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Important Firsts in Digital Filmmaking  

Ann Casano
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In 1987, Italian director Peter del Monte’s Julia and Julia became the very first movie shot with a high definition video system. The movie looked grainy, the resolution unclear. Over the next decade, digital filmmaking rapidly developed. Yet even a novice could detect the difference between a movie shot with a digital camera and one shot on film. In 2016, digital technology is so advanced, such detection is nearly impossible. Here are the 14 most important firsts in digital cinema.

Shooting with digital cameras is less expensive, easier to edit, and more accessible to filmmakers outside of Hollywood than shooting on film. Yes, of course, there are directors like Quentin Tarantino who swear by celluloid and feel that the look of a motion picture should not be comprised. However, veteran directors like Martin Scorsese and James Cameron have made blockbusters that represent important moments for digital films.

George Lucas’s Attack of the Clones is also on this list of digital filmmaking firsts. He filmed the entire movie using digital cameras. Esteemed directors Robert Rodriguez, Danny Boyle, and Michael Mann also have important firsts in digital movies. The controversy and debate of celluloid versus digital may rage for a while longer, but in the meantime, more and more acclaimed filmmakers are abandoning the old methods in favor of new technology.

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Anchorman 2 (2013) was the last film released by Paramount on 35 mm film. The studio now distributes all their movies in the digital format. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), directed by film preservationist and and all-time great Martin Scorsese, was the first movie distributed entirely digitally. The move saves Paramount millions and forces theaters to be equipped with a modern digital projection system, or else lose all Paramount films.

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Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was mostly filmed in the digital format; some scenes were shot with a 35 mm camera. The movie won a total of eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography. Essentially, a cinematographer is responsible for how a film looks. So when a digital film wins an Oscar for cinematography, it's a clear announcement that digital can look just as good as celluloid on the big screen.

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First Movie Shot Using an HD Video System - Julia and Julia
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Julia and Julia is the movie that started the digital revolution. Italian director Peter del Monte created the first movie shot with Sony's High Definition Video System, an analog video format with 1125 lines of resolution. Since the film was made in 1987, theaters did not have the capability to screen it, so it had to be converted into 35 mm for distribution.

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In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock had the idea to make an entire film in an uninterrupted take. The issue with that revelation, at the time, was that film magazines only last for ten minutes, so shooting a one-take feature on celluloid was impossible; the film reel had to be changed when it ran out. Hitchcock sort of found a way around the particulars and used ten invisible cuts when he filmed the 80-minute mystery Rope.

With digital, there is no film magazine. You can shoot for hours. In 2002, director Alexander Sokurov achieved Hitchcock's goal with Russian Ark, a historical drama/pageant filmed at the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. The entire movie is one uninterrupted 96-minute Steadicam shot. That means that there are no cuts, no edits, and of course no room for error. If an actor makes the tiniest mistake and misses a mark 95 minutes into filming, the entire movie has to be shot again.

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