Ideas and Concepts – Dan P

Copies of home movies are a staple in most homes. The concept of making these homemade movies of everyday moments began in 1923. However, film formats during that time were still very expensive and not everyone had the opportunity to film their own home movies. After years of development, Eastman Kodak was able to come up with the 8mm film format by splicing the 16mm film. Because of this, the 16mm films were the ones used by professional filmmakers while 8mm films were utilized by those who wanted to make home movies. When the 1950’s rolled in, almost everyone had 8mm film cameras to capture life’s little moments.

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As the years passed, further developments were made to come up with the Super 8 film. Some developments included a built-in filter, smaller sprocket sizes and perforations at the corners of the frame. All these were done in order to achieve clearer picture, bigger frame size and improve the overall quality of the standard 8mm film. The Super 8 film format was the result of all the developments made by Eastman Kodak. Since then, making Super 8 home movies became part of the experience of being a kid and growing up.

Super 8 is very easily recognisable for the way the footage from the film looks: 4:3, grainy, highly saturated, flickery,it’s frame rate. But these things, often thought of as draw backs, are what make Super 8 so special and nostalgic. Super 8 cameras have multiple in-camera film speeds (frame rates) to choose from; the traditional 18 frames per second, 25 frames per second, and 54 frames per second for slow motion action.

Although some movies nowadays are shot digitally, there are still filmmakers who choose to shoot using Super 8. There are even film festivals solely dedicated to promoting Super 8 films. It seems that no matter how much technology advances, there are those who still wish to stick to their roots and shoot with film.

TELECINE

Telecine is the process of transferring film to a digital medium. There are a number of ways to do this, for professional film productions, the reel of exposed film goes through a telecine machine and each frame is scanned directly to digital hardware. As for home movies shot on standard and super 8 film, the exposed footage is played on a projector with a mounted video camera simply filming the projection. This has proven to be the cheapest and most efficient way of digitising film for editing. The best video cameras for this process have been proven to be the likes of 3CCD Mini-DV cameras such as the Sony VX1000 or the Canon XM1 for they’re 3 chip sensors, great colour balance and 4:3 recording capabilities.

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Creative film techniques:

  • Film scratching

Film scratching is, well, exactly how it sounds, it is a creative film technique that involves physically scratching the surface of the film to create really cool effects which can add depth and new meaning to a film. This process can be done with anything you can get your hands on around the house, but the best tools to do this would be razors and scalpels.

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LEN LYE

Len Lye (1901 – 1980) pursued a passion for experimentation and for creating new form throughout his whole career. His multifaceted practice included kinetic sculpture, photography, painting and poetry in addition to film making with and without a camera. He was one of the first non-Maori (Pākehā) artists from New Zealand to appreciate the art of Maori, Australian Aboriginal, Pacific Island and African cultures, which he incorporated into his own expression.

“Free Radicals” is film by Len Lye in 1958 and made up entirely by physically scratching the film frames. At the time this was one of the most abstract examples of the film scratch technique and showed the potential of what could be done with it. From what I understand, there are a couple of techniques at work here. The 3D-looking forms are supposedly created by pressing a wide-toothed saw to the black film leader, then scratching a design along the entire length of it, creating a design that shifts position from beginning to end.

  • Projection Manipulation

You can do a lot and create many enhancing effects for you film using the actual film projector. One of my personal favourite techniques is projecting the film onto water and slightly rippling the water which creates a really oddly projected image. There is really no limit to what you can do with the projection, here are a few examples of the techniques used:

  • Projecting onto a disco-ball
  • Manually moving the projection surface
  • Projecting onto people
  • Projecting onto non-flat surfaces
  • Projecting through fan blades

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The Aviator (2004)

The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorsese, is a biopic depicting the early years of legendary director and aviator Howard Hughes’ career, from the late 1920s to the mid-1940s., starring Leonardo DiCaprio. For the first 50 minutes of the film, scenes appear in shades of only red and cyan blue; green objects are rendered as blue. This was done, according to Scorsese, to emulate the look of early bipack color movies, in particular the Multicolor process, which Hughes himself owned, emulating the available technology of the era. Similarly, many of the scenes depicting events occurring after 1935 are treated to emulate the saturated appearance of three-strip Technicolor. Other scenes were stock footage colorized and incorporated into the film.

