Taking a New Look At Old Film For Production and Archiving
-by Rhonda Vigeant , VP , Pro8mm © 2104 www.pro8mm.com
As a 35 year veteran of the Super 8 world, I am quick to pick up on trends. This in part comes from the vantage point of having run Pro8mm for so long, answering dozens of inquires on daily basis, and in part by being connected to the pulse of motion picture film products and services worldwide.
One trend that is in the forefront of my radar is how little most people know about film stocks. We get dozens of questions weekly about the shooting and processing of film stocks people buy on eBay, find in or with a used camera they purchased, or in a relatives home. We also get calls from the person who has a “refrigerator full” of film that they are waiting for the right project to come along to shoot it. Sometimes people are looking for film for a cool old 8mm camera that was given to them, or they purchased.
With the production market for Super 8 negative film having grown at a steady rate since we introduced it in 1994, and Kodak jumping in with negative in more recent years, many reversal stocks have been discontinued. Consequently, labs no longer support the chemistry for film stocks that are no longer manufactured. Add to this how many film labs have closed altogether, there are fewer options than ever for lab services.
So what does that mean for the consumer? First, it means that the “killer deal” on eBay for film stock is typically not a good deal at all if it can’t be processed. Unfortunately these are most of the stocks sold on EBay. These stocks include anything that has to be processed VNF chemistry, such as Kodachrome, EM26, Type-G Ektachrome, 7244, 7244, Type A Ektachrome, etc. There are so many in fact that it’s much easier to remember that the only film processing that is currently supported is color reversal is E-6. E-6 is what that great 100D Super 8 Ektachrome stocks was along with the Ektachrome 64T. New reversal super 8 stocks like the Super 8-88 200D are E-6 processed. In the past we have processed some of these old discontinued stocks through our E-6 chemistry, but too often the old films left contaminants in the chemistry that then ruined the processing of subsequent E-6 films. So as a resource for shooting new projects on Super 8, old film is not a great idea.
There is also a lot of 8mm or regular 8 old film around. Old regular 8 has all the problems of old super 8 with the added dilemma of often not being able to identify what stock it actually is. Regular 8 is often not labeled so before it is processed it must be identified to know what chemistry should be used.
On the flip side people often find old rolls of undeveloped film in their archives. Some were never shot. Some were shot but never processed. These unprocessed films can hold family treasures that might be worth pursuing.
Many people are curious about what was the last thing our loved one shot, and an undeveloped reel could turn out to be a family treasure. For most people, they are willing to gamble on the “investment” to see what is on the film.
To be processed the chemistry for these old process must be recreated to a point where the images can be recovered of the film. This is commonly done by processing the film as a black & white negative, which is the root of most film materials. Processing it this way is the safest way to insure you get an image. It is kind of a crapshoot to be sure. In fact on average about 30% of the old films we process have no usable images. For this reason we only charge for the developing of the film up front to cover the cost of the processing. If there are no usable images then there is no point in spending money to transfer the film to digital. And, in case you are curious, the black and white negative will not reveal any images if it is run through a traditional film projector. This is because the material was originally manufactured as a reversal film, but now has been processed as a negative. Film projectors only display images that are “reversal” or “positive”.
Because there is so many different processes that have been invented over the 80 some years of 8mm and super8 there is a lot sorting out that need to go into this process. Chemicals that work for one stock do not work for another. Some film has a backing coating called REM that must be removed before the film is processed. To make a batch of chemicals for a specific type of film is expensive. So to make this work film is collected over several months and when there enough of a particular film type then a run and chemicals are created and the film is processed. The average time is 3 months but sometimes a little longer.
Unlike camera equipment that has a long life span, and certain models can be refurbished to work as good as it when new, and can be found for a great price, film as a life span that may end with the chemicals that process them. It is far better and more economical to start with fresh film and processing purchased from a company like Pro8mm who can help you navigate the waters