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Ode to Regular 8mm
July 1998: My local old-fashioned camera store just returned my Super 8mm film from Fuji Arizona processing. While the glue holding the leader to the film seemed stronger than my past processed rolls, the alignment left something to be desired. So, BE SURE TO RESPLICE THE LEADER PRIOR TO PROJECTION. Of course, you serious types will already be editing your film on the computer so perhaps this doesn't apply to you.
Another noticeable difference was that the Fuji processing returned absolutely every frame of film in the cartridge including the clear frames at each end. Kodak processing always clipped perhaps five frames from my footage since their method seemed to attach my film to that of others and was then cut after running through the processing machine. I would also find about six frames of other people's movies on the outside of the box with a reference number stapled to it. I am in the process of splicing that footage together to see what others are doing.
As for color rendition, both Kodak and Fuji returned similarly balanced images and I will continue to happily deal either company for processing my Kodachrome! The choice is yours.
October 13, 1998: A sad day as rumour has it sound film is no longer available directly from Kodak. Send them a letter stating the need for sound striped film!
Film selection is pretty easy these days - there are four silent stocks to choose from. All Kodak stocks: Plus-X (BW), Tri-X(BW), Kodachrome 40(tungsten), and Ektachrome 125 (a new tungsten release from Kodak that can be ordered - I have not seen it in the stores). There may be other types out there but they don't fit into my budget (except the Ektachrome 160 Type G). I use Kodachrome 40 silent for almost all of my filming. I order directly from Kodak (1-800-621-FILM) which is located in both California and New York, depending on when you call and from where. K-40 costs me $10.26 (used to be 9.82) a roll. There is a five roll minimum and about six dollars to cover shipping overnight. The new Ektachrome 125 costs $12.94 a roll.
I have used B&W, and will use more in future filming. It is $9.35 (used to be 8.95) a roll from Kodak. Compare these prices to $15 to $18 per roll in the camera shops.
UPDATE: After receiving the bad news that all Kodak Super 8mm processing is now being shipped to SWITZERLAND(!), I started to do some searching. I did not like the prospect of waiting three weeks for my film to be returned. Here's what I found:
FujiColor, based out of Phoenix, Arizona, will happily process all of your Kodachrome 40 film for about $7.50 a roll with a (approx.) $3 shipping charge (Priority Mail). Federal Express is available upon request. The shipping will cover approximately 10 rolls of processed film. Turn around time is three to four days for processing. Add on mailing time and I figure you should get your film back in about a week (including mailing each way - but don't blame me if you don't!).
FYI - it has been my experience that it is best to remove the white leader from your returned films prior to your inital projection. I say this because if you don't, the leaders will fall off the moment the splice hits the claw - all five of my rolls did this. So, save your precious film by re-splicing the leader prior to your first projection...you waited this long, another 10 minutes won't hurt. You can check this out for yourself by giving the film a gentle tug and the leaders should just come right off...
I also drop my film off at the local (old-fashioned) camera store who charged $9.99 to process K-40 and usually (now) take 3+ weeks to return my film to me. Watch out around holidays...add a week. They now offer FUJI processing for the same price with about a week turnaround time. For an occassional roll, I deal through them. For more than five rolls, it pays to deal directly with FUJI.
I have heard rumours of dropping Super 8mm off at Wal-Mart but have yet to risk a roll - I think they deal with Fuji. Even my local Thrifty/Rite-Aid store still has "8mm Film" on their counter display under Kodak Premium Processing ("$8.99" the sign said).
I also tried dropping off a roll of old (1994) Ektachrome 160 Type G film. The camera store clerk said Kodak would not process it but after I made him check the book he was proved wrong. This film is processed EM-26 and that is still offered (12/30/97) by Kodak for $9.99, same as K-40. I even asked Kodak to push the film one stop but this they may not do! I'll find out in a couple of weeks! (Follow-up: they did not push-process the roll. Also, the film came back green due to the expiry date of March 1994.)
For B&W, I have used Exclusive Film & Video in Toronto and had excellent results. In 1993, they only charged six dollars plus shipping both ways. Obviously, it could be more now! Last month (9/98) I also experienced excellent results with Yale Labs in North Hollywood, California. One day turnaround time and very neatly packaged mailing will make me a return customer.
Splicing is one of the best parts of the hobby. I originally used the Kodak Presstape method but found that the tape interfered with the quality of the picture being projected. Also, the tapes would often causes the projector to skip and cause the audience to be distracteded, and worse, laugh! I have since re-spliced all of my movies using a Japanese-built cement splicer. My splicer cuts, scrapes, then, in one motion, aligns and applies pressure to the joint.
Bauer (made in Switzerland) also have an excellent splicer should you come across it. My local camera store has two but at $100 each I thought this was a little(!) too much. In my haste I offered $50 but was gently turned down. I guess they would rather have them on display!
As I said, I use Kodak film cement and my productions have improved immensely. No more additional noise from the projector and no more skips. I lose only one frame using cement instead of the five, poor quality, cloudy frames (sometimes with bubble spots) using the Presstape method. I still use Presstapes to join my out-takes and extra footage not used in a movie; Later, I can remove the tape and glue the scenes together when I need them. The Presstapes eliminate the loss of film frames gluing requires.
I have heard of other cement splicing methods including one whereby you scrape the emulsion off of an entire frame (instead of the usual half frame) and then glue the, now clear, whole frame to the back of the next frame. You end up with an invisible splice.
There is also a "black-frame" method but this one I cannot quite conceptualize. It involves splicing an entirely black frame between two shots. I guess since it is black the eye mostly ignores the blip as it rolls by. Also, after watching Apocalypse Now, a technique often employed was to fade to black and hold the black scene for a second or two (or three). To me, I interpreted this as a chapter change as if I were reading a book.
I don't mean to gloss over splicing, since this is truly the heart of the matter when it comes to filmmaking. Yes, you need to shoot good quality footage and throw in some artistic viewpoints. F stops and camera angles can be learned and copied from other talented pioneers. But it all won't matter if you cannot edit your movie. You no one else to turn to when it comes to this department. For, this is what separates the layman from the craftsman.
Cutting on the action, pacing of scene segments, color continuity, are but a few of the myriad of tools available to the film editor. Combine this with the addition of sound and you have created something more powerful than its individual parts. You have the power to AFFECT what the audience thinks! And, good splicing is what will make your audience want to see more. Essentially, you are trying to tease the audience visually while still telling your story. This is why Super 8mm filmmaking (and regular 8mm and 16mm) is far superior to video making. Time is of the essence and literally every frame is examined for content and overall fit by the amateur filmmaker. Video just doesn't demand this level of sophistication. How many home videos have you seen that were about 45 minutes long of someone's trip to Boringsville, USA? I would even argue that someone's uncut three minute movie reel from 20 years ago would be more interesting to watch. Why? Because, true filmmaking demands the cameraman edit some scenes inside the camera! Not all editing is done on the splicer. Remember that!
Don't forget that splices and all of the other aspects of shooting super 8mm may not be as slick as a Hollywood production. But I would argue in some ways this is part of the "feel" of it. Splices, for instance, are a fact of life unless you re-shoot your finished film frame by frame - tough to pull off without the availability of slow speed copying film. Splices give the audience the impression you were there. Overall, I swing both ways on this issue of the professional versus the homemade production look.
Of course, technically bad footage is usually always bad! Over-exposed "thin" images, bad focus, and jerky pans are but a few of the types of footage I always eliminate. My motto is: Don't let super 8mm be an excuse for poor filming habits. Utilize the quirks to your advantage. I find it interesting many higher formats try to incorporate that "super 8mm feel" into their productions.