Build Battery Packs
Record Your Sounds
VNF Film and Filters
Super 8mm Links
Kodak's S8mm Site
Ode to Regular 8mm
The Art of Splicing
We've all heard it said before - "Cut on the Action". But what does this really mean? Well, exactly that, splice the scene changes during an active moment in your movie. Sounds easy. But is it? Let's look at the whole picture and we'll determine for ourselves where this actually comes into play.
the Super 8mm heydays of the mid 1970's, amateur filmmakers were
busily buying film from the local drug store, supermaket, or department
store in much the same way we buy 35mm film today. And oh, what
choices they had. Eight hundred (800!) ASA Supreme X 4-S (Eso-S),
GAF 500, Kodak 4-X, Hi-Speed Sepia 200 (Eso-S) and those are just
the B&W stocks. For color, the filmaker could choose such names
as Anscochrome 100, Ektachrome 160 (EF, SM, and
G stocks), GAF Color, Durachrome, Focalfilm, 3M, Sears, and Technicolor! After
shooting their film, they would drop it off for processing and
then, usually, show their uncut 50 foot movie roll to their family.
I once sat through 25 consecutive 50 foot rolls at my in-laws'
place. While the footage was at times wonderful, oh what a few
well placed splices would have done. To say nothing of perhaps
loading up a few 400 foot reels!
But some people went a few steps further back then...
I interviewed a fellow employee one lunch hour last summer on his experiences during this golden era. I found out that he was more advanced than most since he was shooting film for high school football coaching purposes in New York State. He (as coach) and a few other parents chipped in their time, money, and Super 8mm equipment to film would-be visiting teams as well as their own team throughout the season. They would shoot as many as 15 rolls of film on any given night to study plays, formations, and defences of their rivals. They would only shoot the actual plays - not intermission or any other non-play time.
After the game, they would drop the film in the night-drop box of the local one-day lab (a distant dream to most Super 8mm filmmakers today) and pick it up after work the following day - usually having to cut out a bit early to get to the lab before it closed. That second night they would splice the films together on a giant-screen editor, focusing solely on the actuals plays of the game. The would usually shoot angles that would form a tight picture of both teams lined up on the scrimmage line. Close-ups were avoided but not always. Parents would trade off on which games of rival schools they attended. While the coach could not remember the camera used, it did have a long focal length with a tripod. The third night following the original game night would be a mandatory movie review night for the players. Often, they would film a team they were about to play to get insight into their play. Not many teams had the luxury of parents and coaches who would go to this extent for high school football. College games perhaps, but this would surely be sponsored by the college.
A most unique thing was done at the end of the year by this particular New York school. The coaches and parents would host a party for the kids and present them with a special present. You see, after the season was over, the "filmmakers" involved would re-splice all of the footage from that year's games and break it up into individual player highlights. Then, each player on the team was given a movie of their own performance - the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was a big hit amongst both parents and kids alike! Imagine...Super 8mm highlights still exist out there!
A truly amazing time...
Personally, you must determine the goal of your film. Is it a documentary? Sci-fi? Comedy? Travelogue? Family vacation? Once decided, select the correct types of cuts to be used. Dissolves to show the beauty in smooth transitions or fast cuts to show action or excitement. Wipes, fades, cuts are all but a few of the many ways to transition a scene. Remember, some cuts can only be performed in the camera when dealing with original footage.
So, now that you have determined your goal and types of cuts to include, script and shoot your movie. But that's a whole other topic, to say the least!
What to do with all that film...
Okay, you have your fifty foot rolls back from processing and are ready to piece it all back together. Here's what I suggest:
1) Watch the uncut rolls on the big screen for at least three runs, each.
This is done to help you pick out the poorly focused sections, bad angles, misses, etc. If you try this on the editor you will not see the level of detail required to imprint it in your brain. While watching, do not make any notes - only mental ones.
2) Then get out the editor/viewer and go through the films to count the number of scenes on each roll.
Remember, you are not cutting any film yet. A scene here is defined every time the camera is stopped and restarted. Dissolves count as two scenes but obviously must be kept together! Get a large piece of paper and number each line with the number of scenes. Your goal is to view each scene on the viewer, make a name for it, comment on the angles, lighting, direction, discard, etc, and then review the rolls without actually cutting the film.
3) Order the scenes according to roll number and scene number on another piece of paper.
Some people cut the "paper" scenes on the sheet and rearrange them to see how their order looks. I tend to do it on another sheet in a master listing. Feel free to cut short your long scenes. You can also split a long scene into two or more shorter scenes by adding other footage in-between. This is the greatest power of movies - to manipulate time! Remember, you are cutting paper scenes, not the actual film!
Note, I used to find it difficult to manipulate time this way since I knew the order of my filming. But, trust me on this, your audience will not know the difference. If it is obvious, they will actually appreciate the effort and thought you are trying to show. Also, after about a year, you will look at the films and start to forget the order the film was originally shot in and enjoy it as a whole - just like your audience.
4) Contemplate your proposed changes, preferrably overnight.
I often find it best to sit down, away from the editing bench, and review the layout in my mind. Typically, I make it a habit to never cut a movie upon the first day of bringing it home. Let it soak in and ferment. Other ideas may come to you during this time. Think of other ways for your film to come together. Perhaps lots of short, 2 second (36 frame/48 frame) splices (only possible with the Bolex splicer) for an introduction. Perhaps longer-length scenes for the scenic shots? What kind of music/soundtrack do you plan to use? The possibilities are up to you.
5) Finally, you are ready to splice.
You are now ready to do some cutting in an efficient and organized manner. Much of the above can be done in your head if the subject is limited to one roll of film (about two to three minutes). At two rolls, things start getting messy, particularly if you are interrupted.
Tools of the TradeBefore you make your first splice, make sure you have everything you need to work with ease and efficiency. To make splicing a generally enjoyable experience, here's what you should consider:
Save those 50 foot reels!You will need lots of those spare fifty-foot rolls you typically throw away (save them from now on!) and at least two reels as big as the movie you are making. This last point allows you to work on both the beginning and the tail of the movie with ease. Sometimes, you may need four of these bigger reels. The little ones allow you put small scenes on them.
Gloves or Clean Hands?The choice is yours. I like to use laytex surgeon's gloves to avoid oils from my hands getting on the film. I tend to have oily hands and I swaet from the all the excitement of making a movie! I sometimes use just my bare hands on limited ocassions but wash them often and avoid touching anything other than the film and equipment. For longer projects, stick with gloves.
Clean Air...A small firm brush to use on the splicer along with a can of compressed air for the same reason. Film cleaner with a soft, no-lint towel or cloth. Of course, you will also need a bottle of Kodak film cement. Caution: When using the film cleaner, make sure your room is well ventilated. This stuff is potent!
The Editor/ViewerThe editor should be a quality one with lots of room between the take-up reels and the unit itself. This allows you to pull off the extra slack without risk of scraping the film on the arms or some other sharp area. The better editors are the Elmo 912’s & 914’s, Goko G-50’s & 100’s, Pro Master Dual 8’s, Minette, etc. An interesting note about Minette viewers/editors: they run the film with the emulsion side down, sprocket hole towards the back of the viewer. As such, the film tends to hang down from the reels and generally the weight of the rewind arms causes the films to bump along somewhat. You also have to twist the film to perform a splice in the Bolex splicer. All in all, the Minette has the very best viewing screw out there but the emulsion side down operation makes it noticeably slower to use compared to other editors/viewers. Avoid makes like Baija and Sears (unless they are carbon copies of the more expensive makes). They are a bit flimsy to use and may add more time to your splicing operation. But, more importantly, make sure the unit slides film emulsion side up when passing over the light aperture. This will avoid unnecessary scrapes that are possible from twenty-plus year old equipment. The cheaper makes are to be more closely inspected than the more expensive makes for this possibility.
More, more. Better, better?A second editor, or better, a pair of rewinds is a very handy addition. Elmo made a pair that could handle 1200 feet. They had C-clamps built into the bottom of the geared arms. An old editor that has had the arms removed may also provide the necessary parts for this setup. You need this to quickly crank the film back and forth depending on where you need to splice. Also handy for adding sections to the opposite end of the film.
The SplicerI suggest using only the Bolex cement splicer. Avoid tape splices at all costs, literally! The cons of tapes are that they will eventually stretch, get gummy, make the projector loose it loop, and distort up to four or more frames of your movie (even without any bubbles showing). Some will say that tapes are easy (yes), will not jump the loop (maybe), and last a long time (five years is not very long but cement is forever). The only argument in favor of tape is the fact that no frame is lost when splicing. A very marginal advantage which quickly loses favor when the other factors are taken into account.
Also, place the splicer in front of the editor when working with it. Do not mount it to the bench so as to allow for maximum flexibility.
Cement splicing is very easy, and in some ways, very pacifying. The click-click of opening the splicer; the mild scraping of each side of the film; the single click of the two pieces being welded together; the final bang-bang caused by the release button. Almost as calming as a train chugging down the tracks! But I digress...
Cement splicing offers a permanent bond, often stronger then the original film. The splices are offset (when looking at the film on edge) at 45 degrees on each side so that there is little difference between the film thickness and the splice thickness. Absolutely no possibility of losing the projector loop with a Bolex cement splice. No noticeable “ugly” spliced frames upon projection. Why settle for anything less?
Final CommentsRemember, the splicing is what determines whether your movie is enjoyable. Any footage can be made into something enjoyable. It all depends on who edits the film. Perhaps that poor footage can be used in a weird music video clip? Whatever the case may be, put some thought into your production and learn to love splicing. Personally, that is where the creation comes into tangible form. Prior to that, your footage is simply "I was here. See?"