How to Shoot Super 16mm Film with the MōVI M15 Gimbal

Alex Enman Flying Arri 416 on Movi HERO
Doing new things is scary. Doing new things that haven’t been done before, however, is something else entirely.

Exciting, daunting, a pain in the ass — there are a lot of ways to spin it to yourself when you’re laying awake in bed freaking out. For the past two months, myself and Dylan Law — the local MōVI tech in town here in Boston — have been hard at work trying to bring our throwback horror film The Cult of Ammon to life. There have been hundreds of challenges in pre-production, as with any short film; but the big bump in the road for us was a technical one — how the hell were we going to shoot film on the MōVI M15?

Before I delve into the technical swamp of handheld gyros, I’ll give you the skinny on what this movie’s all about. The Cult of Ammon is a short film, shot in a throwback 70’s style, exploring themes like nature worship, satanic cults, and isolation. Below is our kickstarter video that goes deeper into the film’s story:

When Dylan came to me with the idea for a satanic, cultist, isolated horror short that could be shot in the middle of the Berkshires, my answer was simple. “Of course I’ll write it, but we’re shooting it on film.” We both agreed that the only way to shoot this story was on Super 16. Dylan, being a professional MōVI operator and DP in his own right, suggested we use the M15 to better sell the haunting, floating camera that made films like The Shining feel so strange. The flexibility of the system would allow us to make dolly moves, tracking shots, and even rig it on ropes into the trees for makeshift jib movements using the Mimic controller.

It was practical decision, since we simply didn’t have the means to bring any other equipment into the remote shooting locations of Western Massachusetts, and this would give us the feel we needed. Below is a location scout Dylan shot on the M10 and RED EPIC:

A kitted out RED EPIC was a tough enough task, but we found this would prove to be something new entirely. We got to work quickly with our first camera of choice — the ARRI 416. It’s light, dependable, and it seemed like our best bet. It took 400’ mags, giving us a run of roughly 10 usable minutes on each load. We were going to have to shed all our digital cinema comforts right off the bat, starting with media management.

Our first real issue was balance. The ARRI 416 is long, probably too long. The main problem, however, is the mounting point. As with all film cameras, the design is for mounting toward the lens mount, leaving room in back for the mags to move in and out. To balance it, we’d need to find the right center. The key to balancing cameras on the MōVI, or any gyro system, is to get a neutral balance. If done correctly, you should be able to point the lens in any direction and have it stay there. Obviously, we couldn’t screw holes in the bottom of mags to mount it closer to center, so construction began on what would come to be called “Dope Plate, Mark I.”

Alex Enman Flying Arri 416 on Movi Dope Plate Mark I

The plate worked, kind of. It was a single bar of aluminum, drilled and tapped to allow us to mount toward the center, with just enough clearance under the mag. We balanced successfully, and powered on. Immediately, the M15 began to vibrate angrily, like some sort of feral animal. “It’s fine.. it’ll be fine” we told ourselves as a team of men pushed into the handles to prevent the shaking. “Dope Plate Mark I” was a failure.

The problem was the roll. The camera is very slender, and was simply too top heavy. The trick with the MōVI motors is to have them work as little as possible — ideally, they will only add the small push the camera needs during movement (this will also lengthen battery life considerably). The vibration was the motors giving in to the near max load of unbalanced, rolling 416. We realized we had to do the unthinkable. More weight.

“Dope Plate Mark II” was born. On either side we placed small steadicam weights, connected with industrial strength velcro. The idea was the same as a pontoon boat — the two weighted arms would stabilize the roll of the camera. We bolted it on, weighted and balanced, and gingerly turned it on. It took some adjusting, but we finally had an operable MōVI build with a film camera.

Since our initial tests, we’ve upgraded the camera even further. The 416 works well, but it’s vicious on the arms of the operator. Here were some of our early tests with the 416:

To shed around 10 pounds, we’ve also begun testing with the Aaton A-minima. This has allowed us to get some serious running shots, as well as all the odds and ends that we need to make the system work comfortably in the field. A Hedén Carat Follow Focus, as well as a rigged together Composite to HDMI scaler, running into a Teradek Bolt 300 to send the black and white video tap image back to video village.

Alex Enman Flying Aaton on Movi

Aside from framing, it’s not really dependable for focus — so we’re doing it the old fashioned way. Lots of marks and rehearsals. In practice, the Aaton is a dream on the M15. The operator can run, jump, and move up and down easily and quickly. It’s weighted similar to a C300, and with tapped ¼”-20 on the top of the camera, we can secure it properly in the cage. The 416 works, but the A-Minima was made for this. Having a film camera this size working reliably means we can really open up our imagination to bring our vision to life, through film, without compromise.

