There’s a moment at about the two thirds mark of Side By Side when Keanu Reeves is discussing computer effects with legendary director Martin Scorcese. Scorcese says he’s worried that the effects are getting too good and that soon, audiences won’t know what on screen is real and what isn’t. Reeves brings this up to James Cameron, who directed a nearly all computer effects film, Avatar and before that, Titantic. Cameron replies, “When has it ever been real? You know this Keanu. That rainy night scene in New York was actually shot on a sunny day in Burbank.”
Side By Side is a new documentary written and directed by Christopher Kenneally, however you would think it’s made entirely by Keanu Reeves because he is the narrator and the man that gets to interview all of the highly acclaimed directors and cinematographers that appear to discuss the difference between making a movie on film equipment and making one on new digital equipment. The film takes the side from the beginning that digital has won out and that film will become obsolete soon. In fact, the only defenders of film that make appearances are Christopher Nolan and his long time director of photography Wally Pfister.
For those not familiar, film is what you traditionally think of a movie being shot on. Someone on the set yelling “Rolling!” The film or as one person in this documentary put it “the money starts rolling through the camera” and the director yells “Action!” When the scene is over they have to yell “Cut!” and stop the film from running through the camera needlessly. Digital is shot on smaller cameras that can shoot much longer and many more takes because everything is being saved onto a digital device like a USB thumb drive. The director has the ability to watch what has just been shot immediately, rather than wait for the film to be developed overnight. Those are just the basic differences, as this documentary points out, it goes way deeper. Side By Side takes a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the two and why digital is winning and what it can do that film isn’t capable of.
The big name appearances include, Danny Boyle, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, George Lucas, David Lynch, and Steven Soderbergh . Many more people are interviewed by Reeves, and I think he did a good job of getting them to be honest and give brutal opinions at times. For instance, Christopher Nolan and Wally Pfister are not fans of 3D at all. It was a smart move by Kenneally to use an established Hollywood star to get these interviews because the filmmakers probably felt like they could be more open with Reeves.
For people that are interested in film making this is a great look at the history and future of cinematography and directing, however those same people are probably already familiar with what this film covers and nothing new or earth shattering is brought up. If you are someone who is just interested in going to the movies for fun and you don’t care how they are made, this isn’t the documentary for you. So, I’m afraid this movie might have a hard time finding an audience, which is a shame because it’s a well made documentary.
When the credits rolled, I felt like I learned some things that digital technology could do that film just isn’t capable of doing. I enjoyed the way Kenneally made sure to put on the screen whether a movie was shot on film or digitally when he showed a clip of it. One thing I wish Kenneally would’ve gotten into was the frames per second debate that is going to heat up soon when The Hobbit is released. I thought Reeves would’ve gone there with James Cameron because he is an advocate for shooting movies at higher frame rates, however that topic was never touched upon. Missed opportunity, but I say that if you’re interested in how movies get made or if you want to hear some quotes from some big name directors, give it a watch.
Side By Side is currently showing in select cities, but available everywhere via iTunes, Amazon, and VideoOnDemand.