The Big Reveal is this Gus Van Sant interview by Ain’t It Cool ‘s Mr. Beaks is that Gus initially wanted to shoot Milk in 16mm and have it look like a hand-held ’70s doc, like something D.A. Pennebaker, Albert Maysles or Frederic Wiseman might have shot.
“Well, it started with Wiseman literally. We wanted to shoot in 16mm. And we did hire documentary shooters that had worked along the same lines as Frederick Wiseman. We were even going to try to get Albert Maysles, because he still shoots and, you know, might be able to do it. We were trying to get as close as we could to the real 1960s and 1970s documentarians. [D.A.] Pennebaker. We could’ve seen what he was up to.
“[But] we didn’t get the main guys, but we did get the guys right under them – which was weird because they make a lot more money than a camera operator does on a Hollywood movie. It was at strange expense. And strange union regulations had to be signed off on. And because we weren’t able to use actual 16mm cameras, we realized that our idea was foiled: we wanted to shoot in 16, and we wanted it to be reversal film, and we wanted it to match with the documentary footage that we planned on using.
“But we were talked out of using the 16mm film. And we thought that would be okay; we thought, “Okay, they’ll just work with thirty-five cameras.” But that little-bit-larger camera actually affects the way the DPs work. Even though they’re doing the same thing, the optics are different; the actual depth of field starts to come in to play. So all of a sudden your film looks like everyone else’s cinÃ©ma vÃ©rite, Paul Greengrass, The Office television show. Law & Order…it starts to look like all of it. It looks like everybody’s 35mm version of a 16mm Frederick Wiseman-style film.
:So we realized our folly and switched quite drastically into a Godfather.” situation.