What TV dramas are still shot on film? Experts, can I have a list?

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by Steve Hoffman, Mar 29, 2010.

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  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    By the time shows get to my screen I can't tell what the source is. I guess this is a good thing but does anyone know if any TV shows still use film or that fake digital "filmlike" thing?

    Thanks for the info.
  2. seriousfun

    seriousfun Active Member


    specifications for
    "The Pacific" (2010)
    Arricam LT, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses
    Arriflex 235, Zeiss Ultra Prime and Angenieux Optimo Lenses

    Cinevex Film Laboratory, Melbourne, Australia
    DeLuxe, Melbourne, Australia

    Film negative format (mm/video inches)
    35 mm (Kodak Vision2 200T 5217, Vision2 500T 5218)

    Cinematographic process
    Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format)
    HDCAM SR (1080p/24) (master format)
    Spherical (source format)
    Super 35 (3-perf) (source format)

    Printed film format
    Video (HDTV)

    Aspect ratio
    1.78 : 1
  3. jojopuppyfish

    jojopuppyfish Forum Resident

    Last filmed show at Paramount was Fraser.
  4. nosticker

    nosticker Forum Resident

    Ringwood, NJ
    LOST is still film, afaik. Hmmm...Super 16? Or have I been smoking something? (or the smoke monster!)

  5. Started on film, but I think it has gone over to the other side. I'm sure someone can confirm. I think it was 35mm, but maybe 3 perf. Scrubs was shot on Super 16, not sure about now.
  6. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    Steve, no one uses Filmlook anymore because that was a standard-def process (invented by Woodholly Productions here in LA).

    Most of the shows have been shooting 24p HD for a long time now. Most of the big dramatic shows switched to digital video at least a year to 18 months ago, which saved about $100,000 per episode in film stock costs. When the HD camera is already running at 24 frames, it doesn't need any fancy adjustment to look like film; it still has the same motion characteristics, and the rest is just good lighting and exposure. Digital doesn't have the granularity as film, but a good DP can still make great pictures digitally or on film.

    Some of the shows still shooting film include Heroes (on the edge of being cancelled), 24 (just cancelled), Brothers and Sisters, and at least one of the Law and Order shows. All the CSI shows switched to Panavision Genesis some time back. All 62 pilots going on right now are all being shot digitally. The last sitcom still being shot on film is 2-1/2 Men (mastered by Tony D'Amore at Technicolor/Hollywood), and I think that's only because it costs about $6 million an episode and saving $100K a week isn't a big deal to them.

    Update: here's a list of film shows from one of the main Cinematography discussion groups on the web (cinematography.org):

    16mm Film:
    Burn Notice - USA
    Chuck - NBC
    Degrassi: The Next Generation - CW
    Eastbound and Down - HBO
    Eastwick - ABC
    Friday Night Lights - NBC
    Greek - ABC
    Heartland - CBC
    In Plain Sight - USA
    Lincoln Heights - ABC
    Men of a Certain Age - TNT
    The Middle - ABC
    One Tree Hill - CW
    Psych - USA
    Saving Grace - TNT
    Scrubs - ABC

    35mm Film:
    24 - FOX
    30 Rock - NBC
    Beastly - CBS
    Big Love - HBO
    Breaking Bad - AMC
    Brothers & Sisters - ABC
    Castle - ABC
    The Closer - TNT
    Copper - ABC
    Desperate Housewives - ABC
    Entourage - HBO
    Flashpoint - CBS
    Fringe - FOX
    Ghost Whisperer - CBS
    Glee - FOX
    Grey's Anatomy - ABC
    Heroes - NBC
    House - FOX
    Human Target - FOX
    Hung - HBO
    Lost - ABC
    Mad Men - AMC
    The Mentalist - CBS
    Nip/Tuck - FX
    Private Practice - ABC
    True Blood - HBO
    Two and a Half Men - CBS

    There are more, but I think the reality is that about 75% of all television right now is now being shot digitally, and probably about 40% of feature films. I suspect the current 3D trend will push this much more towards digital capture over the next year, probably past the 75% mark.
  7. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    Lost was always 3-perf. Warner Bros. started the trend to 3-perf 35mm back around 1994 or so; I worked a little bit on the pilot, and quite a bit on seasons 3 and 4.

