can only hold about 10 minutes of footage and needs to be frequently updated, giving actors plenty of downtown on set. Digital cameras, however, rely on memory chips that can store far more than 10 minutes of footage — meaning actors must be on their game for longer periods of time. To protest his long hours on the set of the digitally-shot “Zodiac,” Downey Jr. purposefully left mason jars filled with his urine around the production, according to Fincher.

The roughly 70 filmmakers interviewed for “Side By Side” also provide context for the on-going film vs. digital argument currently being debated — though almost over — in Hollywood. While film purists like Christopher Nolan, who shot “The Dark Knight Rises” on film, insist that a photochemical process is best for the cinematic experience, others, like Austin, TX-based director Robert Rodriguez and British director Danny Boyle, note that digital saves on certain production costs and allow filmmakers to more easily manipulate scenes in post-production. In 2009, Boyle shot his hit “Slumdog Millionaire” with digital cameras and the kinetic drama went on to become the first digitally-shot film to win an Academy Award for best cinematography.

In spite of his newfound knowledge, however, Reeves says he still relied on his gut instinct when deciding to shoot “Man of Tai Chi,” his just-wrapped directorial debut, digitally on an ARRI studio camera earlier this year. (For the curious, he and Kenneally shot “Side By Side” digitally on a Panasonic HPX 170 and Canon 5D.) “In the end, it just offered a really great look that I liked,” he said.

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