March 17, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to Loading Film Cameras (& Why It's Still Really Important)

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 11.47.00 PMBelieve 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!

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33 Comments

nice but don't underestimate how hard it is to load a mag in a bag when you can't see what you are doing. having loaded several of those cameras, its not as easy as it looks if you don't do it all the time. the most common mistake is loading the film wrong side out, followed by failing to secure the sides properly. it also helps if you simply keep everyone away from you when loading. I had the pleasure of flashing an entire 400' roll of 16 because director was distracting me while I was doing it and I missed putting the cover back on the dark side of the mag, I put the cove onto the take up side instead. also keeping a proper loop is important or you'll break the film. its not as simple as it looks even after you've done it a dozen times. I probably loaded eclair ACL mags the most and they weren't too bad.

March 17, 2014 at 2:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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+1 Couldn't agree more. "loading these cameras isn't particularly difficult" - I wonder how many of these cameras the writer of this post has actually loaded blind in a highly stressful situation with DoPs, directors, producers yelling at you because the sun is going down? As an AC of 8yrs I've loaded every camera system out there and none of them are easy and some are positively infuriating especially if you don't have long skinny fingers (I'm looking at you AATON!). Try loading a massive IMAX camera mag halfway up a mountain in wind and snow.

Worst experience I ever had was on a commercial when mid-load I got hit by bad stomach issues thanks to food poisoning from icky catering... Not sure what motivated me to get the job done faster, the camera running out of film or the desperate need for a washroom! :)

March 17, 2014 at 7:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Neil

loading film mags are a pain. Nothing is worse when the 400 foot spool of 16mm gets tangled up when your trying to thread it. That's why they paid loaders $500 bucks a day if you worked on a union gig.

March 18, 2014 at 12:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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oldac

Quickest loading on light?!? In dark that what is count.

March 17, 2014 at 5:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kuk

What compression ratio does film use?

March 17, 2014 at 5:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

You are my hero.

March 17, 2014 at 8:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kenneth

FWIW, I still recall how to load a reel-to-reel tape deck. On the high end of consumer audio, some people still prefer the analog sound but ... jeez, Luise, that was a cumbersome undertaking. Back in the mid-late 70's, Sony tried an alternate system called L(arge)-cassette that was supposed to combine the sound quality of a reel-to-reel and the convenience of a cassette. The audio portion was allegedly superb but the format remained proprietary and quickly fizzled out. Then CD's killed the tape for good. Subsequently, the downloads killed off the CD's.
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I am not a Hollywood insider but I reckon that, now that the film image is no longer clearly superior, many "analog" DP's will be receiving a lot of pressure from their producers to move off film and into digital if for no other reasons than work flow.

March 17, 2014 at 10:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Zero.

March 19, 2014 at 8:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Frank

This is a joke. Or rather would be fun to do with my students-- give them a changing bag and watch them PANIC!!!

Daylight spools on the Bolex/Arri S are easy.

Why anyone would ever want to go back to this is beyond me. And what about cost? That 400' roll in the SR video if color neg, is what $100? Processing another what? $25 (?).

When I explain the cost to my students they cannot believe that other students ever paid this kind of money.

Please. If money isn't an issue-- have fun. If it is, why bother?

March 17, 2014 at 8:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chriss

Film would still be relevant to the younger crowd if it wasnt so prohibitively expensive and complicated

Alexa / dragon looks just as good, if not better, especially when used by the right person

March 17, 2014 at 9:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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john jeffries

And film (assuming negative) film is MUCH more demanding. So a gh2 in a beginners hands will probably get you much better results than the same person shooting with kodak.

I view this kind of argument: film vs. digital- on a non-sucessful/well known director- comical and usually made by those who have never really shot (and paid for) film.

Because since you audience can usually NEVER tell what you shot on, why spend the money on film, when you can spend it on something that ends up "on the screen" (better actors, more crew, a new writer, etc.)

March 17, 2014 at 10:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chriss

Film is for rich folk. I aint rich, so I aint shootin on film.

March 17, 2014 at 10:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Bertzie

I'd love to shoot film but sadly this is the first post I've seen on using the damn stuff haha :)

March 17, 2014 at 10:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Kraig

Here's a good one for an old film student workhorse.

https://vimeo.com/2199556

As far as cameras like Alexa and Dragon looking "better" than film it's hard to say. You can bring up quantifiable numbers that might back up the claim, but qualitatively they're different mediums. I don't understand why people get so smug to literally bury an entire medium. We didn't collectively throw out paint and canvas when photoshop allowed us to paint digitally.

