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Spectre's filmmakers shot on 35mm film to retain look and feel of Bond movies

What do Austria, Mexico City, Morocco, London, and Rome have in common? In Spectre, they are not only the locations James Bond travels to, but they were all shot on 35mm Kodak film. That may not be apparent to the people who make their way to watch the new movie this weekend (unless they sit through the end credits).

With the exception of Skyfall, the Bond movies have all been shot on film (the opening title sequence in Spectre is digital, but that’s it). Although Spectre will be digitally projected, the filmmakers chose to shoot on film because they wanted the tone, lighting, and feel of the older movies, according to Kodak’s InCamera.

Spectre and Skyfall director, Sam Mendes, told American Cinematographer (via Indiewire): “I love digital. I felt the ARRI Alexa was very potent and beautiful in the nighttime scenes of Skyfall, particularly in Shanghai, in the office building and the nighttime casino, two sequences which were brilliantly shot and lit by [cinematographer Roger Deakins]. But digital felt less romantic, less textured in many of the exteriors. And under bright light I felt it was difficult to control, harsh on actors, less forgiving.”

Mendes is a fan of both mediums, but he says, “Film is difficult, it’s imprecise, but that’s also the glory of it. There’s a magic there; you win big and sometimes you lose big, but the risk is worth it. I was so relieved watching the first day’s dailies on film. It had romance, a slight nostalgia, which was my own imposition, but I had that feeling. And that’s not inappropriate when dealing with a classic Bond movie.”

Although Skyfall earned an Oscar nomination for best cinematography, Mendes decided to forego the Alexa (and Deakins), and hired Hoyte Van Hoytema (Her, Interstellar) as director of photography.

“I suggested film from the start, but I think that Sam had been living with the same thought,” Van Hoytema told American Cinematographer. “I had the feeling that Sam really had a great interest in finding a medium that his cinematographer was comfortable with, and I have always felt his respect regarding the choice.”

“When I asked Ang Lee, whose work I admire very much, about digital and film, he said he likes both, but he finds it difficult when digital tries to look like film,” Mendes said. “I think that’s very well put.”

Daniel Craig, who plays James Bond in Spectre, agrees. “Film is so much more beautiful than digital; it gives so many more textures and variations. I don’t know very much, but the amount of work that goes into working on digital to make it look like film after the event seems like a great waste of time. Why not just shoot on film?”

Many of today’s filmmakers still embrace film. In 2014, Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, and J.J. Abrams helped negotiate a deal with Kodak to keep film manufacturing going; Abrams is shooting the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens in film. Even when working with digital, filmmakers try to mimic the look and feel of analog. While Hollywood has gone digital for most things, it hasn’t done away with film just yet.