So there you have it — shooting film on modern gyro stabilizers can be done! It’s no easy task, but nothing worth doing ever was. In our next post, we’ll talk about our experiences having a film negative scanned, and the different options one is afforded in a digital grade. Much like bringing the old film world into the new with the MōVI, the post processing is much the same — using a LOG scan to capture all the rich detail film carries.

As you saw up top, we are currently running a kickstarter campaign to help with funding all the film and scanning to bring this project to life, we’d love for you to take a gander.

Feel free to post any of your own experiences with film or stabilizers in the comments, we’d love to hear them!

Alex Enman Flying Aaton on Movi 2

Your Comment

14 Comments

Mad respect for having the balls to go for that shooting style! I'd be surprised if someone in Hollywood hadn't already done this though? Then again, I don't recall seeing anything!

It's refreshing to hear about these kinds of projects being shot on film. Best of luck to it!

September 24, 2015 at 7:17AM, Edited September 24, 7:17AM

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Samu Amunét
Director
363

Thanks so much! We've called around and done some pretty extensive research, mostly hoping someone else had flown film before. Seems we may be the first, which is pretty exciting/terrifying. We're pumped to show something new!

September 24, 2015 at 7:55AM

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Alex Enman
Filmist/Colormaker
325

Excited to look at your tests. I'll be shooting a commercial mountain biking video entirely on super 8 mm film in a month and we'll be using on a Ronin but also on a drone. Good luck with the kickstarter!

September 24, 2015 at 9:05AM

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Haroun Souirji
Director / DP and Producer
352

NICE! Let me know if you guys figure a way to remote start and stop, we were thinking about some possible drone work on this, but didn't feel burning all that film on liftoff was feasible financially.

September 24, 2015 at 1:37PM

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Alex Enman
Filmist/Colormaker
325

We will be using the new Logmar S-8 which does have remote start and stop using wifi. I don't know the cameras you are concidering using but if there is any lanc capability you can always use wireless lanc.

September 24, 2015 at 2:58PM

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Haroun Souirji
Director / DP and Producer
352

"To shed around 10 pounds, we’ve also begun testing with the Aaton A-minima"

Yay.

September 24, 2015 at 9:06AM, Edited September 24, 9:06AM

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Yeah, that made things easier to say the least haha. Shorter run times, though, so that's a new challenge.

September 24, 2015 at 9:39AM

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Alex Enman
Filmist/Colormaker
325

It's not exactly uncharted territory. Much larger film cameras have been used on gimbals for decades.

September 24, 2015 at 11:55AM

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Handheld ones that carry max 15 lbs?

September 24, 2015 at 1:08PM

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Oscar Stegland
DP/Steadicam
1184

I've seen a 16mm Aaton on a MōVI M15 with Super Speeds and an Arri 235 on a M15 as well. They were set up at Radiant Images in Los Angeles. (No, I don't work for them but have done business with them.)

September 27, 2015 at 2:02AM

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K W
799

This is really cool, but if you're trying to make it look "70s style", why not use a Steadicam or similar device? Gimbal stabilizers have a noticeably different look to them

September 24, 2015 at 3:21PM, Edited September 24, 3:21PM

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Andrew Klein
Camera Department
239

It's not exactly 70's style, just influenced visually in set design, and mood. We are trying to do something sorta new, i.e. - using vintage glass and film cameras and introducing that to the modern movement aesthetic of handheld gimbals. Though, steadicam would make things much easier!

September 25, 2015 at 7:07AM

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Alex Enman
Filmist/Colormaker
325

Love the creative spirit and great work taking on a challenge. After watching the Kickstarter pitch though, these guys REALLY need to work on their pitching skills. They talk about "Enthusiasm....Passion", but where is it?? Don't get me wrong, not everyone is good at this and it's probably the last thing they want to do, but reading from a teleprompter, virtually like robots, looks like it's THE LAST THING THEY WANT TO DO.
Production values aside, would I choose to fund a project by someone who doesn't care enough to express something personal or passionate about what they're doing? That's a big N.O.

September 25, 2015 at 10:36AM

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Drew Staniland
Actor/Videographer/Writer/Director
243

This is cool, thumbs up for going s16. NFS should put it the title that it's a kickstarter pitch though. It's gettin old.

October 1, 2015 at 10:40AM, Edited October 1, 10:40AM

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LJ
710