Here's a great ASC article about Scorsese changing his mind on which medium to shoot at the last minute after viewing side by side tests.

http://www.theasc.com/ac_magazine/December2013/TheWolfofWallStreet/page1...

“When we started testing different digital cameras and ideas, I also shot film as a benchmark so I could understand differences in terms of latitude, color and so on,” Prieto recalls. “I shot the same images on film and on digital, and when I screened the tests for Scorsese, he kept pointing to the film versions and saying they looked better, basically noting that the skin tones were richer and there was more color nuance. So, I went to our producers to explore the financial implications of shooting on film negative and reserving digital capture for low-light situations. After looking at the comparative costs, production agreed to work with that hybrid method.”

I would say film still has a little magic left.

March 17, 2014 at 11:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mike

However, as brought up here recently, if something was shot digitally, then scanned onto 35mm film, would he be able to tell A from B as easily? They did use Alexa on the project but F65 came out just before the shooting commenced. And some people do think F65 is better than 35mm film.
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For another (paid) opinion - [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0KjNAVGIgU ]

March 18, 2014 at 2:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Usually when the word Dragon comes up a blitzkrieg ensues. Nothing so far. Ok, back to my foxhole. ;-)

March 17, 2014 at 11:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

Suggest the Proffessional Cameraman's Handbook, or John Fauer books for Arri. Use the test button on the SR to engage the film to avoid a jam.

March 18, 2014 at 2:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Cynthia Harrig

Also, remember to calculate the cost of long term archiving when comparing digital to film.

March 18, 2014 at 2:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Cynthia Harrig

Next week how to change spark plugs on a Tesla.

March 18, 2014 at 6:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tulio

Tulio!!!!! Quote of the day!!!!!

March 18, 2014 at 8:32AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chriss

No doubt

March 18, 2014 at 8:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Anthony Marino

Why quote of the day? It's not a correspondent allegory for the topic. Maybe if he had said something like, A beginners guide to hitching a horse to a wagon....... ;-) *

*note the wink eye, it means it's a joke

March 18, 2014 at 10:35AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

Coming next week: Why Sound off a NAGRA is the best and why you STILL need to know how to check the crystal, check for "speed," and most of all-- being careful of the PLAYBACK/RECORD lever (one wrong move and you'll record right over what you just recorded).

But most of all, young filmmakers need to know how to find a dubber to transfer the 1/4 tape to Mag stock, so they can cut on a steenbeck.

Yes. A steenbeck. Every young filmmaker should cut at least one film on a steenbeck, right?

God, just writing that scares me.....

March 18, 2014 at 11:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chriss

Gladly I don't have to deal with film anymore, as much as I miss the gritty look out of the can and lol so random grain texture, it's pain in the ass. Shoot film if you want the certain look (hipsters sure love it), but stay away from removing dust, scratches and other artifacts. What's the god damn point if you massage film scans in post to the point when it looks more digital than some digital formats?

March 18, 2014 at 11:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Natt

So much hate for film here... I work with students across a two year film degree. What I have noticed is that when they do get around to shooting film here they suddenly take it more seriously, they start to think about what they are shooting. Is this the best shot I can possibly achieve? What can I improve? With that kind of money on the line, everyone puts in more effort.

Digital shooting is making a generation of lazy shooters. Even if film just gets people to work together as a team and rely on each other. This is what we are really losing with digital

March 18, 2014 at 7:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stephen Rangott

I wouldn't call it "lazy shooting". I'd call it "far less limited shooting". I think it was Robert Downey who said that one thing he missed with David Fincher switching from film to digital was pee breaks. In other words, instead of reloading and resetting, they just kept on shooting. At one point, Downey actually peed in the paper cup and handed it over to Fincher. In any case, when you're working with the youngsters, you want them to experiment and digital is perfect for that. For the most successful of students, the laziness will go away once they're on a deadline.

March 19, 2014 at 1:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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DLD

Its amazing how different their attitudes are on film. If its digital they will just shoot it if its good enough but with film they start looking at ways to improve it. They think about set design, colours, lens choices and movements far more thoroughly.

