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Filmmaking | Reports

Super 8mm Filmmaking

1 Aug , 1998  

Written by Tisha Stima from the Boston Film and Video Foundation | Posted by:

It's more than nostalgia -- Super 8mm film has some key advantages.
The old silent, grainy home movies of your youth…Super 8 and 8mm just seem to evoke memory. In the 1930’s, 8mm film was introduced to consumers as an easy-to-use and inexpensive way of making home movies. By the late 1960’s, Super 8 cameras and their convenient new film cartridges replaced 8mm, made the medium even more accessible to the amateur because they were readily available and highly affordable. With the advent of video and camcorders, however, Super 8 was pushed aside as a consumer medium. Although camcorders, televisions and VCR’s are rather expensive equipment, video became the most quickly convenient and practical form of personal documentary for the amateur home videographer. Video tape is cheap and abundant; one cassette tape lasts hours; footage can be viewed instantly without having to send it off for processing; and perhaps, best of all, you can tape over your shooting mistakes without having to waste another tape.

It’s safe to say that consumers are generally more interested in cost and speedy results than image quality. However, for an amateur filmmaker, Super 8 is perhaps the easiest and most economical way to make films — real films with texture. Reflected light gives Super 8 film a softer quality than video, making it especially effective as "lyrical B-roll," according to Tim Wright. John Cannizzaro, a Vermont native and Super 8 filmmaker comments, "You can shoot video all day and not spend over ten dollars. However, [when working with Super 8] I have to choose shots, spend more time on shots, really think about what I’m doing and why." So, there’s much more to Super 8 than nostalgia.

The advantages of shooting Super 8 are numerous, particularly when working with a small budget. Pretty much anybody can make a film with Super 8. The equipment is cheap enough to own — with a bit of searching you can find used cameras and projectors at yard sales and second hand stores. Camera are much smaller and more lightweight than 16mm and 35mm. Film can be loaded under any lighting conditions because of the Super 8 cartridge. Cannizzaro’s filmmaking partner, Katy Bucher, whose 1996 Super 8 short, Fast, was screened internationally at film festivals, finds Super 8 to be perfectly inconspicuous, convenient methods for guerrilla filmmaking. The equipment and ease allow filmmakers freedom and spontaneity. And the beautiful, grainy texture and images just can’t be beat. (While Super 8 is most often associated with graininess, well exposed S8 can achieve the same filmic quality of 16mm.)

Working with Super 8 is not without its disadvantages, however. Perhaps the biggest drawback is sound recording. Super 8 sound film is nearly impossible to find these days, and Kodak no longer produces sound film. However, despite, (or rather because of) the non-sync sound problems encountered when shooting in Super 8 Tim Wright loves teaching with it "because it enables students to recapitulate the history of filmmaking."

Super 8 film is not readily available, and there is less film stock to choose from than 16mm, but the raw stock and processing are cheaper. However, processing facilities can also be a chore to locate, especially for Echtachrome (versus Kodachrome) film. The length of a shot is limited (to 2.5 min. at 24 frames per second. There is no negative, so the original is the only copy, making it a most valued possession, particularly when considering submitting your work to a festival, which could mean parting with your lone copy. One way to work around that problem while retaining some of the original film quality is by making Super 8 blow ups to 16mm or 35mm.