Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Super 8 Film is The Power Connection

Filmmaking is a collaborative process. Just look at the end of any motion picture and you’ll notice that the list of individuals and companies involved in the making of a single movie runs into the thousands. And these credits show only the individuals who have a contract specifying that they be named. There are additionally thousands of other people who contributed their talent toward the project who are not listed in the credits.

Before you can collaborate with anyone, you have to connect with them. Connecting requires one of two things to happen; either you have something that someone needs for their project, in which case they seek you out, or the other option is that you are simply there at the right place at the right time, and you can impress upon them that they need you as part of their team to do this thing.

Experience in Super 8 film provides you with the great power of being connected to the filmmaking process. By its nature, just using Super 8 allows you to grasp the technical issues involved in filmmaking and be able to express yourself with the lingo that makes film work, particularly when you use Super 8 in the same way professional people use 35mm film. Your acuity with the process makes you one with the elite group of people who do the majority of motion picture work.

Let me give you an example. Say you shot some Super 8 and you used the new Fuji Vivid 47 stock in your project. You shoot, you scan to HD, you edit. It really doesn’t even matter what you’re shooting, even if it’s just shooting a friend in your own back yard.

Now you’re at a gathering, say a film screening or a festival where you meet a celebrity film person who works in the industry. Because they are in the industry, they know about the new Fuji stock but they can’t just grab a $600 roll of this stock and spend another $1,000 to test it out, so they haven’t tried it yet. So you start a conversation about your experience with the stock; how you like the blacks in Vivid 47 and how much more punchy the color was compared to when you shot with the older stocks, etc. You are instantly part of the group.
You are connected.

Compare this to what it would be like if you knew nothing about film and were just doing the gaga over the fact that you just brushed elbows with a celebrity and told them how much you loved their work…just like everyone else on the outside looking to get in.

Practically everyone over the age of 30 began their careers in the film industry using 8mm films. The community of people in the film industry that has fond memories of their beginning in this business, whether at school or just making movies with their friends, is a staggering collection of some of the most influential individuals and organizations in the film world. Most of the top filmmakers of our time trace their roots to 8mm beginnings. Because they started in 8mm, when they learn that you are also shooting in 8mm, there is the bond. It’s impossible for them to resist taking you in under their wing and telling you stories about their first experiences, about how A led to B and how it was their first Super 8 project that got them connected to the world of film.
Again, compare this to you meeting one of the greats and talking about digital and how film is dead, and you claiming you have no use for learning the craft that is the life blood of these peoples’ existence.

I have seen this connectivity through 8mm film happen so many times over my career that I rate the experience up there with love at first sight and other mythical relationships. I was once working on a film for Neil Young called Year of the Horse and during a break, director Jim Jarmusch and I were in the front office when Oscar-Winning Actor Forest Whitaker came into the shop to get his Super 8 camera repaired. Jim asked me to introduce him to Forest and the two got straight into their Super 8 experiences. They were both so engrossed in each other’s experiences, they decided to take off and go get some lunch together. Jim didn’t return until the next day’s session. Their connection through Super 8 created an instant bond leading to their collaboration on the film Ghost Dog.

We are all connected in this world through different things, whether it is religion, nationalities, language, etc. For film people, we are connected through our film experiences. Ever notice how you will see a group of famous people who all worked on the same beginning film project? How did all these people come together to make a film like American Graffiti and then all go on have enormously successful careers? The only explanation is connectivity.

I always bring along my Super 8 camera whenever I travel. I use it to document my family and do tests on the various technical things I have going on at the shop. Everywhere I go, filmmakers stop me to talk about their Super 8 experiences. A Super 8 camera is like a lightning rod for fellow filmmakers.

Like the filmmaking process itself, there is nothing that I have done in Super 8 that I have done by myself. Even some of my proudest accomplishments were really just massive collaborative efforts between many people. One great thing the process of filmmaking has taught me is that great things are most often the sum of these collaborations.

Take, for example, my introduction of Super 8 color negative film. It was filmmakers that wanted it and encouraged me to work out the issues to do it. It was filmmakers using it that made it possible to perfect it. Then there were the dozens of people whose technical skills helped me accomplish it. Even companies like Kodak helped me and provided technical support to make this product a reality.
I take credit for it like a Producer or Director does with a film because it was my house that had to be mortgaged in order to raise the money to get it done and my direction that got it accomplished, but I would also have a credit list as long as that of a major motion picture if I were to credit everyone who contributed to the project.

To be a filmmaker, you have to learn to reach out to the film world, connect and collaborate. If you’re a person in China who wants to be a filmmaker, is it insane for you to use film and to send it across the globe to California for processing and scanning? I say, “No.” In fact, it is the most powerful thing you could do, because you are reaching out to the film world. You are connecting yourself to over 100 years of motion picture making. If your career progresses, you may, like those who came before you, one day trace your roots to a tiny little 8mm wide film format.
That’s the Power of Super 8 Film.

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