August 12, 2016

5 Things to Know Before You Shoot on Film

Call Me Ma'am
Thinking about shooting on film? Here's what to think about first.

As part of LACMA‘s Veteran’s Making Movies program, I was tasked to make a 3 minute short. Seeing as I've already made a few short films, I thought I’d give myself a challenge: create a story without dialog. My inspiration was this P&G commercial that is only 2 minutes long but follows the careers of 4 Olympians from diapers to medals, all without dialog. My resulting film, Call Me Ma'am, shows my entire first year in the US Navy in 4 minutes.

My cinematographer conned, excuse me, convinced me to take on yet another challenge with the short: shoot on film. Here are my lessons learned for those who are considering doing the same. I'll start with a disclaimer: I am not a DP, so my first tip is not to attempt film without a cinematographer who loves film and has used it many times.

"Film is as needy as any insecure talent."

1. Film ain't cheap

100 feet of 8mm and 16mm are about $45 and $70, respectively. Prices vary widely for 35mm but 2000' can be bought for about $1K at B&H. After the film is shot, it has be developed and digitized, which is about the same price as the film. You will need more film than you think. Call Me Ma'am was only 4 minutes long and we bought 6 rolls. We used everything.

Call Me Ma'am
Base camp set up outside the Battleship Iowa. Yes, we rented a battleship for 'Call Me Ma'am'

2. Plan for twice as much pre-production

There is no monitor; there is no playback. You won't know what you have until a week after wrap. Because of this (and also to not waste film), pre-production steps like storyboarding are a must. I always require it to some extent, but for film, each shot should be storyboarded, preferably by visiting the locations and taking digital stills. I learned this the hard way. The title shot was very important to me; we drove 4 hours each way to get it. But because I hadn't created a digital mock-up of that shot, there was a missed communication. The shot was beautiful, but not what I wanted. Save yourself the pain of ordering more film and taking a second trip by storyboarding.

Along the same lines, make sure to provide enough time for rehearsals when creating the schedule. While film is burning is not the time for the actors to figure out their motivation, lines, or blocking. 

"Take camera noise into consideration when booking locations and creating talent contracts."

3. Film cameras are loud

I was always curious why the old film sets placed the cameras so far back and used zoom lenses. Then I used film. Thankfully, mine is a silent movie, but take camera noise into consideration when booking locations (echo, enough space) and creating talent contracts (ADR provisions). Use the clacker religiously as film has no sound. Wait what? That's right. For anyone born after 1985, film cameras have no sound recording ability. Unless you are interested in lip reading to match sound, the easiest way is to match with the sound of clack. Being vigilant about it on set will save hours in post. (If anyone is thinking “Oh, that's why they use that thing”, you are welcome.)

'Call Me Ma'am'
'Call Me Ma'am'

4. Film is needy

Film is as needy as any insecure talent. It needs to be protected. Don't leave it out in the sun, or any hot place. Keep it inside; it hates sand, water, and gluten. It's highly flammable. X-rays will destroy it. Also, not all film is the same. There are several different grains, different color sensitives, and preferred light. Examples of the finished film looks are available on YouTube; add to pre-production list. Make up and SFX need to be doubled. I am covered with glycerin sweat in the shot at the top of this post, but it can barely be seen. It would have been fine on digital but film needs more. Needy, needy film. I would have added more sweat on set but, once again, no monitor, no play back.

Also, when you are finished shooting, you can't just drop the film off and say “thanks, I had fun.” No, even the drop off and digitizing/transfer need special attention. I can not explain the technical part of this but I will tell you, if you're the producer, you must book your DP or director for these two parts of the process (make sure it's in their contracts.)

"Film was the birth of our industry and is still the benchmark for beauty that can't be faked."

5. It is totally worth it

Even if your movie is terrible, you will get respect because you attempted film. Film was the birth of our industry and is still the benchmark for beauty that can't be faked. Call Me Ma'am looks like a piece of history and film gets all the credit. Best of all, everyone involved with the project will level up in skill due to the difficulty and challenge. Well, except maybe crafty. Happy Filmmaking!     

The IndieGoGo campaign for Adrienne's film 'Call Me Ma'am' is running through Sept. 15th, 2016. 

Your Comment

11 Comments

'There is no monitor; there is no playback.'
Incorrect. Film cameras have video taps. Perhaps yours didn't, but any I've worked with have.
Playback is easily achieved with any recording device that takes an SDI input.

