J.J. Abrams To Shoot 'Star Wars: Episode VII' On 35mm Film With Cinematographer Dan Mindel

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by Drew Taylor
August 22, 2013 7:11 PM
21 Comments
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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away almost every director in Hollywood shot their films on 35 mm film. Now, the switchover from film to digital photography is almost complete, with even old school diehards like Martin Scorsese making the transition (this fall's "Wolf of Wall Street" will be his first non-3D digital movie). Oddly enough, J.J. Abrams, a futuristically-minded filmmaker who seems to always be looking forward, has become a notable holdout, refusing to adopt the new technology. Even odder is that this will continue with his biggest project yet: Disney's "Star Wars: Episode VII." He's also recruited an old favorite as the movie's cinematographer.

According to The Force.net, at an industry event in Los Angeles, the announcement was made that the amazingly talented Dan Mindel will be photographing the new galactic adventure (on actual film!). Mindel, who memorably collaborated with Tony Scott on "Enemy of the State," "Spy Game" and "Domino," cultivating the hyperactive, color-soaked style for which Scott was largely remembered (at least in the later part of his career), has worked with Abrams previously on "Mission: Impossible III," "Star Trek" and "Star Trek Into Darkness." Mindel helped develop the shimmery, lens-flare-intensive look of the Abrams' glittery "Star Trek" universe. (He's also worked on big budget sci-fi fare for Disney, having shot "John Carter" for the studio.)

The still subtitle-free "Star Wars: Episode VII" will be shot on Kodak film stock 5219, for all the techno-nerds out there. We're honestly amazed there is enough fresh Kodak film stock out there in the world to facilitate a movie this big and cumbersome.

What's even more interesting is the fact that the "Star Wars" prequels were seen as technological bellwethers: "Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace," was the first movie to include a digitally photographed shot (it's a scene of gas entering a meeting chamber) and one of the first films to ever be projected digitally; "Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones" was one of the first big movies shot entirely on the digital format, ditto for "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith."

Producer Kathleen Kennedy had already suggested that the new "Star Wars" movie will take a deliberately old-school approach to the material, and this further solidifies it. As The Force.net notes, earlier this year at the Produced By conference, Abrams held true to his love of traditional film: " "I have not yet shot a movie digitally. Film is the thing I am most comfortable with. If film were to go away—and digital is challenging it—then the standard for the highest, best quality would go away."

No news on whether or not the film will be 3D or IMAX, but 3D seems likely. "Star Wars: Episode VII" will, of course, destroy helpless planets in the summer of 2015.

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21 Comments

  • Gangatron | November 16, 2013 8:35 AMReply

    Digital is garbage. Essentially you are photographing nothing. A binary code which 50 or 100 years from now shall be worthless, that is if it still exists. The transfer to digital is a fraud, propagated by dumb producers & dumber cinematographers. Roger Deakins is a prime exponent of the new idiocy. A cinematographer who is getting old & lazy. His failing eyesight means that he needs a big digital feed to see what he's getting. The talented young cinematographers (Greig Fraser, Adam Arkapaw, to name a few), love shooting on film because they know this format gives you a depth & beauty that digital cannot match.

  • S Martin | October 2, 2013 3:08 PMReply

    Some transition Scorsese made, since Wolf of Wolf of Wall Street was mostly shot on film.

  • LA2000 | September 20, 2013 9:27 PMReply

    While dutch angles and lens flares worked just fine as a method of visually reinvigorating the dusty "Star Trek" series, Abrams really needs an elegant and skilled visual classicist to create a sense of updated continuity with the original 3 pictures. Mindel is fine, but that isn't his forte.

    It should be Roger Deakins. Period.

  • Rob Howard | August 25, 2013 6:04 PMReply

    A step in the right direction, for sure - but I'd rather see this shot in 70mm.

  • Matt Zoller Seitz | August 23, 2013 2:27 AMReply

    ""Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace," was the first movie to include a digitally photographed shot."

    Depends on what you mean by "digitally photographed."

  • tag | August 24, 2013 7:36 PM

    Jeez. You prequel haters won't give credit to Episode I for ANYTHING, will you?

