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Roundtable: 5 Top Cinematographers on Why 3D Is 'Unnecessary,' Refusing to Give Advice to Actors and Film vs. Digital

In THR's first Cinematographer Roundtable, Barry Ackroyd ("Captain Phillips"), Sean Bobbitt ("12 Years a Slave"), Bruno Delbonnel ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), Stuart Dryburgh ("The Secret Life of Walter Mitty") and Phedon Papamichael ("Nebraska") reveal the biggest surprises about being a DP, the directors who have inspired them and why the movies they shoot aren't always the movies we see.

OK … 3D: For or against?

ACKROYD: Well there's no doubt, against.

BOBBITT: Well, I wouldn't say against, but just a bit mystified.

DRYBURGH: Usually unnecessary, rarely very successful. I think Avatar, which is responsible for the whole resurgence of 3D, is very successful in 3D and enjoyable. But in most cases, it's fairly unnecessary.

ACKROYD: It's a gimmick. It sells tickets that are a little bit more expensive. That's the desire.

PAPAMICHAEL: But actually there's a theory that -- I can't confirm -- but it's a sort of conspiracy theory that the studios were pushing 3D because it forced all the theaters to change over to digital projection in order to be able to show their products, these big commercial movies. There was initially this argument that studios wanted to eliminate film so they don't have to make all these prints and ship them all over the world. Now we're sending a little hard drive that's the size of an iPhone and theaters are saying, "It's a big cost for us to get rid of all our projectors and put in these expensive digital projectors, so you guys, the studios, should pay for it because you're benefiting from it, too." For Nebraska, I'm like, how many prints are we actually making? We're making 10. But what about Europe? I asked the studio, "How about all these markets that haven't been able to switch over?" They go, "Well, you know, they're out of luck." Get with it or you're out. The other problem is the labs all shutting down. No one's making prints.

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ACKROYD: There's practically only London, yeah. There's also Paris. We're hoping the French will keep it. (Laughter.)

PAPAMICHAEL: I was in Berlin and every lab there was still printing for me, but you know that's becoming a problem. We can't even make prints.

DRYBURGH: Where I come from in New Zealand, if you shoot film in Australia or New Zealand, the nearest lab is in Bangkok, Thailand. And that lab survives because there's still a lot of print distribution in Asia. They have a major release printmaking lab. But the lab in Melbourne closed, then Peter Jackson closed his lab in Wellington. If you shoot film anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere now, it's Bangkok or Los Angeles. Nobody wants to send negatives halfway around the world for processing.

ACKROYD: Only like three or four years ago, I was working in Serbia on Coriolanus, and Kodak built a lab in a house for us.

Have any of you worked on a film, say, 10 years ago, and it comes out on Blu-ray and you look at it and think, "This isn't the film I've shot"?

DELBONNEL: Always. Always.

ACKROYD: I'll be watching and it's in the wrong format.

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So what is it like to devote your lives and careers to creating images that you know exist only momentarily in their absolute best state, that may never be seen by most people the way you would like them to be seen?

BOBBITT: At least you get a chance to see it once. All you can do is hope that people will see an approximation of that. I've been to screenings where I've had to get up and walk out because I just couldn't bear to watch the film in the state it was in. But at the end of the screening, people say, "That was fantastic. That was beautiful. Well done!" and you're thinking, "If only they had seen the real thing." We would drive ourselves mad if we worried too much about it.

ACKROYD: I think there are four stages of a film. It's the stage starting at the script that we shoot; that's the stage we love. Then there's the edit, which creates a third film. And then the fourth film is the one that the audience takes away with them. We make films for an audience. I don't make a film for myself. What's moving to me is when you've spoken to an audience; people say it's changed their lives a little bit.

BOBBITT: I find it very difficult to watch my films because all I see are the mistakes. There's not an awful lot of enjoyment involved. I'd rather watch other people's films.

PAPAMICHAEL: If you watch it after five to 10 years, it's a whole new experience. You've sort of let go of it.

ACKROYD: You're finally seeing it more like the audience does.

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