    3-perf is a perfect format for TV, since the final film frame size is almost identical to the 1.78 aspect ratio of HD. But a show like Lost shoots about 15,000-20,000 feet of film a day (about 5 hours), and so most modern shows have switched to digital mainly for cost and speed. The producers of Lost didn't want to change in mid-stream, but they're the exception rather than the rule. I believe that show is now being mastered by Scott Ostrowski over at Encore/Hollywood, and supervised by producer Ra'uf Glasgow.

    There are very good "film-like" digital cameras out there that get very close to traditional film exposure ranges: one is the Arri D21, which they used on the pilot of the new ABC show Happy Town, which I worked on last year. They went for a fairly over-the-top look for that show, but given that it's an intense drama about a serial killer, I think it's pretty appropriate.
  8. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    Thanks for the info. Grey's Anatomy is shot on 35MM film? Why does it look so ******? It's all washed out, fuzzy, out-of-focus, etc. It looks like it's not even in HD. Is this because they are trying to hide wrinkles and stuff?

    Proves I can't tell the difference on my 60". Either the mastering is all the same and makes all the images (both 35, 16 or HD) digital looking or I've lost the knack of being able to tell film from non-film. Or it's just getting pretty good now.

    The shocker is 2-1/2 Men costs $6 million an episode? This a 1/2 hour show. What is the deal? There is something drastically wrong with their budget.

    On another subject, I saw a sitcom filming at MGM about 8 years ago for a show on Fox and they were using three of those nifty Panavision 16mm cameras. I wanted one soooo bad to mess with. Just the right size, ya know?
  9. kevywevy

    kevywevy Forum Resident

    Yes there is - almost a sixth of that goes straight into Charlie Sheen's bank account.
  10. Jay F

    Jay F New Member

    Pittsburgh, PA
    I think All My Children was using the fake film look until recently. I don't watch the show, but if I land on ABC for even a moment while it's on, it's so noticeable. It bothers me the way "handheld" bothers other people (I don't even notice "handheld").
  11. daglesj

    daglesj Forum Resident

    Norfolk, UK
    Is this true 16mm or actually 35mm Techniscope? (I know thats the old name)
  12. Dugan

    Dugan Forum Resident

    Not a single show, per se, but I noticed that WWE Classics on Demand started to use this gimmick on all their programming a few months ago.
  13. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    It's a stylistic choice. It's true that many shows (which I won't name) often use selective defocus to soften skin details in close-ups. There are also shows where they deliberately stretch the frame vertically to make everybody a little bit thinner. Lots of stuff like this goes on, all the time, during the mastering process -- all smoke and mirrors behind the scenes.

    Who adjusted your set? There's a chance your monitor isn't set up as well as it could be. I have no problem telling the difference between digital, 35, and 16 on my office set, and it's a piece of crap Sony 32" I grabbed on sale from Best Buy. You just have to know what to look for. I know a digital image immediately just from the way it clips the highlights -- very edgy and artificial looking compared to film.

    Charlie Sheen's getting $900K an episode; Jon Cryer is close. Just the above-the-line costs (actors/producers/writers/directors) on that show are at least $4.5 million per episode; the rest is just to pay for the actual show -- technicians, camera crew, sound, sets, make-up, and so on. No-name sitcoms cost about $1.5 million an episode these days, and dramas cost $2 million-2.5 million, minimum. By the time they hit five or six seasons, you can easily double or triple these numbers. 2-1/2 Men is on season 7 and just got picked up for two more years, plus it's the #1 sitcom in the world. They've earned their money -- though I personally don't care for the show. Big Bang Theory is more my speed, but I don't go out of my way to watch it.

