QUICK THOUGHTS: 'Star Wars Episode 7' to be Shot on Film


It sounds like the debate over digital versus film isn’t over yet. At the American Society of Cinematographers event yesterday in Los Angeles, cinematographer Dan Mindel, who will be the director of photography on Star Wars: Episode 7, announced that the Star Wars sequel will be shot on good-old-fashioned Kodak film.

The reveal will probably come as a bit of a surprise for film geeks, as up until now, the prevailing idea was that digital cinema cameras and projectors were slowly shifting the movie business away from celluloid. With companies like Kodak going bankrupt, and news of classic celluloid prints deteriorating in film archives, the consensus seemed to be that film had lost most of its former glory. It would not necessarily die, but become a “boutique” medium, used by directors who wanted a certain look and feel that digital can’t provide.

So with film being the chosen medium for a major release like a Star Wars sequel, it strengthens the case for preserving the process of shooting on film. If nothing else, it keeps the medium from being completely forgotten about, and might even inspire institutions to improve their film preservation programs.

The announcement also gives us a few clues about the shape of Episode 7 itself. As Peter Sciretta of Slashfilm pointed out, there’s a few reasons why Mindel (and his director J.J. Abrams) would go with celluloid over digital:

  • Even though the two most recent Star Wars films were shot on digital, this decision indicates that Episode 7 will not be shot natively in 3D (but it doesn’t rule out the horrible 3D post-conversion process).
  • Shooting on film is also in line with J.J. Abrams’ affinity for anamorphic lens flares – an often-parodied visual style that some worry Abrams might overuse – which are harder to achieve on digital camera rigs.
  • Lastly, the choice might mesh better with the possible use of IMAX for certain scenes in Episode 7. Aside from the amazing look that Star Wars in IMAX would have, it’s also an easy marketing decision for Lucasfilm’s parent company, Disney.

Personally, I don’t have a preference for film over digital – with modern digital cinema cameras, the old arguments against the format don’t really apply. But I do believe in the importance of using the right format for the right film. Conceptually, I expect effects-heavy blockbusters to be shot on digital, and down-to-earth dramas to be captured on celluloid.

Even so, the news that Episode 7 will be shot on celluloid is encouraging, if only because of the narrative continuity of the franchise. The original Star Wars trilogy was shot on film, and Episode 7 will follow after those movies in the chronology. The clean, digital look of Episodes 2 and 3 depicted a galactic world that was still fresh and modern; by the time the story reaches Episodes 4, 5 and 6, the Star Wars world has aged, and the celluloid George Lucas used emphasizes that. As we move into Episode 7, I’d want to see a movie the matches the look of the stories that immediately precede it.

Hayden Christensen and Ewan McGregor in 'Star Wars: Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith'

We don’t know whether J.J. Abrams and his team are thinking in those terms, but Star Wars fans can only hope that Abrams’ approach to the visuals is guided by the story, rather than by business decisions or by personal style.

What do you think about the news that J.J. Abrams and cinematographer Dan Mindel will be shooting on film? Is it an encouraging development, or is it merely what you would expect from a filmmaker like Abrams? Join the discussion in the comments section, and if you liked this post, share it with your friends and followers! You can also browse though some of my related articles about the film business here:

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