Peter Boyce talks about formats for television

Published on website: September 24, 2009
Categories: 16mm , 35mm , Peter Boyce , Television , The StoryBoard Blog

In recent months, there has been a perception that there has been a massive shift to digital, and that’s not true. In the US and Canada, between all the major networks (including HBO and the other channels) we have about 40 shows on film. 24 is still on film, and there was a thought that the original CSI: Las Vegas was going to go digital, but as they got going with the series, digital just didn’t work out for their needs. So CSI: Las Vegas is still shooting film.

At the moment, one hour dramas on US TV are still very much 3-perf 35mm. Castle; Grey’s Anatomy; Private Practice; Desperate Housewives; Brothers & Sisters; Lost; The Mentalist; Fringe; Mad Men; and Two and a Half Men are all returning shows shot on 3-perf 35mm. HBO is shooting loads of 35mm 3-perf at the moment. New series shot on the same format include: ; Hung; Boardwalk Empire; How to Make it in America; Wonderful Maladies; Treme; and others.

Super 16 usage has also grown. There are a bunch of shows like Heartland; Scrubs; Chuck; One Tree Hill; Lincoln Heights; Greek; Crash and others shooting S16. Two new ABC programs – Eastwick and Middle – also chose to use Super 16 their first season. It’s an option that people find delivers great value and quality – especially for this medium.

The one that surprises most people is America’s National Football League (NFL) and their continued use of Super 16. All NFL games are still captured on 16mm film. What everyone sees on game day and on sports newscasts is HD broadcast, but NFL Films also shoots and archives all the games in S16 for special features, tributes and highlight shows.

In Europe, TV programs that use film are primarily shot on Super 16 – and there is some European interest right now in moving up to 2-perf 35mm. At present, there are actually quite a few French TV shows shooting 2-perf.

We are also seeing TV shows around the world that use both film and digital for different creative purposes. Some of the CSI spin-off shows (not the original: that’s still on film) are shooting digital, but are also buying reasonable amounts of film because they’ve got second-unit cameras shooting film. The television series “Cold Case,” is using film to capture their flashbacks, and digital for the current day scenes.

So, we have a bunch of shows on film, but when it comes to digital, the pressures are all to do with cost. Nobody is saying, “We want to shoot digital because of quality.” It’s all because of cost. Digital is accepted as a medium that can work in certain circumstances. It has improved considerably, but it’s still not as good as film

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