There is also a notable scene where Hughes stands in front of the projection and the film is projected onto his body, the images being projected are that of a vast desert, I believe Scorsese intentionally did this to represent the character of Hughes losing his mind into a socially identifiable abyss.

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CINE CITY

Brief: In groups of two, students must plan, develop and produce a collaborative one-minute film to be shot on a single 50ft roll of Super 8mm film stock. (Ektachrome 100D Super 8mm motion picture film stock)

My Group: – Aden Barwick & Robert Marshall

IDEAS

One of the first ideas that we played around with in the early stages of pre-production was to create an old, 70’s style, wacky infomercial, highlighting the outrageous visual effects and personalities used in these productions. When discussing this idea, the one video I turned to for inspiration and better understanding of this type of style was a spoof infomercial made for the 2010 Jackass 3D movie.

After gaining a better understanding of what can be done with the Super 8 medium and it’s flaws, we realised it wasn’t a practical idea to go with for our first ever Super 8 film. The main reason being with the Super 8’s frame rate not allowing natural looking mouth movement to lock to a dialogue track. But also the fact that we only had 3 minutes of film to work with and for this type of project, especially with acting involved it could take a lot longer and a lot of film could be wasted with mistakes and outtakes.

OUR FINAL IDEA:

We finally came to the idea of incorporating the stylistic features of old sci-fi thriller B-movies from the 1950’s such as; “Attack of the Crab Monsters” (1957) and “The Land Unknown” (1957) where the threat or the enemy the film is focussed towards are very unrealistic and silly looking, almost as if somebody has animated a toy dinosaur or monster and blew it up and green screened it onto an environment.

My personal favourite B-movie from this era would have to be Sam Katzman’s “The Giant Claw” from 1957. It is about a giant bird that terrorizes the world after military aircraft notice an unidentified flying object in the sky. It is one of the most ridiculous films I have ever watched but it possesses the magic of the cinema from that era of monster movies for me.

The Giant Claw has been mocked for the quality of its special effects. The bird in particular is considered by many to be badly made, being a marionette puppet with a very odd face. The film is also riddled with stock footage, making continuity a serious issue. Front man Jeff Morrow later confessed in an interview that no one in the film knew what the titular monster looked like until the film’s premiere. Morrow himself first saw the film in his home town, and hearing the audience laugh every time the monster appeared on screen, he left the theater early, embarrassed that anyone there might recognize him.

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We really wanted to incorporate the essence that these old B-movies possess, we wanted to portray a darker side of Plymouth in distress, caused by an inhuman force like these classic B-movies. But also using more modern 3D image effects to coincide the silly monster effects.

As the idea began to grow into an actual possibility, I made a trip to my parent’s house and went through my old toys in my attic, and found a t-rex dinosaur figure, which we saw and could immediately picture alongside real time footage, stomping through the city of Plymouth. We only wanted the monster to be shown in two or three shots, mainly because of the work load that would come with it being in the whole film, but we didn’t think it would be necessary, we thought it would make more of an impact if the viewers only saw the beast in small doses.

The modernised effects that we wanted to add also was an attempt of creating a hybrid of different eras of film making into one production, we wanted the premise of a dark portrayal of Plymouth, showing a more grungy side of certain areas within the city to compliment the large beast rampage aspect to the film. We also wanted to capture very symmetrical structures and areas to compliment the modernised effect techniques, the effects being 3D spinning shapes interacting with the area, and jumping between the two eras throughout.

As we had a solid idea figured out, we went location scouting around Plymouth, we had a few ideas for where we wanted to go and what might look cool, so we headed to those first and took our DSLRs with us to frame up shots and get references. One place I was really excited to check out was a fenced off canyon in Plymstock woods, it is pretty much a dumping ground where people discard anything they don’t want down there, the fencing that surrounds it is all weathered and really does look like something out of Jurassic Park which is perfect for the dinosaur related outbreak theme we are were going for.

