Monday, November 9, 2009

8 Tips For Shooting Modern Super8, by Philip Vigeant

A Few tips can go a long way

Parts of my job as senior colorist at Pro8mm, is that I get to scan about a million feet of super8 film each year. In doing so I get to see what is happening in the super8 world with some vantage point based on volume. I look at my work as a two-part job. One, as a creative colorist, trying to get the most information off of the frames for our customers, and second, as an inspector looking for bugs in the over all super 8 process. When I see something that needs improving, I try to see what I can do with the technology at hand to facilitate a positive change. Internally, I can talk to my employees who are the people most responsible for each area and together we try to attack the issue. Externally, it is much more difficult. You have competitive concerns to address, and some companies just do not see these problems as issues the way I might. In addition, there are things that are totally beyond my control that can play a major roll in great looking super8 footage. These things are up to the filmmaker. Each year the technology for scanning film to digital seems to improve, resulting in more things that I can fix. Native 1080 HD film scanning now provides me with tremendous processing power to do many things that were impossible just a year ago. There are new things on the horizon as well, which will give us even greater ability to improve an imperfect image. However, there are a few things that if the filmmaker does not get right, there is very little that can be done to remedy the problem, no matter how much technology you have at hand.

As the years progress the problems seem to change and evolve with each new generation. For those who grew up with film as the main picture-taking medium some things were learned at every juncture of the photographic process. Things such as focus were so common knowledge of that generation that we often forget that this is knowledge that you have to learn. A colleague of mine who teaches filmmaking here in California said that he has to spend days of the semester going over some of this basic stuff. Therefore, here is my short list 2009 of the 8 most common areas of concern I see every day in transferring film. I hope that a few quick tips and expatiation can help you create better images with your super8 camera.

# 1 Hair in the Gate:

Because of the nature of film and the way it travels through a camera and exposes each frame, the system will build up debris in the gate that if it is allowed to accumulate, and this will block some of the image. The metal gate frames the film with what should be a smooth black border. Because you are running film over metal, it tends to leaves tiny deposits on the gate as the film passes over it. This emulsion residue is a gummy substance that is barely visible to the naked eye. If this is not cleaned, from your camera, from time to time you can have several problems. First, the gummy glue can trap foreign

Substances like hair, lint, and dust and hold it firmly, often where the image is taken in a camera. The result are these ugly black globs which start around the boarder that blocks some of your image usually on the edges but sometimes big enough to block a lot of picture. Depending on the size of these foreign obstacles, a hair in the gate can ruin a shot. In addition, the build up of emulsion can get so bad that your camera can physically scratch the film. The fix for these problems are very simple. Go to the store and purchase a child’s toothbrush. Gently brush a few strokes between every cartridge. Every, single cartridge! It is amazingly simple but incredibly effective. Do not use compressed air as all that will do is blow dirt around and it might blow debris into somewhere you cannot get it out. In addition, compressed air does not often have the force to move the object because remember, it is stuck in place. Do not use a Q-tip, as the chance of leaving a fiber of cotton is greater then the good you will do by performing the cleaning.

If your camera has never been cleaned, you might need to do some more extensive work. Once it is clean, the brush trick is all that should be need to keep you hair free.

#2 the 85 Filter Situation

In the beginning, all super8 film was Tungsten Balance, which means that the film will produce true colors under tungsten light. If you wanted to get correct colors in daylight, you had to use an orange filter called an 85 (sometimes called 85A). For convenience, every Super 8 camera was built with an internal 85 filter. The filter was usually ??? in place because most filming was done outside in daylight. There were some clever ways to take out the filter when you were filming in Tungsten (Interior Light). The filter removal system could be activated by the super8 cartridges notch system, or by a switch, or by sticking something into a place in the camera to take it out or some combination of these things.

Every super8 camera manufacturer had their own idea as to how this should be done.Text Box:  Today, you have dozens of super8 film stocks that can be either daylight or tungsten color balanced. When you film in daylight with daylight film, you do not want to use an 85 filter. At Pro8mm we. have been taking the internal filters out of super8 cameras for many years now. When this is done correctly, it can greatly improve the optical performance of a camera. Today because you can buy daylight film, it is actually inconvenient to have the internal 85 filter. Some film manufacturing companies prescribe to the cartridge notch for 85-filter removal and some do not. The standard for dealing with this 85 thing are a mess, so it is up to you the filmmaker to understand what how you camera handles this and that film you are using the correct film for your filming environment, daylight or tungsten to get this correct. Although you can do some amazing color, correction in post if you do not get this right you will never achieve the brilliance in color your images can have. In addition, all this correcting takes time, which cost money.

(insert photo EXAMPLE: Pro8-85 shot correctly Daylight no filter Shot on New Pro814 Wide. Pro8-80 shot incorrectly attempted fix in post)

What make this a little challenging is in most super8 cameras the 85 was placed behind where it can be seen with the viewfinder optics. If your camera has a switch or you toggle between the two setting for filter in and out you will not be able to see the effect of having the filter in by looking in the viewfinder. The major exception to this would be Beaulieu cameras that have a reflex viewfinder where the entire image path is viable in the viewfinder.

If you do not own a Beaulieu you must open up the camera door where you insert the film and look through the camera body. Put your eye in line with what the film will see. You must run the camera to see through. It also will help if you point the camera at something dark so the exposure system is open, or manually set the camera to exposure wide open. Once you find a position where you can see light through the camera body flip the switch that goes between the 85 filters in and out. You should see the light turn a darker orange when the filter is in. However, you are not done. Take the super8 cartridge you are about to use and put it in the camera. While doing so, look to see if it is flipping and if there is a type of lever in the camera. Now go back to check your camera and make sure that the position the cartridge has not effected the switching. The other approach is to make sure all your settings are correct and the cartridge has the correct notch for the 85 filters. A cartridge with a notch for the 85 filters will not remove the filter. A cartridge without a notch will automatically remove the filter. In some cameras, an external switch can override this, but in others, if the notch removes the 85 filter it cannot be returned with the switch.

1 comment:

FSDB said...

Another important thing is to NETWORK, because shared experience can easily improve the quality of the work.

Our site - Film School Database - is a great resource of finding other super 8 filmmakers. Pro8mm being one of the few supporters of the format, it's important to find everyone interested in it to keep it alive.

Happy filmmaking,

The Film School Database Team