    Yeah, the old Panavision Elaine Super 16mm cameras. They were slick. We used those on Dave's World for 7 years, and also on Daddio, Off-Center, Working, and a few other 16mm sitcoms. The trouble with 16mm is, the dirt and grain are four times bigger than they are for 35mm, and the picture is four times more "jittery," having only 1 perf per frame for registration (vs. 3 or 4 for 35mm). To me, the Arriflex 416 was and is the finest 16mm camera in the world, but it should be -- it costs more than $100,000. But I think despite the success of recent films like Hurt Locker, 16mm is a dead end today.
  14. nosticker

    nosticker Forum Resident

    Ringwood, NJ
    I can tell you that the SD syndication masters of Grey's look pretty darn sharp, good contrast, etc., so I can't imagine the HD would look worse. And not that it makes a night-and-day difference, but ABC's HD is 720, not 1080. This goes for all ABC networks, AFAIK.

  15. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    You mean Lost? Lost is shot in Super 35mm 3-perf negative, photographed by the great John Bartley.

    I believe Techniscope was a 2-perf format, but losing 1 perf top and bottom in masking. Super-Techniscope was also a 2-perf format, but had no masking at all. Neither have any relevance to television formats, though 2-perf has a little bit of a resurgence for features. (I may have Super Techniscope and Techniscope backwards -- they always confused me. But at best, they're bizarre footnotes to movie format history and aren't really relevant anymore.)

    Lost is also scanned and posted in 2K resolution, and I believe that Encore/Hollywood is handling it nowdays. The look of the show is a specific creative choice by the producers. Note that all ABC primetime shows (to my knowledge) are shot and edited in 1080 24p, then converted to 1080i for delivery, then aired in 720p. It's not an ideal workflow, in my opinion. I think 1080 makes more sense, for a lot of reasons.
  16. Rosskolnikov

    Rosskolnikov Designated Cloud Yeller

    And one imagines about half of that ends up in Colombia or Bolivia.
  17. apileocole

    apileocole Lush Life Gort

    I don't know it's of any interest here but I recall seeing this article when looking for anything on the Australian series, Rescue Special Ops (with Gigi Edgley :angel: ). DOP Russell Bacon is a seasoned pro who says this with regard to the choice of digital or film on a few of his recent projects:

  18. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host Thread Starter

    While we have you, why 720 for ABC? Is it a cost saving measure? Why upgrade stuff if you have to do it again? I don't understand the reasoning. Cost or something?

    Regarding film vs. video, on my old Sony 32" upstairs it's very easy to tell film from FakeFilm, especially when the camera pans or moves. It's sloppy bad. The bigger the screen for me, the harder to tell. On the other hand, it's only been recently that I've been watching a lot more TV at night so I could be out of practice.. Video mastering must be really wacky now with what they can do with an image. All sorts of cheating is possible that wasn't about 10 years ago... When I interned at WB in 1977 (or should I say the "Burbank Studios"), everything was pretty straightforward. Hardly changed since the 30's. All the night time TV dramas were broadcast from a mint 35mm print...

    Ah, well..
  19. lukpac

    lukpac Senior Member

    Milwaukee, WI
  20. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer

    The West
    You can almost 'feel' the film on 'Mad Men'. It's so sumptuous. I really hope they don't switch to HD any time soon.

    Great list, Vidiot. :thumbsup: I could have sworn 'How I Met Your Mother' was shot on film, thought I've seen grain in there on the HD broadcast. If it's digital it looks really nice, especially for a humble 3-camera sitcom.

    Oh, and I'd swear up and down that '24' is shot with HD digital, I thought I read that somewhere. Same with '30 Rock'.

    dan c
  21. SamS

    SamS Forum Legend

    ABC/FOX/ESPN all picked 720p back about 13 years ago as their standardized HD format. 720p/60 is better for sports, but captures about 1/2 the static detail of 1080i/60.