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We arrived at the location during quite considerable flooding had effected it, but I think it made it look more threatening and the idea of a creature rising from the depths of the canyon was magnified by the flooding, also the caging around the area creates the feeling of danger and that no man should enter, and also mirrors towards places such as Area 51 and the idea of secret man made experiments and radiation creations. This is why I thought it would be perfect to film, plus we thought the colours would come out great on the Super 8 format and compliment the threatening, dark feel we wanted.

THE FILMING PROCESS

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We began filming the bridge over-looking the abandoned train tracks in St. Judes, we got a great wide shot framing the bridge and the abandoned area underneath to house the first animated dinosaur shot, we wanted the dinosaur to come out from underneath the bridge in all it’s unconvincing B-movie glory. We picked this location after coming across it earlier in the term during the Place and Non-Place photograph task, we noticed the potential it had and realised it would fit perfectly on the Super 8 medium and shelved it until shooting began for this project. The run down, weathered train tracks and the true feeling of abandonment is all present at this location and we thought the colours and essence would project really well in this production. We also shot at Tothill Park, this being for the shots including the modern, slick effects we wanted to incorporate also. We saw that the trees surrounding the area were really well placed and fit the clean, symmetrical aspect we were looking to include in our film.

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We also filmed a really nice shot around the back of the now under-construction Wickes building on Exeter street, this static wide shot of the building, with a terrified man (Aden) running from around the corner towards the camera, this was filmed to include the animated dinosaur to pursue the person.

Whilst filming in Tothill Park, we found a great little stone bridge tunnel, luckily we came across the location as it was dark and the one light on the roof of the tunnel illuminating it gave off a great orange glow. We got a handful of shots of the lights and cobwebs that covered it, again to make the viewer feel uneasy.

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For the second shoot we went to Staddiscombe in the Plymstock area, I know this area very well as I grew up there and I know a lot of areas and cool locations that have plenty of potential. First off we headed to Staddiscombe playing fields, as there are two fields, separated by a steep grass bank, you can get a great view over-looking the bottom field from the top field at the top of the bank. We knew this would be perfect for a shot we had planned of a wide shot of two people (Aden and Amber Barwick) running through frame in fear of their lives being pursued by the animated t-rex toy. The flooding and heavy rain over that time made shooting this quite difficult as running on a sludgy, flooded field was almost impossible without slipping over, but we got the shot and avoided the muddy outcome we expected.

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We then proceeded to film down at the canyon, it was very boggy and quite dangerous as everything is on a slant and is quite steep, this made it difficult to film at times, but at the same time we were excited to capture the real element of danger this location possesses. We knew that Super 8 would only enhance the look and feel of the location as the iconic Super 8 look and colours would show this place off like no other medium. We filmed wide shots over looking the canyon through the old rusted chain-linked fence that surrounds it, this creates the feeling that we are looking in on something that should not be seen therefore complimenting the style and tension we wanted to build. We also got close-ups of inside the canyon from the same vantage point as the wide shot, showing abandoned car parts such as wheels and pieces of scrap metal. The trees over-looking the area also created a really threatening vibe, and that translates on film, I know this because I have filmed in the same area before, most notably in the ED Creative Media course in 2010, I filmed a short horror piece and got a shot below the over-hanging trees looking directly up at them and it looks really intimidating and sharp, almost like daggers and knives, and I knew I wanted to use this same technique on film.

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Above is a screenshot from one of my earlier films from my time at PCA on the ED course filmed in the same location, I was really excited to see how this location looked on Super 8 film.

The surrounding locations gave us a lot of opportunities to film other interesting shots to place in our film, such as a huge toppled over tree which looked like the tree the people climb over to get across the cliffs in King Kong (1933), and we loved that, as this film really wanted to reflect the style and feel of monster movies of that time, we thought it would fit really well in our production. We filmed considerable amount of close-ups and establishing shots for the canyon, getting the decay of the fencing and barbed-wire to just amplify the fear and danger we wanted to capture.

We also filmed a sequence that we planned on using glitching effects within the shot, we filmed the same wide shot twice, one clean plate and the other with a man (Aden) walking through. We did it like this because we wanted to only glitch and manipulate the person and not his surroundings, we wanted to do this because we wanted to show the decay and demise of society and the threat taking over not only the city but the people that inhabit it also.

