50 Years Super 8mm
Super 8mm from Kodak celebrated its 50th birthday last October. Dedicated to this event, Hans van der Sloot approached me with the request to create a concept to shoot a film on super 8mm. Although I have worked on projects shot on film before, this was the first opportunity for me as a director. Like most of my generation, the old way of filming is new to me. Learning and experience the traditional process was the main motivation to participate in this project.
Two weeks before the deadline, to turn in the negatives to the laboratory, we had to come up with a script. Although no rules were attached to this project we still had to keep in mind some details. Like that, it is not possible to shoot sound and that we were limited with only two film rolls. Besides these two rules, we had the complete freedom to create anything we want. Although I had already experience in creating visual stories for commercials and promotion films, this freedom gave me some troubles to come up with an idea. Time was running out and the pressure of a deadline made us almost quit. But Hans told me the technical features of his Bolex-camera and suggested me to shoot in macro. One other feature, of his camera, which he explained me, was to shoot in high-speed. The idea of macro and high-speed gave me new impulses to create a unique concept.
The first idea what came to mind was to shoot daily objects in extreme close-ups, so they look like objects from the galaxy. I took Carl Sagan’s, an American Astronomer, quote as inspiration: “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” Hans, the Cinematographer, wanted to show the process of super 8mm, to fully appreciate the medium. This resulted to the following concept:
“Discovery of life. A short film about a young girl, driven to search the origin of life, through the eyes of a camera, in our micro world.”
We had luck with the time of the year since the seasons were in transformation: summer was turning into autumn. The temperature at night gave the ground the opportunity to release the heat, so the ground got covered with fog. The combination of the clear sky and the morning sunrise gave us the wanted mystical morning dew. That was the atmosphere we were hoping to get in our film.
We were lucky with the weather but unlucky with our time schedule. Our model, Misha de Haan, was only available for half a day. So we had to work with a very tight time schedule. During the day, we discovered that parts of the concept, the philosophical search of life, was hard to capture. Time was not on our side, but also we discovered that we probably did not have enough film. And that is why we adjusted our focus more on the homage of the super 8mm, instead of the philosophical part.
Our film stock consists of a colour film roll and a black & white one. This gave us the idea to shoot with 2 different cameras, also to save time. And aesthetically we decided to use the black & white film to visualise and focus to all super 8mm elements. The colour film was used to see the young girl on her quest. This way we were able to fuse two different film roll.
Although digital and analogue filmmaking has a lot in common, there is a big difference in workflow. The limitation of film roll is one of the differences: it makes you more alert what will happen in the frame before the camera is rolling. You take more time to set-up the right mise-en-scène and camera settings. You have to be more concentrated how to set up a frame and not widely just turn on the camera button.
Digital film camera has no limitation to shoot takes. Shooting with a digital camera is easier, because you are able to shoot while rehearsing and than you have eg 7 takes at the end. This is how I used to work, but now with analogue film, I did not have this luxury. One or two takes is what we could shoot due to the limitation of the film metres. Unless having a Hollywood budget, which we had not…..
After the shoot, Hans brought the films to the laboratory. We were thrilled and curious to see the result, especially the one of the colour film roll, since this colour film had expired. Research showed us, that there could be a good chance of the colour film turning out in the right way, but we did not know in advance. But in our case it turned out nicely. It had actually a very nice surprise to it; since the colour film contained some strange red dots. It almost looks artificial. After the screening, we received questions if we added them digitally. But we did not: these were a gift, a surprise, they showed up due to the expired film roll.
This project was an experiment for me, to gain experience in analogue filming. The focus I needed to have, before letting the camera start shooting, was one of the major elements in the learning process. And also during the shoot, we had to change the concept, since I started to realise that I was thinking to big. So indeed ‘less is more’ and next time I will keep this my slogan.
Eventually, the red dots in the colour film are exactly what makes the analogue film so charming. These dots only work in our film because it was not digital. I think our final project would not have been that interesting if it was shot with a digital camera.
The collaboration with Hans, Misha and myself was a very positive experience. So Hans and I are already thinking of a new project: to be continued……
HOMAGE SUPER 8