Q and A

INSIGHT: Rob Bowman 

 “It’s got to be film”

Published on website: June 17, 2013
Categories: Television , Q and A
Rob Bowman. (Photo by Chuck Bowman)
Rob Bowman. (Photo by Chuck Bowman)
Rob Bowman. (Photo by Chuck Bowman)

Filmmaking is a family business for Rob Bowman. Taking a cue from his father Chuck—an Emmy-nominated writer, director, producer and television journalist—the younger Bowman got his start as a producer and director in the mid-1980s, working on such hit shows as The A-Team and Star Trek: The Next Generation. He solidified his reputation as a forward-thinking filmmaker when he earned his stripes as producer-director on The X-Files.

InCamera sat down with Bowman earlier this year as he was completing the 2012-2013 season of Castle. He talked about keeping up with the show’s lightning-fast pace and his penchant for Rocky Road ice cream.

At what point in the development process do you generally begin thinking about the capture medium?
You’ve asked the wrong person about what decision to make because the only decision I ever make is that it’s got to be film. It’s the only medium that has the dexterity and artistry to convey all the emotions and the story. However, digital is coming along. And I’m excited about the future possibilities of it … but in the meantime I’m fully entrenched in the world of Kodak and Panavision filmmaking.

Why is it important to you that Castle be shot on film?
From a production standpoint, we go very, very fast on Castle. We don’t blow through things, but because the show has a fast rhythm and pace, we do it fast. To get all the setups, we need to have a piece of equipment where all you do is stuff it full of film and stick a battery into it. And if something breaks, because it’s a machine, you can hear it. So you stop and you fix it. But to add cables and keyboards and monitors and for the camera to not ‘cry when it’s sick’ is a very unnerving thing. So it’s much faster to shoot on film.

That’s a really important distinction that few people ever talk about.
Yeah, it tells you: ‘Hey, I twisted my ankle.’ ‘I broke my finger.’ ‘I chipped a tooth.’ Whatever it is, the camera will tell you. If you start hearing gears grinding like there’s sand in it, you stop filming. We hear enough stories about how productions move to the next location and realize one of the digital locations didn’t record.

In terms of the aesthetic values of film, the competition on both sides of our time slot has always been terrifying. We’ve gone up against the finest. So to be competitive, we try to be better storytellers, we try to be more entertaining and we try to be as cinematic as we can within the time and resources we have.

With digital, you can turn the camera on and shoot for days, whereas with film there comes a time when you need to call ‘Cut.’ How does that work in terms of the fast-paced style of the show?
First of all, many actors like the sound of ‘Roll camera,’ then the clapper, and then a good sharp ‘Action!’ from the director, almost as a metronome to start performing. … An actor knows, ‘When he says go, I’ll do it and then I’ll stop. And then I’ll catch my breath and we’ll do it again.’ They don’t necessarily know where the finish line is; they’re just going to keep going. So that metronome of ‘the take’ is very helpful to an actor.

What do you say to your colleagues when you discuss origination formats?
Film looks better, and art is subjective. I always use the Baskin Robbins analogy: I order Rocky Road because I like it, you order Chocolate Mint because you like it. That doesn’t mean that Chocolate Mint is bad or Rocky Road is bad, it’s just what we like. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t like the look of film you’re wrong; it’s just a matter of taste. If you’re the person in charge of the look—which I am—and I say film looks better, what are you going to say? If I’m in charge of picking the ice cream, then everybody’s getting Rocky Road!

Film is also the only proven archival medium. How important is it to you to know that the images you’re capturing today will still be viable years from now?
The extreme description is that it’s kind of gut-wrenching to think that the things we’re doing might be disposable. There’s supposed to be, historically, some legacy to what we do. So maybe the archival process will get sorted out for digital … it’s one of those costs that not many people talk about because it’s not a financially viable part of the digital medium.