A Beginner's Guide to Loading Film Cameras (& Why It's Still Really Important)
Believe it or not, shooting on film is still a legitimate thing (I know, it's shocking). Despite the fact that digital imaging is finally matching the technical capabilities of film (and maybe even surpassing it in the case of DRAGON), many narrative productions are still shooting on good old fashioned celluloid. What does this mean for younger folks looking to make a career in the camera department? Well for one, it means that knowing your way around a film camera, and knowing how to load various types of magazines, is still a valuable skill in this industry, one that might land you a gig or two. Luckily for us, literally anything can be learned on YouTube, including the methods for loading film in a variety of popular magazines and cameras.
First, here's a quick rundown of how to clean and load the magazine for the 16mm Arriflex SR2 magazine from the guys at REELOnlineFilmSchool. In addition to showing you how to load the SR2 magazine, which is actually pretty simple, this video also contains quite a few important general tips and techniques for keeping your magazine (and your loading bag) dirt and dust free. These techniques are applicable to every film-based camera system, and they should become habitual if you intend to work with film on a regular basis because keeping your camera clean is an essential part of making sure that it functions properly.
It should be noted that the process for loading the SR2 magazine is identical to the process for loading the SR3, the wildly popular super16 variation of the SR line that has been used on countless feature films, including Black Swan and Beasts of the Southern Wild, just to name a few.
Another one of the oft-used s16 cameras is the Arri 416, which is loaded in a similar fashion to the SR2 and SR3. Here's a video that shows just how quickly it can be loaded (pretty quickly, although he's not using a loading bag).
Even some of Arri's older 35mm cameras like the BL have a similar magazine style and method of loading.
Then you have another of the industry workhorse cameras, the Arricam LT, which is one of the lightest 35mm cameras around (great for handheld/steadicam work). Loading the basic 400ft magazines for the LT is a bit different from the previous magazines in that the take-up reel is located in the same chamber as the unexposed film. However, it's still a fairly simple process.
Unfortunately, I can't find any good videos for loading Panavision cameras, another of the industry workhorses on the high end. However, the internet is rife with threading diagrams like the ones below that should help illuminate the threading patterns. Here are the basics of loading the Panaflex Millennium:
These are all some of the more common camera systems that you might encounter in a professional narrative film setting. However, there are quite a few other old film cameras, chiefly the old non-sync 16mm and 8mm cameras, that you might come across during your journey as a filmmaker. Here are a few more basic tutorials for these old cameras, including the Bolex H16 and the Arriflex S (the camera that I learned on).
Ultimately, loading most of these cameras isn't particularly difficult, although each camera system tends to be slightly different. As is the case with most technical skills, you can become proficient at loading film -- first out in the open, then in a loading bag -- with some practice and patience. And who knows, maybe you'll even be able to land a camera assistant or loader job on one of the major films or shows that shoots film, like True Detective.
All in all, film is still important for a variety of reasons, the greatest of which is that it still looks absolutely fantastic, even compared to our most advanced digital technology. In some circumstances, it is the best tool to tell certain stories (just ask Sean Bobbitt). It provides a different aesthetic than digital, a different feeling and visual tonality, and for that reason it needs to remain an option, even if many of us can't afford it. Luckily for us, major filmmakers keep shooting film and some cinematographers won't have it any other way. As long as the development and DI infrastructure remains intact, so should film remain as a viable capture medium.
What do you guys think? Are there any good tutorials for popular film cameras that I missed? Should young filmmakers know how to work with film? Let's hear your thoughts down in the comments!