Learning the art of celluloid


#1

I’ve been filming on all kinds of civilian formats since childhood, worked in live TV, and have shot a number of studenty projects over the years, but I’ve never actually fired a single frame of celluloid.

After many years of nervous handwringing, I’m making the jump to super 16 (the format of B movie royalty!), and it’s all really exciting, but I’m mostly clueless about film…figuring out how to splice, load, and all of that requires a little patience, but it will surely come. The technical information - however - is all really overwhelming. I have no idea where to go for how many feet of what kind of film stock. And it’s all really expensive! A small error can cost a ton of money.

So tell me, celluloid veterans. What are the things you wish someone had told you BEFORE you ruined an entire can of film?


#2

Most of the lessons you need to learn about motion picture film can be learned from still photography with film. Kodak used to actually make 35mm SLR versions of their most popular film stocks (like Vision3 5219) that you could put into a relatively inexpensive still camera for testing, and that’s what I used to recommend to students thinking about working with film. Stills are a great way of learning all the common mistakes with celluloid.

Those common mistakes are:

  1. Don’t leave film (especially ASA 500 or more) in a hot car or in direct sunlight. It can expose from the heat.
  2. Use film sparingly. If you roll it like we do with digital, you’ll waste precious time and money. Rehearse, get it right, then roll it.
  3. Use a meter to measure your light. Set the ISO to the ISO of your film, set the shutter to 1/48 if you’re rolling 24 fps. The meter will tell you what F-stop is ideal, then you can modify by adjusting your ND filters/lighting as needed. But don’t let the meter make you afraid or wind up with a low contrast image. Film is forgiving and has tons of range above and below how you expose. Most students don’t push the envelope with exposure because they’re afraid of over/underexposure. But the more I’ve worked with film the more I’ve found that it usually exceeds my expectations when it comes to exposure.
  4. Check the gate. Take the lens off and make sure there isn’t anything between the lens and the celluloid. A hair in the gate won’t be visible through your viewfinder but it will be all over your footage.

There’s a lot more to talk about, but the best advice I can offer is to get a 4 pack of ASA 500 still photography film and an SLR camera and start making as many mistakes as you can. Do this so when you start rolling actual motion picture film, using that tool properly is simply an afterthought that doesn’t make you nervous anymore.


#3

Thanks - that’s exactly what I needed. I have about 15,000 more questions, but I think a lot of them will resolve themselves with practice.

One thing I’m finding kind of unbelievable about the format is how little change there is in the technology from one generation to the next. In digital, you cannot use anything older than a few years without buying a boatload of converters for both the hardware and the files. With film, I can shoot on a camera from the 70s, splice it on a machine from the 50s, and run it on a projector from the 1890s. Eat your heart out USB.


#4

Totally agree! It’a really beautiful to me that the basic mechanism was so perfected that it didn’t change for nearly 100 years. Optics and emulsion tech got better, but the mechanism didn’t need any help.

There’s a reason digital capture had to hit a very high bar of image quality at a quarter of film’s price point before it could even be competitive.


#5

So…who died and made film cement rare and valuable!? It’s kind of hard to find. Are there suggestions on where to buy splicing cement?


#6

don’t know where you would be able to buy it but I did find this

“Super glue. Works great. Cleans up with acetone. The old British boys discovered it in the 70s and raved about it.”


#7

I got in contact with one of my friends in film archiving, and she says on no uncertain terms that super glue will “ruin the film and any machine you run it through”. …a very sad story - since splicing cement is a rare creature in these troubled times.


#8

Today, I finally got my lens from Ukraine, and my film from the Czech republic…all the troops are assembled, and we are ready to begin the hands-on learning process

The camera is a legendary Krasnogorsk 3 - the AK-47 of movie machines…many thousands were manufactured (mostly in the 70s) to promote the expansion of Soviet film; they’re widely available, easy to use, and basically indestructible. In Soviet Russia, film shoots YOU.

The projector is your standard 1960s Bell and Howell - they were mostly used in high schools to show sex ed videos and the like, and this one is no exception (it has a stencil mark with “AHS” and a unit number). If you’ve seen the old ‘duck and cover’ videos from the cold war, that’s what this was being used to show.

The splicer seems to be from the mid 1940s (after 1936 - before 1954), and the cutting arm still slashes like a little champ. We’re having some issues coming up with the blasted glue…but that’s a problem for another day.

And the film is from a Czech lab that’s been making B/W stock since the silent era - genuine artisans of light-and-shadow.

For the first project, I’ve been thinking a short silent comedy…something completely inane where we abuse one of my friends for two minutes to the piddly tune of ragtime piano music. …I’m thinking RAIN MACHINE.


#9

Growing tired of the splicing cement situation, I considered changing my allegiance and buying a presstape splicer instead…

…Kodak seems to have stopped making presstape

I hate everything right now.


#10

where am from such things are rare(celluloid i mean)… you guys are really blessed with this equiptment… keep the good work going


#11

I am blessed that there are still some film labs in America that process this stuff, but - honestly - I’m running into trouble at every turn.

Example, sound: The old 16mm movie theater machines are actually two different devices stuck together - a 16mm projector for the picture and a magnetic tape machine for sound. Not only are these things rare and expensive, they aren’t even useful unless you have an ADDITIONAL set of antique equipment to record reel-to-reel tape.

The all-in-one method is the civilian grade ‘sound film’ with a magnetic strip built in. Schoolhouse projectors (like mine) can play sound on these, but the film simply isn’t made anymore, and my camera doesn’t have a built-in mic anyway.

The only solution that works for me is to record and edit all the sound digitally and sync it to a computer by hand.

And did I mention it’s expensive? A roll of film is about 2 minutes and costs $50! As much as I love tinkering with this stuff, it’s pretty hard to use without some actual backup from someone with actual money.

That’s why everyone should get into 16mm film and make things cheaper and easier for me!


#12

then i think digital film making is the norm… in as much as it is inexpensive to an extent compare to reel film for celluloid, it is common and can be accessed everywhere and anywhere