Movie Making Made Easy

Making a real movie doesn’t have to be expensive. You’d be surprised to know that Super 8mm format is still being used today, and the Super 8mm movie camera does not have to be expensive to produce excellent results. In fact, Oliver Stone is a big fan of Super 8mm film format and has used it extensively in many movies, such as “The Doors,” “Natural Born Killers,” “Nixon,” “U Turn,” and “JFK.” Many music video producers prefer using Super 8mm for the artsy feel they provide. Truly, that “feel” cannot be recreated in video. At least not yet.

Also, there are many film events which are Super 8mm friendly and shun video all together. One such festival is the Flicker Film Festival. You like challenges? The Bentley Film Festival requires you to turn in the film undeveloped with no editing. This one is obviously made for people that are confident with their in-camera editing skills.

CAMERAS

There are many excellent, yet inexpensive, film cameras out there. There may be one hiding out in the closet of some one you know, or maybe that yard sale you just drove by had one for a few bucks. Perhaps that flea market you’ve been wanting to go to has one as well.

There were thousands and thousands of these cameras made from 1965, when Kodak first released this wonderful format, until sometime in the late 70’s. In fact, by the 1970’s, many of these cameras had the same features as some of the more expensive 35mm movie cameras. Despite of the huge number of cameras available to the small format film maker, most of these machines were built with the “weekend warrior” in mind, not the professional movie maker. Whether you are a professional, student, or hobbyist, you will want to get the most camera for your buck.

There are two factors currently raising the price of Super 8 cameras. The first one is obvious: Price-and-Demand. The most incredible and unexpected factor, however, is Hollywood’s renewed interest in this format. Big name producers, like Oliver Stone are using high-tech super 8mm cameras in full feature films. Music video producers have found a new artsy look and feel in this format as well.

The popularity of Super 8mm has taken everyone by surprise, and the greedy have already jumped on the bandwagon, buying Super 8mm film cameras and selling them as quickly as they can without knowing a thing about them, or having the know-how to test them before they sell them to the unsuspecting film student. Often times, the buyer will pay top dollar for one of these cameras only to find out that some important component, such as the light meter, doesn’t work.

Buyer beware. It is true that you get what you pay for, and it shouldn’t be any different when buying a film camera, but make sure the seller knows this philosophy goes both ways. If you pay good money for a camera, then you deserve what you paid for: a good camera. Expect to pay between $75 to $300 for a good working Super 8mm camera.

What should you look for in a Super 8mm camera? Avoid automatic light metering, unless there is a manual override. Try to find a camera which will allow you to use a whole range of film ASA from 40 all the way up to 160. Seek the same brand names you’d look for if you were looking for a regular film camera: Nikon, Minolta, Canon, and Yashica instantly come to mind as superb quality and precision machines. Bauer super 8’s were made by Rollei cameras; Nizo’s were made by the famous appliance manufacturer Braun, and are excellent cameras. Chinon made (and still does today) cameras for most manufacturers, including Kodak and Bolex.

At the present time there is only one manufacturer of Super 8mm cameras. That would be Beaulieu Cinema which are distributed in the US by Super 8 Sound, in Burbank, California. This is an expensive piece of equipment ranging from $300 to $5000. They are capable of sound synchronization, handling film loads of 50, 200 and 400 feet, and using a video tap so you can check your shot before the film is sent in for developing.

MAKING YOUR FIRST MOVIE: Shooting your film is the most fun, and most important part of production. Here’s the beginning to end process as I see it, it is not difficult, complex or highly intellectual: it simply needs to be fun and effective. The first thing you’ll want to do, no matter how simple you think your movie will be, is write a script. The script is what separates the professionals from the weekend hobbyist. Even if it is a 5 minute short, write a script.

Next, find some playful friends to help you with your movie by playing parts in it. This approach works very well because of the interesting dynamics in personal relationships which bleed over into the acting. Have a friend that is shy and introverted? Give them the part of the loud and obnoxious character. Know some one that is calculated and anal retentive? Give them the part of the eccentric slob. Have an acquaintance that is scattered brained? Give them the part of the yogi, scientist or detective. Anyway, you get the idea. You’ll get great lifelike performances, and your friends will thank you for the therapy.

Don’t have friends? Write an ad for the local acting newspaper that reads something like:

“Need actors for film project. Can’t pay, but can provide copy of finished product in video.”

There are many excellent aspiring actors out there that are willing to work for free: they simply want something to put on their resume. Be sure to get release forms from your actors just in case you want to show your film. Treat them well. Feed them when you can, even if it’s only Taco Bell, Burger King or McDonalds. Provide them with rides to the shoot whenever you are able. Don’t forget that they are there for free. If you insult some one you may have to write their demise on the script or risk having to redo the movie from the beginning when you fire them.

When you are shooting your movie, try to avoid using the automatic exposure settings on your camera. If, for example, someone comes into the scene wearing a bright dress, or waving a bright banner your Super 8mm camera will try to compensate by closing the iris on your lens, and this will result in an uneven exposure and inconstancy in the film.