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GETTING THE FILM DEVELOPED

After getting the film developed and watching it as it went through the Telecine machine, we noticed a big problem. Half of the reel was under-exposed making it completely dark and unusable, not only that but the shots that came back under-exposed were the shots we were planning on adding visual effects to. A lot of the film such as the canyon shots came back looking good, but we were worried because we knew that we were going to have to change our original idea and tailor it to what we deemed “usable”.

Although knowing some of the shots were unusable in what we filmed them for, we opened them up in Adobe Premiere and boosted the brightness and curves, but there was no information in the picture it was just completely black.

As we couldn’t re-shoot these shots properly, we had to compromise and change our idea, we decided to still keep the theme of our original idea, but just focus on the portrayal of the decay and downfall of Plymouth as we know it. After getting over the initial shock of the under-exposed footage and the frustration, we were able to see potential in the what we thought were “unusable” shots. We noticed that the exposure of the shots made Plymouth and the locations we filmed at look almost like it was in a post-apocalyptic setting, and we grew more and more fond of our footage and how we could turn it around and still make a powerful piece of film.

THE SOUND RECORDING PROCESS

Recording the sound for this film was a really enjoyable and satisfying experience. We wanted to create a truly eerie, uncomfortable and unnerving soundtrack to go along with a shocking portrayal of the city of Plymouth that we captured.

We used a Zoom H4N to capture all sounds, and the sounds were made entirely from my guitar. We plugged the guitar directly into the Zoom H4N using a guitar to amp jack lead and from there we had the Zoom plugged directly into the Mac. This gave us total control over our sounds and also a professional sound quality, and using Audition to add weird effects and distorting it to our heart’s content.

As we wanted really unbearable and tension building sounds, I tuned my guitar right down to low A notes totally at random, this gave us a really great low rumble bass backbone to our soundtrack. The rest of the sounds were comprised of completely random strumming patterns on the unnaturally tuned guitar, complimenting the transitions and fast cuts the sounds would get more vigorous and unsettling.

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EVALUATION

Filming on the Super 8 medium took me from being just a video maker to a film maker. It gave me a greater understanding and appreciation for the format and the discipline that is required to really excel and make great films.

One of the most challenging aspects of shooting on this format is the fact that you only have 3 minutes of film at your disposal. So you have to be very precise and sure that what your filming is what you want and is going to work with the film, because you can’t go back and delete and re-film, what you film is what you get, which requires a greater deal of planning, more so than shooting on a digital format.

Another notable challenge with shooting on Super 8 is that you don’t have an LCD screen to frame up your shots, all you have is a little viewfinder which, at times, is hard to frame up shots with.

But for me, I think the main drawback, or challenge with shooting Super 8 is that you don’t know what you’re going to get back after it’s taken off to get developed. You can spend a lot of time making sure the settings and exposure is set properly, like us, but it can still come back different to how you imagined it.

I think it the footage coming back under-exposed was a blessing in disguise. I think our original idea would have been great if we could pull it off, but could have taken a lot of work and may have been completely different to what we originally wanted and then it being too late to compromise and change it. I really like how our idea changed and what our finished film looks like. It is simple but really effective in it’s execution and presence, we set out to make a film that portrays Plymouth with the sense of fear, dread and anguish, and I believe we did just that.

I am really happy with how the soundtrack came out, I didn’t know what to expect from using my guitar, but I couldn’t be happier with how it came out, it is unnerving, tentative, and truly unbearable at times and it is really something to be proud of.

Overall I am thrilled with how the film came together, after all the compromises and changes I think it was the best thing that could of happened to our project.

Name of the film: “Decayed”

We decided to call the film “Decayed” because the overall theme of our production focuses on the decay of Plymouth and it’s history along with it. We liked how the word “Decayed” looked and at first glance you kind of read it as “Decade”, its a play on both terms. Decade is a very important word relating to our production because it implies that a decade of Plymouth’s history is decaying and crumbling by society and we thought it was a very fitting title for the film.

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