  • Brian K | August 23, 2013 1:59 AMReply

    Dan Mindel. 1st AC on Thelma and Louise. Now that's some serious pedigree. I salute JJ Abrams for filming on 35 mm. Good news. Digital is what it is. Great in many ways, but, still not film. Digital is 1s and 0s. Film is particulate on subatomic level. Light and shadows reacting to infinite substructures. Big difference. Can hardly wait to see the new Star Wars film. Could be one of the best. Although I really liked Revenge Of The Sith. Big Darth Vader fan here.

  • goldfarb | August 23, 2013 8:29 PM

    no.
    film isn't infinite and the images don't exist on a sub-atomic level...
    the grain you see in film images are the crystals of silver halide...
    and in ALL films that have VFX (and for the new SW films this will mean 97%+ shots) the film will be scanned, DE-GRAINED, comped (VXF integrated) and then RE-GRAINED digitally to try to match the original film stock, or to match the amount and type of grain the director/DP want.

  • gilles | August 23, 2013 4:22 AM

    In the end, this beautiful organic piece of film will be scanned, and will turn into 1s and 0s to. And it will be massively colour corrected as well. That being said. There's sill something different about it. I saw Man of Steel a few weeks back and although it has plenty of cgi material it looked amazingly nice. But then it becomes interesting. Because in all that cgi material they had to match the look of the filmstock including moving grain and the match was perfect. Which would mean that you could completely mimic the look of film.

  • Páll | August 22, 2013 11:18 PMReply

    You know Peter Suschitzky (Cinemaphotographer on TESB) is still working? Just an idea.

  • Dr. Dave | August 22, 2013 8:33 PMReply

    Now, if he does all the effects with miniatures instead of CGI... I'm in.

  • Glass | August 22, 2013 8:27 PMReply

    I'm sure Dan Mindel is amazingly talented, but you say that like they got Roger Deakins or Vittorio Storaro onboard. Great, the guy who Tony Scott's horrible late-career films is shooting this.

  • Eponymous | August 24, 2013 11:27 AM

    What he said.

  • Gerry Mander | August 22, 2013 9:20 PM

    Man, just how awesome would that have been if Jar Jar Abrams had hired Deakins or Storaro to shoot Episode VII... although Deakins has said he works pretty much exclusively with digital now, but Vittorio Storaro (or even Anthony Dod Mantle) shooting a 'Star Wars' film would have been something to behold! But as long as they have the goods on page, the film should come together very nicely regardless of who's behind the camera lighting the shots...

  • eric | August 22, 2013 8:12 PMReply

    Digital is like McDonalds - fast, quick and inherently lifeless. Film is like slow cooked food - has depth, life, heart, character, soul.

    To anyone that does not work in the industry - film can come out after simple processing looking amazing.

    I always let out a sigh of boredom when the digital capture pops up on our screens - it is lifeless and doesn't capture the scene with all it's beauty.

    It is then the weeks and weeks of post we have to put into the capture to make it look halfway decent.

    All that effort just to make digital 'look" like film.

  • eric | August 22, 2013 8:11 PMReply

    Digital is like McDonalds - fast, quick and inherently lifeless. Film is like slow cooked food - has depth, life, heart, character, soul.

    To anyone that does not work in the industry - film can come out after simple processing looking amazing.

    I always let out a sigh of boredom when the digital capture pops up on our screens - it is lifeless and doesn't capture the scene with all it's beauty.

    It is then the weeks and weeks of post we have to put into the capture to make it look halfway decent.

    All that effort just to make digital 'look" like film.

  • Northern Star | August 22, 2013 7:21 PMReply

    This is GREAT news, say what you want about the increasing quality and resolution of digital capture images, but they still cannot and never will be able to compare with the warmth, the richness, and the texture of a 35mm image... it's just a pity Peter Jackson didn't shoot 'The Hobbit' on film to match the aesthetic of 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy.

    With a strong script in place, shooting on film, and bringing back actual scale models for VFX shots (as implied by Kathleen Kennedy), I would say thngs are looking mighty good in the Episode VII camp right now... onward to December 2015!

  • ted | August 22, 2013 7:13 PMReply

    Wonder when PTA will not be able to shoot on film anymore.

  • hank | August 22, 2013 9:46 PM

    LOL BOB. YEAH TED< WONDER WHEN BRO.

  • bob | August 22, 2013 8:30 PM

    while we're posing random questions: wonder how hot it'll be when the sun explodes.

  • joe | August 22, 2013 8:28 PM

    that will be the day when he,tarantino and nolan will all retire

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