Thats a great story about Robert Downey. It also reminds me of another fundamental that we are losing in the digital world. Rehearsals! I push the students to use rehearsals and not just shoot the rehearsal. As soon as the camera rolls its a take not a rehearsal. I think you lose more time by not having one. When you have that rehearsal actors are happy to ask questions mid take, gaffers and DOP's are happy to adjust lighting, everyone can see what is working and what isnt and get a head start on fixing it. Once that first take is in the "can" everyone is kinda hesitant to make any changes.

I push hard for rehearsals no matter how pressed for time we are.

March 19, 2014 at 3:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stephen Rangott

Yeah, I'd call it unstructured and chaotic; unplanned and scatter-shot. Yeah, that's the ticket. Hundreds of minutes of casual footage, a massive non-linear editing system and very complex color correction system; what can go wrong?

March 19, 2014 at 8:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Frank

No hate for film here. I taught almost every film camera (16/35) to students in elite programs and pay-for-play. To say students take film more "seriously" misses the mark. That kind of shooting- where film cost so much that you HAVE to pre-edit, is old. Because you don't have to do it that way.

The same can be said for the Steenbeck, cutting/destroying film will certainly make one think twice before making that cut. Is that more serious than just giving it a try and hitting UNDO if it doesn't work?

Now, yes we can shoot rehearsals, we can turn the camera on on the drive to set and leave it on all day. So what? Don't confuse the discreet skill of directing and cinematography with the perceived "ease" of shooting digital.

As for Downey, that story is more about how demanding a director Fincher is, than shooting digital. In the director's commentary for "House of Cards," he laughed at a shot that took 5 takes, saying, "5 takes? We're just getting started at 5."

He shot the same way with film--- because cost was not an issue.

For students, learning the craft with cheap equipment (think: French/Italian New Wave) allows for creativity and experimentation so long as their Professor understands this and isn't clinging to some outdated model of film education.

March 19, 2014 at 8:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Chriss

"Undo" has saved me more than once. And I have tinkered with various edits knowing I will undo them as many times as I want until I get what I'm looking for.

As for many takes: I have only acted in one tv show, as a cop in a Japanese tv show. It was very easy to do more than one take. It was quick. and the camera was fairly small easily toted around by the shooter. He wasn't too cramped in the back seat of the cop car.

I have acted in more plays. There is a long list of things I would have done differently if it were a shoot instead. It can take 5 takes to get warmed up. How many things I've done on stage not warmed up first!

March 19, 2014 at 7:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Gene

I can load an Arri SRII. I would love to shoot it any chance I can. On one project, I shot DVCAM for the interiors, 99% of the documentary. The exteriors, I shot on s16. Ended up shooting 2 rolls (400' each) and used about 6 minutes out of that. Pretty good ratio!!!

Film makes you plan what you are shooting since it does take extra work slating the audio and syncing in post. Don't forget the expense of the film, processing, and telecine.

March 22, 2014 at 11:16AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jake

I am very happy to see a article like this one. I still have a bunch of film stocks and I want to use them one day. But it is not because of the personal reasons I enjoyed the article, but because film still has a value at the indie perspective.

I just came from the theather where I watched Pulp Fiction. I saw the movie in VHS back then and DVD after that and Blu Ray after that... what experience was today. I found a lot of details I didn't noticed before. And, seeing this article, came to me the questions "where digital cameras would be if there was no film?" and "why can't I see so much details like this in the movies these days?".

There is a comment right here about rehearsals and I couldn't agree more. Before trying some digital cameras, I was considering to shoot my project with film and I was worried about the fact there would be very little room for mistake, so the takes would have to be very, very planned. Only after testing positively for digital cameras that room became no more a concern. But I was never focused like that before.

Working with computers and programming, I understood how important was to know the languages that is no more used frequently, like Assembly. You understands how a virtual machine can make the hard work for you and how does it works. If you can't see the value of this post and are making fun of it, PLEASE, don't waste your time typing funny comments so you don't make us waste our time reading them. Know about old technology is much important as know about the new ones.

Now let me get an Aaton and see what I can do here.

June 8, 2014 at 3:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rodrigo Molinsky

Ridic! Education via youtube & wiki's?
omg. The industry behind the cam is sinking!
Why not showing how to Q @ lunchbreak?

June 8, 2014 at 6:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Vantage

Check out YouTube video where IMAX is teaching NASA astronauts how to load an IMAX camera.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPDfv5jRzJg

January 9, 2015 at 8:50PM

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