    It's a shame that Lost starts out as 1080p/24, gets edited, goes out as 1080i, then converted to 720p by ABC, then distributed as 1080i/60 by many of the cable/telco providers. Some providers let you keep it "native" 720p, but others don't give you a choice and convert it to 1080i/60 for digital or analog output. Virtually all TVs older than 18 months old assemble these 1080i frames wrong for the 2:3 pulldown needed to keep the original (720p) resolution intact.
  22. apileocole

    apileocole Lush Life Gort

    How many years did these parties have to develop HDTV and what was it developed for?

    Just have to marvel at things sometimes.
  23. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    Pretty much. It's all about the bandwidth. I don't know the exact fraction that 720p saves, but when the FCC handed out the channel assignments for HD, they basically told the stations "you can transmit in any format you want, as long as it's one of the ones on this list." 720P uses up the least bandwidth for any of the true HD systems, and ABC is using the rest of the bandwidth for sub-channels and a bunch of other stuff to try to make more money. I don't think there's a huge quality difference between 720p and 1080i, but it is a compromise. 1080 24p would suck up an enormous amount of bandwidth, and unfortunately, not that many TV sets can handle that format.

    I only started working in mastering in the summer of 1979, but I did a lot of network TV shows from 35mm low-contrast prints in that era. Back then, we'd take 4 hours (tops) to do any single episode. Nowadays, because the producers expect much more -- and there are more things to fix -- all the work is done from digital files made from scans of the original negative, or the original HD videotape.

    In a way, it is cheating, but I don't think it's a cheat if we take essentially good photography and make it very good (or even great). The problem is when the client has mediocre material and wants to make it good. That doesn't work too well. We can only put so many digital bandaids on this stuff before it starts falling apart -- kind of the visual version of excessive Auto-Tune and compression.

    I'd also add that a "mint 35mm print" isn't all it's cracked up to be. To me, you're better off going from the original camera negative for a lot of stuff, or at least an interpositive (direct 1:1 finegrain copy of the camera negative). The prints are almost always too dense and "plugged up" for video transfer; if I have to work from a print, I usually ask for a low-con print that's been bumped up about 3 points from normal, just to provide more dynamic range in the blacks. The bright details still hold up fine at this setting, at least in a film world.
  24. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Hollywood, USA
    Not sure about 30 Rock -- the list came from the Cinematography.com discussion group. But DP Rodney Charters is a big film fan, and he definitely shoots 24 on film. Ironically, it's shot about 2 miles from my house, out here in Chatsworth, where they built their own small studio complex over there on Lassen Street and Variel, not too far off DeSoto. Whenever they exit the LA "CTU" headquarters, they're just running through their own studio parking lot, which I get a kick out of.

    Charters has experimented with HD (and even DSLRs), and I think he's done some features and shorts on those formats. I think he does a terrific job, and he's got a few Emmy nominations to prove it.

    You know, I should step back a bit. I'm not 100% sure if the show is finally delivered in 1080i or 1080 24p. I know it's transferred, edited, and color-corrected in 24p, but I'm not 100% sure of the delivery format. But even if it goes from 1080 24p to 720p, it's true that some satellite and cable HD providers convert it all to 1080i. And I'm not a big 720p fan; it's a nightmare to work with in post (as I've had to do for certain Fox promos).
  25. SamS

    SamS Forum Legend

    Not to justify manufacturer's inadequacies, but until recently, there were only a handful of off-the-shelf chip solutions to do proper video processing. The algorithms are advanced, and most TV manufacturers took the easy (read, cheap) way out with a simple bob-and-weave deinterlacing technology. Your computer's graphics card (unless it is new/high-end) works the same way.

    Most people are so impressed that their new TV is "HD" that they are unaware that 1/2 of the resolution is being lost due to improper 60hz/120hz field/frame assembly.
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