Film Fighters, All in One Frame: J.J. Abrams, Judd Apatow, Bennett Miller, Christopher Nolan and Edgar Wright

THR shot the five helmers Dec. 12 in Los Angeles for its Rule Breakers 2014 issue. Says Miller: "It's not about simply, 'Film is better.' It's about the absurdity of taking a tool off the table"

This story first appeared in the Jan. 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

This summer, a group of powerful, passionate filmmakers, including Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, rallied like-minded directors who didn't want to see celluloid die on their watch. It was a critical time: Kodak, the last surviving purveyor of motion-picture film, was deciding whether to continue manufacturing the format. Says Nolan, "The point at which you're told you won't have a choice anymore, that becomes an important creative issue that needs to be brought to people's attention." 

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He, Abrams, Judd Apatow, Bennett Miller and Edgar Wright were among those who made calls to Kodak and studio production heads to seek a sustainable future for film. "It's not just an idea that would be nice to keep going," says Abrams. "It's an aesthetically and materially important thing." (His upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens was shot on film.) Without dismissing digital outright, film "is more robust, has dimension and weight to it," says Miller. Nolan favors film's "unmatched resolution" and its ability to "reproduce color the way the eye sees it."

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Says Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke, who reveals that deals were made at varying dollar levels "with all the major [studios] and most of the meaningful independents" based on anticipated needs: "When the future of film was in jeopardy, this coalition came together." Clarke says Kodak's fixed film-manufacturing costs of $50 million a year are now bolstered by Hollywood's "significant" commitment over the next several years. "It's not about simply, 'Film is better,' " adds Miller, who has shot all of his features on film. "It's about the absurdity of taking a tool off the table."

From left: Nolan, Apatow, Wright, Abrams and Miller

Abrams: “I wanted to use film [on Star Wars] because there was going to be so much work done in digital, I wanted the standard to be film, so that everything had to match that. You just know when you’re looking at something shot on film, there’s a reality to it — you just can’t deny it.”

Apatow: “If you can save a little bit of money going digital, it’s scary because there could be a profit motive to never want to shoot on film. No one at a studio ever says no when you say, ‘I’m going digital.’ No one ever says, ‘You know, why not go film?’ I think we need some studio executives to care about that because it’s better for our industry and for the work. If not, it will disappear.”

Nolan: “Film has tremendous balls. That’s just all there is to it. It’s like you say film is oak, digital is plywood; you don’t want to confuse the materials. They’re both useful for different things, but you have to know what it is you’re crafting with.”

Miller: “With Moneyball, Sony said, ‘You have to [shoot on digital].’ I think part of it is that they also sell those cameras, and it was at a moment when there was still the arm wrestle over whether digital would take over. It was a series of meetings over weeks [about] the concessions that they wanted to draw from us, beyond the point of compensation, for us to not use their cameras and to shoot film. We ended up shooting on 35mm — it may have been the last film that big Sony shot on 35.”

Wright: “I just like the discipline of shooting on film. I like to hear money burning through the camera. It makes me more responsible.”

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