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How To Make Your First Real Movie

by Gerald del Campo 2 months ago in how to
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Look Out, Tarantino!

In a digital world where the instant gratification of video is so easy to accomplish, it may surprise you to know about the underground movement of analog movie-making. i.e., Filming on actual film.

There are many reasons why that film is still so popular. It has everything to do with quality, creativity, dynamic contrast, chemistry, and pixels, but we won’t get into that here. Instead, I wish to share with you a method of movie-making that will work with both film cameras and video. These same ideas can be applied to theater productions such as plays.

When the film camera was invented, many painters quit painting, believing their livelihood had ended abruptly. During the time, artists made money making portraits. Painting was a long and challenging process that took months, while photography could produce a more real-to-life image with one click. But photography did not replace the painting. It made it more exclusive.

Similarly, the advent of the digital camera and digital manipulation did not replace photography. It made it more of an art form requiring an understanding of the nature of light, depth of field, and darkroom techniques. Its artists must learn to balance science and art to predict the outcome by causing any desired effect within the camera as the film is exposed or in the lab.

Whether shooting with a film camera or digital, the following suggestions will help you get it done. Perhaps the essential element in any creative endeavor is to have fun.

Making a real movie doesn’t have to be expensive. You’d be surprised to know that the Super 8mm format is still used today. The Super 8mm movie camera does not have to be expensive to produce excellent results. Oliver Stone is a big fan of the Super 8mm film format and 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. That “feel” is much more challenging to recreate in video.

Also, many film events are Super 8mm friendly. One such festival is the Flicker Film Festival. Do you like challenges? The Bentley Film Festival requires you to turn the film undeveloped with no editing. This one is made for confident people 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 someone you know, or maybe that yard sale you just drove by had one for a few bucks. Perhaps that flea market you’ve wanted to go to also has one. eBay is a great source. The price of quality video cameras is dropping as technology evolves.

There were thousands and thousands of these cameras made from 1965, when Kodak first released this format, until sometime in the late 70s. By the 1970s, many of these cameras had the same features as some of the more expensive 35mm movie cameras. Despite the vast number of cameras available to the small format filmmaker, most of these machines were built with the “weekend warrior” in mind, not the professional. Whether you are a pro, 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. However, the most incredible and unexpected factor is Hollywood’s renewed interest in this format. Big-name producers use high-tech super 8mm cameras in full feature films. Music video producers have found a new artsy look and feel in this format.

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

Buyer beware. 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, you deserve what you paid for: a good camera. Expect to pay between $75 to $300 for an excellent working Super 8mm camera.

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

Currently, there is only one manufacturer of Super 8mm cameras. The Beaulieu Cinema is distributed in the US by Pro8mm in Burbank, California. This is an expensive piece of equipment, starting at almost three grand. They are capable of sound synchronization, handling film loads of 50, 200, and 400 feet, and using a video tap to check your shot before the film is sent in for development.

Making your first movie: Shooting your film is the most fun and most important part of the 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 is write a script, no matter how simple you think your movie will be. The writing 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. This approach works very well because of the interesting dynamics in personal relationships, which bleed into the acting. Have a friend that is shy and introverted? Give them the part of the loud and obnoxious character. Know someone that is calculated and anal retentive? Give them the part of the eccentric slob. Have an acquaintance that is scattered-brained? Give them the role of the yogi, scientist, or detective. 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 a film project. Can’t pay, but can provide a copy of the finished product in video.”

Many excellent aspiring actors are willing to work for free: they simply want something to put on their resumes. Be sure to get release forms from your actors if you’re showing your film. Treat them well. Feed them when you can, even if it’s only pizza. 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 colorful banner, your Super 8mm camera will try to compensate by closing the iris on your lens, resulting 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 challenging to capture the same “feel” unless conditions are the same. 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 making your film on video, get everyone together for pizza and beer, and show it to your actors and crew. All of you could critique the movie together. They are, after all, as much a part of that film as you are. Don’t forget to compliment them when they have done well. When you offer 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 your entire cast. 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 and lightproof cartridges that can be loaded in 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 operator doesn’t even have to concern himself with ISO or ASA settings and the like. There are 50 feet of film in each cartridge, giving 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. You can get all sorts of expired but kept-in-freezer cartridges from many photographic supply houses, including eBay. In fact, I have already mentioned Pro8mm in Burbank, California. They offer super 8mm cartridges loaded with high-quality 35mm professional movie film. Pretty neat, eh?

EDITING

Little has changed since the release of Super 8mm film in May of 1965. Once the film is exposed, it is sent to a lab and returned to you in a plastic spool. These spools represent anywhere from 2 1/2 to 5 minutes, depending on your shot speed. To make a movie, you will have to splice a series of shots together in the correct sequence until you have the desired effect.

There are a few simple but essential things you should know before you attempt editing a 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 critical 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 as practice.

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

Which Side Is Up? There are two sides to the film. Determining this is important because part of your editing will involve scrapping the emulsion from the back of the frame you are cutting. Here’s how you choose what’s what:

1. One side is skinny, and the other is opaque. The shiny 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, moisten your lip and place the film on if you still can’t determine which side you are looking at. The emulsion side (opaque) will stick to your lip, but the base side (shinny) will not.

(WARNING: This is like putting an icy popsicle on your tongue, and you risk ripping the skin off your lip. Make sure your lip is very wet. Again, this is the 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. The practice part, not so much. But it is still fun and challenging. It 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.

A movie is a series of shots spliced together in the correct sequence. The editor must separate each shot into segments and piece it back together in the correct order while eliminating undesirable scenes. Most editors come with an onboard 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 hand-operated projector with rewinds for your spools, a view screen, and a splicer. You run your film through the viewer, cut the parts you don’t want, and glue together the pieces you want. In the ’50s, 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 ’70s. They made several excellent and inexpensive editors and movie cameras. These are still around and can be found on eBay for a very reasonable price.

An editor does its magic by way of mirrors. A lamp sits above the sprocket that 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 to $200.00 for a motorized metal unit. People who know what these motorized ones are worth would rather keep them. Look for these items on eBay. You may have to search through many listings, but eventually, you’ll find a good one. Remember that an editor must not 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.

how to

About the author

Gerald del Campo

Gerald Enrique del Campo is a poet, Jungian, philosopher, hermetic magician, shaman, mythologist, author, musician, mead maker, herbalist, foodie, motorcyclist and, all around nice guy.

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