Director Sean Baker On The “Unobtainable” Aesthetic Of Film

Sean Baker, the director of the 2015 movie Tangerine (notably shot using iPhones) and the recently released The Florida Project, sat down for an interview with Charlie Rose, in which he commented on using film versus digital, “If you’re in the position and you can do it, let’s, at this time, shoot on film and use that aesthetic of celluloid that I think is unobtainable in digital.”

Baker, as a director, is referring to movie making, over the course of the interview acknowledging the accessibility and democratization that digital has created in the cost-intensive industry, yet insisting on the distinct and inimitable aesthetic, and corresponding worthiness and continued viability, of shooting on film.

So too does his cost-benefit analysis ring true for filmmaking’s ancestral precedent, photography, which has similarly been transformed by the digital revolution, and has also more recently (and perhaps more acutely) seen a filter-obsessed movement intent on mimicking film’s aesthetic.

That a VSCO filter with the “grain” dialed up was no substitute for the actual photo-chemical development process and resultant film negative didn’t occur to me until I first actually shot film earlier this year, after years of only shooting digital. To be clear, by no means am I advocating one medium is “better,” just affirming the sentiment that, as of now, they produce recognizably distinct results, filters or otherwise done additionally to digital.

Upon being asked by Rose to explain further what exactly about it is unobtainable, Baker continued:

For me there’s an organic quality that happens when you’re using the photo-chemical process that really you just cannot capture with digital—no matter what people say, you take any filter and throw it on your digital. I really, honestly feel that there is something that you see up there that looks like a true photograph.Sean Baker

Watch the segment here, with the quoted comments above arriving at 2:10.

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