Try to shoot at about the same time every day. If you shoot a scene when it is cloudy, and need to pick it up the next day it will be difficult to capture the same “feel” unless it is cloudy then too. And whenever possible try using the same type of film to avoid contrast and brightness issues with the finished product.

And while we are talking about consistency: Use a tripod – use a tripod- use a tripod.

Make your film first on video – it’s cheap and easy to edit. Shoot 2 or 3 takes of the same scene so that you have a choice and can edit out the parts you don’t like. After you have made your film on video, get everyone together for pizza and beer, and show it to all of your actors and crew… they are after all, as much a part of that film as you are. Don’t forget to complement them when they have done well. All of you could critique the film together, and when you are done offering your ever so humble opinion of the performance, you could ask them if they would like to do it again: this time for real… on film. Get them excited.

I cannot stress how important it is to preview the film with *everyone*. It should be a fun and energetic event with a lot of food and drink. The operative word here is “fun.”

FILM

Super 8mm film comes in plastic, light proof cartridges can be loaded in a matter of seconds, in sunlight without requiring that the camera operator thread the film into sprockets. Each cartridge came with indented notches on the back end which would tell the camera the film speed, so that the user doesn’t even have to concern himself with ISO or ASA settings and the like. There is 50 feet of film in each cartridge which will give you about 3 1/2 minutes of filming at 18 frames per second.

You might think that Super 8mm is difficult to find. Not so. In fact, there is a company called “Super 8 Sounds” in Burbank, California that will take high-quality 35mm professional movie film, run it through a machine that cuts the film to the Super 8mm width and then load it into the Super 8mm cartridge Pretty neat, eh? The same company sells high-end Super 8mm cameras for the pro. Also, Kodak still makes a Super 8mm film. Visit their web site.

EDITING

Little has changed since the release of Super 8mm film in May of 1965. It comes in 50 foot lengths, and it is loaded into plastic cartridges. Once the film is exposed it is sent to a lab, which returns the film in a plastic spool. These spools represent anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 minutes, depending on the speed you shot the film in. In order to make a movie, you will have to splice a series of shots together in the right sequence until you end up with the desired effect.

There are a few simple, but very important things you should know before you attempt editing film. It is helpful if you have a sacrificial roll the first time you try your hand at editing, so that you don’t ruin any important footage that you may want to use for your movie. When I was learning, I bought old home footage film reels from Goodwill stores and used them to practice on.

Handling Film: Never touch the surface of your film, even if you are using gloves. The fluids produced by human skin have a corrosive effect on film emulsion. Once it is stained you will never be able to remove the all of the marks left by your fingers. Handle it by the sides of the film, being very careful not to touch the surface.

Which Side Is Up? Upon close inspection (ahem!) one will easily deduct that there is two sides to the film. Determining this is important because part of your editing will deal with scrapping the emulsion from the back of the frame you are cutting. Here’s how you determine what’s what:

1. One side is skinny, and the other is opaque. The shinny side is the base; the opaque is the side with the emulsion.

2. Look at the curvature of the film, and see which way the film curls. The emulsion side of the film will be on the inside of the curve.

3. AS A LAST RESORT – IF ALL ELSE FAILS: You could moisten your lip and place the film on it. The emulsion side (opaque) will stick to your lip, but the base side (shinny) will not.

(WARNING: This is a lot like putting a very cold popsicle of your tongue, and you risk ripping skin off your lip. Make sure your lip is very wet. Again, this is a last resort, as you also risk damaging the film. This method is considered vulgar by the film editing industry.)

So… how do you do it? Here, we will deal with the equipment and basic theory.

EDITING THEORY & PRACTICE

The theory is quite simple, really. It is the practice that is difficult and requires a high degree of skill and forethought. Practice on old, worthless reels to get the hang of it. Once you do, you’ll be cutting and splicing like a pro.

Simply put, a movie is a series of shots spliced together in the right sequence. The editor must be able to separate each shot into segments, and piece it back together in the right sequence, while eliminating undesirable scenes. Most editors come with an on board cutter/splicer. You cut the film (usually in the middle of a frame), scrape off the emulsion; apply your cement, and splice.

EDITING TOOLS

You will need to get yourself a good editor. An editor is a basically a hand operated projector with rewinds for your spools, a view screen, and a splicer. You run your film through the viewer, you cut the parts you don’t want, and glue together the parts you do want. In the 50’s, the Mansfield company made thousands of editors, splicers, glue and other tools for the movie maker. Even Sears and Montgomery Ward got in on the movie madness of the 70’s and made several really good, and inexpensive editors and movie cameras. These are still around and can be found at eBay for a very reasonable price.

An editor does its magic by way of mirrors. There is a lamp that sits above the sprocket which shines through your film as it runs through the gate. The image is projected to one mirror, bounced to another, and finally projected to the monitor.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $10.00 (Baia plastic model) to $200.00 (Hahnel Motormat motorized metal unit) for one of these babies. People who know what these are worth would rather keep these than to part with them for cheap. Look for these items at eBay. You may have to search through many listings but you will eventually find a good one. Remember that one of the things an editor must not do is scratch the film as it runs through the sprocket, or all of your hard work will have been for nothing.

Make movies. It’s fun.

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