Film vs. Digital? 3 Things to Know Before Saturday's ASC Awards

Film vs. Digital - H 2014

Film vs. Digital - H 2014

This story first appeared in the Feb. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The focus will be on how movies look when the American Society of Cinematographers hands out its 28th annual ASC Awards for Outstanding Achievement in features and television Feb. 1. Here's what you need to know:

PHOTOS: 5 Top Cinematographers Reveal Secrets of Their Craft

There is no dominant technology

The nominees are Sean Bobbitt for 12 Years a Slave, Barry Ackroyd for Captain Phillips, Philippe Le Sourd for The Grandmaster, Emmanuel Lubezki for Gravity, Bruno Delbonnel for Inside Llewyn Davis, Phedon Papamichael for Nebraska and Roger Deakins for Prisoners.

That list is a testament to how filmmaking is changing. Grandmaster, 12 Years and Davis were shot on film; Nebraska and Prisoners used Arri's Alexa digital cinematography camera; Phillips combined multiple formats; and Gravity used the Alexa for live action while also employing virtual cinematography techniques. Observing that "it's a great year for cinematography," ASC president Richard Crudo emphasized that the tools are irrelevant when it comes to the nominated images. He says, "It's about the final look."

PHOTOS: Oscar Nominees

Take lessons from a rule breaker, cinematographer Dean Cundey

The director of photography, who has filmed lots of VFX-heavy movies such as Jurassic Park, earned an Oscar nom for Who Framed Roger Rabbit and also shot Apollo 13 and the Back to the Future trilogy. Recalling when he teamed with director Robert Zemeckis on Rabbit, Cundey, who will receive the ASC's Lifetime Achievement Award, says, "We went to Disney, which had combined live action and animation [in movies like Mary Poppins], and they gave us guidelines -- use wide shots, make sure the lighting is very even, don't have the characters interact too much with the rest of the world. After leaving that meeting, Bob said, 'There's the rules we're going to break.' "

Oscar doesn't take its cues from ASC

Five of the ASC nominees also have been nominated for an Oscar: Le Sourd, Lubezki, Delbonnel, Papamichael and Deakins. But in the past 10 years, the ASC winner has matched the Oscar winner only four times. In 2013, Deakins won his third ASC award for Skyfall, but the Oscar went to Life of Pi. In fact, Deakins, revered by fellow cameramen, has received 11 Oscar noms but has yet to win.

The ASC Awards take place Feb. 1 in the Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland.