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Reflections of Super 8 Filmmaking


Mark Pirro June 5, 2013

Years ago, long before the digital age of filmmaking, the only way an independent filmmaker could produce his project was on 35mm, 16mm or Super 8mm film.  35mm was usually out of the question, if you were working on the shoestring budget most of us had.  16mm was a little cheaper, but still required quite the financial commitment if you were planning on making a feature length movie.  Super 8, however, was relatively cheap.  Every two and a half minutes of shot footage would cost approximately $10, which included the film stock and processing.  Because, even at that low cost production level, it still took a certain type of person to go out for about a year and produce these no budget projects. The film would come in little plastic cartridges which you would snap into your camera.  Jams were frequent, and scratches were for the most part inevitable.  The audio was almost always useless because the camera’s motors were very loud and sounded like a blender grinding ice.  Either we would have to come up with a way to try and blimp the camera to silence the motor, or replace the sound later in editing.

blimp cam

Sound designer Sergio Bandera and Filmmaker Mark Pirro utilizing a ‘blimp’ made out of tupperware and foam to help suppress the noise emitted from the super 8 camera

 

A roll of Kodachrome 40 Super 8 movie film.  A cartridge that size would yield two and 1/2 minutes of footage.

A roll of Kodachrome 40 Super 8 movie film. A cartridge that size would yield two and 1/2 minutes of footage.

Editing required a little tiny viewer with reels, and splicing tape.  We’d watch our snippets of film go by as we wind up the reels from left to right, trying not to get our fingerprints or dust on the film as we spooled it along.  When we’d watch our film, there would always be that little ‘jump’ when the splice went through the projector.  And each time we’d run the film, usually the camera original, we’d notice just one more vertical scratch that we didn’t see before.  Of course, you could make a copy of the original edited footage, but it would never look anywhere near as sharp as the original, and any splices would be burned into the copy and show.  Thus was the saga of indie filmmaking in our day.

A Super 8 film editor.  Oh, the endless hours spend hunching over one of these things.

A Super 8 film editor. Oh, the endless hours spend hunching over one of these things.

Of course, today, you can make a movie with an iphone, and the visual results can look pretty good.  Back then, we’d have to struggle to get a decent exposure and focus.  And since you couldn’t see what you did for at least a week after you shot it, you would spend that week in a panic, worrying about if your footage would come back black, streaked, blurred or just plain awful.  It’s no secret that I was never a fan of shooting in that medium.  However, it was the only way a person like myself could make a feature length movie without going broke.  Most of my features were shot for a few thousand dollars, most of it going for film stock and processing.  I recently discovered a great little article about some of us who ventured forth in those dark days of independent filmmaking and would produce our pictures with the most primitive of equipment.  Check out the article by clicking here.

I don’t miss those days of filmmaking, but I do miss the sense of exclusivity we shared.  There were nowhere near as many ‘filmmakers’ then as there are today.  Most of us knew each other, or at least knew of each other.  Every time we’d hear of a new Super 8 film being produced, we would embrace it as if a new child of ours had come into the world.  There was even a magazine devoted exclusively to us.

Super 8 Filmmaker magazine was a must have if you were an indie filmmaker in the 80's.

Super 8 Filmmaker magazine was a must have if you were an indie filmmaker in the 80’s.

Most young filmmakers today have no idea the freedom today’s digital technology has opened up to them.  They can now shoot endless footage without spending much more than the cost of a flash card.  They can instantly see the results.  They can edit it on their home computer with the most basic of software.  They can post it, score it, and even burn it to DVD without ever even leaving the comfort of their own home.  I will always be in awe of the advancement of our filmmaking technology, but I will also be in awe of my peers, who over 30 years ago, would go out and make their little Super 8 movies, with crappy equipment, yielding relatively crappy results, but still maintained the drive to get their movies made, no matter what they had to work with.

Pirro, armed with his Chinon Super 8 camera, shoots a scene from his 1988 film "Curse of the Queerwolf."

Pirro, armed with his Chinon Super 8 camera, shoots a scene from his 1988 film “Curse of the Queerwolf.”



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One Response so far.

  1. I do agree with all the ideas you have presented in your post. Thanks for the post.

Mark Pirro is the Owner of Pirromount Studios.
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