"Not everyone is comfortable taking on this type of challenge," said Eric Brevig, an Academy Award-winning visual-effects supervisor at Lucas' special effects shop, Industrial Light & Magic. "A lot of people are testing out high-definition cameras in secret. They're terrified of making mistakes."
They have reason to be, as the technological evolution in movies has left behind a landscape littered with casualties. When sound was added to film, thousands of musicians lost their jobs because theaters no longer employed live orchestras to accompany silent movies. A generation of actors failed to make the transition, and directors weren't spared.
Onetime Hollywood giants such as Rex Ingram, who directed "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," and Fred Niblo, who directed "Ben-Hur" and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in "The Mark of Zorro," quickly disappeared as the new tools became part of daily life.
Digital cameras herald a similar and potentially traumatic shift. Directors and cinematographers face a terrifying question: What happens if you lack the skills to continue telling stories in a world in which the narrative tools have fundamentally changed?
"You become afraid," said cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. "I'd spent 20 years learning how to use a film camera. Now, I had to pick up something new, and there were all these other people who were far better at using this new technology than I was."
While working as director of photography on "Ali," Lubezki spent time scouting locations and photographing them in the middle of the night using a digital video camera.
The result "was so different and interesting," he said, that director Michael Mann asked him to re- create the surreal feel of the footage with a film camera. After weeks of experimentation, the cinematographer realized he couldn't do it. The only alternative was to use a high-definition digital camera--something he had never used.
"I took classes. I made mistakes," Lubezki said. "I was afraid. I didn't know if I could make it work. But I did, and it was worth it. This is different from film. Not better or worse but different. You can't let fear of the unknown prevent you from taking that chance."
Oliver Stone agrees. Several days after seeing the digital camera demonstration at Lucas' ranch, Stone called an executive at ILM.
The firm had been responsible for figuring out how to make the connection between the digital camera and the post-production effects work on the latest "Star Wars" movie and has close ties to several camera manufacturers.
"Listen, I know you're going to shoot me for this," Stone said to the executive. "But I'm starting work on a new project. Do you know where I can get ahold of some high-def cameras?"
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Advantages: Eliminates expense of film and developing; finished shots are displayed immediately; cameras are more portable.
Disadvantages: Harsher images; shortage of equipment can delay productions; less resistance to extreme elements.
Advantages: Highly detailed images; Familiar ''cinematic'' feel; well understood techniques.
Disadvantages: Expensive film stock and processing; need to develop film daily in order to check results; Potential for expensive reshoots forced by misloaded film or faulty equipment.