The x-ray issue is also highly debatable. I've had to put various forms of film through airport security and it had no noticeable impact on the developed image.

August 12, 2016 at 5:51PM

0
Reply
Richard L
Camera assistant, DIT, DOP
180

yup, the man speaking truth

August 14, 2016 at 9:51PM

11
Reply

Most cameras made after the 1980s are both very quiet and have a video tap. Maybe they were using a Bolex or Arri 16S, but almost anything you would rent today will be sync-sound. You have to press your ear up to my 416 to hear it running.

August 15, 2016 at 12:28PM

10
Reply

My take on this.

Making any kind of film, be it a short, a feature, or whatever, spending extra time on preproduction is always going to be good advice since it will help you save time and money and being prepared it even makes you faster when adapting and improvising during problems in production. Always make storyboards, rehearse, and visit locations beforehand, every member of the team should do their part of preproduction; even doing some tests will save you money and hassles.

Additionally, using a slate with a clacker is something you should always practice no matter if you are recording sound on a separate device or directly into the camera. The sound team will always prefer to record sound separate to control quality and avoid noises.

It’s true that film is “needy”, however, all camera equipment is needy and needs to be taken care of. No matter what camera you are using, you should always protect ti from sun, dust, water, flames, x-rays, etc. It’s a good rule of thumb to take care off al your equipment.

Finally, film is and will be for w while the best way to shoot movies, even if digital is pretty awesome, any self respected filmmaker will shoot on film when possible and when the story calls for it. Also, you can have monitors with film cameras.

August 12, 2016 at 6:18PM

1
Reply
avatar
Diego Garzon
Creative Director
107

I'm gonna git on my horse and ride down to the camera shop and git me some film.

August 12, 2016 at 6:53PM, Edited August 12, 6:53PM

6
Reply
avatar
Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker
1050

Yeehaw!!! I'd work on film again with you!

August 12, 2016 at 7:10PM, Edited August 12, 7:11PM

0
Reply
avatar
Adrienne Camille
Filmmaker
74

Great advice, Adrienne! I think every one of us yearns for the chance to shoot on film and should I ever get it I'm going to make use of every tip I can get.

August 12, 2016 at 11:32PM

0
Reply
avatar
Deeder Murray-Holmes
Producer
345

I miss film, it was so much more fun than shooting digital. And it separated out those who were serious and talented.

August 13, 2016 at 10:24AM

0
Reply

Clacker......really??????
Please, get your terms right.
Take it from an old school film pro, it's called a clapstick or clapper.
I guess also you've never heard of the Arriflex BL film camera (BL being short for blimped, a quieting device to keep the operational sound of the film traveling through the camera to a whisper). This was the industry standard for shooting a sound movie...an Arri BL linked by cable to a Nagra magnetic audio recorder...affectionately know as the double system. Noisey....never...quiet...always!
After decades of shooting on film, I've embraced digital not only for its cost savings but done properly, digital technology can now emulate the film look so it is now indistinguishable from actual film.
Bottom line...audiences don't care one way or the other anymore, they're just interested in the story and being entertained.
Keep that in mind for your next shoot.

August 13, 2016 at 12:01PM, Edited August 13, 12:01PM

0
Reply
avatar
Lee Albright
Owner-Albright Films
216

Lee, totally agree!!! Having shot, edited ( actually cut and paste not digitize and then use an NLE) and worked a film thru to it's final cut, this whole notion that shooting on film is somehow going to make filmmakers better or make their films feel more organic or whatever cliches are being used, is nonsense! I don't miss film in the least. Like the post says, it's expensive, it's time consuming, it's difficult to get the cameras and stock in certain locations and it can consume the best DOP's with it's limitations. If a project calls for the use of film then we will try and use it. Is it my first choice of media, not really.
DW

August 14, 2016 at 12:21PM

19
Reply
Dave Williams
Owner/John Landon Multimedia
91

Unfortunately today to shoot in 16mm is very expensive, so my eclair ACL S16 will continue in the closet accumulating dust, the good news is I just got a Nizo 4080 to go wild with super 8, now in a friend`s hands for the proper cleaning and testing, and the cartridges in their way to home, September will be a good month to shoot with film again.

August 15, 2016 at 6:16PM

0
Reply