written by Rhonda Vigeant, Director of Marketing, Pro8mm, Author, Speaker, Radio Show Host, Home Movie Educator © May 5, 2015
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As the beloved Super 8 film format turns 50 years old this month we must take pause to look at some of the milestones that have allowed the once popular home movie format to defy obscurity. Now in its 5th decade of continuous use the mighty 50 foot film cartridge has dodged planned obsolesce which is common in the digital arena. Super 8 has a loyal following, and continues to breathe new life as a professional format. It has been used in thousands of professional projects for major television shows (American Idol, American Horror Story, Aquarius, The Academy Awards) theatrical movies (Super8, The Fighter, Argo, JFK, History of the Eagles) music videos (Paul Abdul, Beyounce, Madonna, Black Eyed Peas, John Mellancamp, Neil Young, Miley Cirrus, Justin Beiber), and commercials for major brands (Target, Nike, Coca Cola, Armani). Super 8 film has captured the attention of a new generation wanting a more permanent and archival safe format for recording milestones such as weddings and baby’s first steps, as well as filmmakers who want to continue the tradition of shooting films on film. There is an understanding that in our digital world, an analog reel of film is the only proven archival medium. Properly stored, the film will last 100 years!
A Brief History:
May 1965 marks the official introduction of the Super 8 film format,
which Kodak debuted at the second season of the 1964 New York City Worlds Fair. The genius in the Super 8 system is the unique cartridge loaded film, which could easily be popped into a camera in broad daylight. While many families were beginning to bring home grown cinema into their living rooms as early as the late 1920’s, these first 16mm systems were too expensive for the average middle class family. When regular 8mm came on the scene in 1932, people loved it but research showed that consumers were easily frustrated. It was tricky for the new user to load the film in the dark, shoot off the 25 feet on one side, then go back in the dark, flip it over to the other side and shoot the 25 feet of film on the back side of the roll.
From 1965 to 1985 millions of 50-foot reels were shot of everyday life around the world, which today represents a prolific historical archive of the way we lived. This time machine of “in the moment material” at home, abroad, and in the field is one of our most important national treasures, not only for the families whose relatives are forever present on those reels shot long ago, but also as cultural and historical evidence of some of the greatest moments in modern history. Increasingly we see this archival footage being used in documentaries such as JFK, Selma, The History of the Eagles, as well as news and history programs showcasing thousands of stories, both well known and obscure.
In 1972, film schools and indie filmmakers started to recognize the tremendous production potential Super 8 film had. At that time, the focus was on developing sound and editing capabilities. Bob Doyle, Harvard Professor founded Super8 Sound ™ (listen to my interview) During this time the Super 8 Sync Sound Recorders and editing benches were sold to hundreds of college
and university film programs. It was a complete studio set up, and a milestone in the professional use of Super 8. These students who learned traditional filmmaking on Super 8 before advancing to 16 or 35 mm helped to evolve the format into professional work as they began working in the film industry.
While some of the biggest directors and cinematographers launched there film careers behind the families home movie camera (Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Christopher Nolan, Sam Rami, Ron Howard, Spike Lee) independent and studio filmmakers would shoot Super 8 film on a project given the opportunity that called for the unique look. This was particularly true when shooting flash backs, historical retrospectives, dreams, and what we call the “I’m on drugs” scene.
The evolution of Super 8 going mainstream was often referred to as Hollywood’s best-kept secret, and exploded when Pro8mm (formerly Super 8 Sound. The company moved to California in 1987 and started evolving the use of professional super 8 into the entertainment industry) introduced a line of professional negative film stocks in 1993. Up until that time, the Kodak film stocks were limited to only reversal film, which was suitable for consumer home movies, but had a limited selection of ISO’s and grain structures. The thought was if we Pro8mm (history of) could convert our slitting machine that we previously used to make the magnetic full coat audiotape for the Super8 Sound Recorders, than we could start slitting 35mm professional film stocks and put them into reloadable cartridges. With in a few months, Pro8mm had a full line of Kodak and Fuji 35mm professional stocks, spooled down to 50 feet and loaded in cartridges so they would work in any Super 8 camera. We hit the ground running, and for over 20 years Super 8 negative film has been a part of thousand of projects including numerous MTV and VH-1 shows, specials, and videos, including almost every episode of Behind The Music and Where Are They Now?
During this time, we also started seeing “extreme sports” brands use Super 8 in their commercials and TV shows. Snowboard, Skater Board, Surf Board, and all the associated clothing lines clothing brands such as Vans, Billabong, Volvo, Roxie loved the look of Super 8 negative film which fits perfectly with the popular “grunge” look of the era. This was followed by other big brands in the fashion industry shooting on Super 8 for Fashion Week, or in store promotions, including Calvin Cline, Armani, Victoria’s Secret, Ralph Lauren, Armani, Tori Burch, Minnetonka Moccasins, and many more.
With so many high profile brands and shows creating projects on Super 8 film during the 90’s, there was no longer the strong association of super 8 as being amateur home movie format. This was accelerated by the progression in scanning technology which continued to fuel the acceptance of Super 8 as a competitive force for studios and independent filmmakers. With better film stocks that were intended for transfer to digital, the power of Kodak Vision Film (1,2, and now 3) and Fuji Vivid, Eterna and Reala scanned on a professional flying sport scanner to a codec such as Pro Res in 1920 x 1080 HD, and now to 2K and beyond, the Power of Super 8 Film
Was unstoppable. The footage could use the same workflow as digital productions and could be easily edited in with program such as Final Cut Pro.
Another milestone Pro8mm came up with in 2001 was to expand the gate of the camera so that you could shoot a super 8 image 16 x 9. Called Max8
Max 8 is the expansion of the camera gate that changes the aspect ration from
4: 3 to 16: 9. We also recenter the optics of the camera. This feature allows you to insert Super 8 film footage in an HD workflow at the correct widescreen configuration. We also have3 a custom Max 8 gate for our scanner, so you can shoot 16: 1 and scan 16: 9. This eliminates cropping or curtains on the side of the frame. This does for Super 8 what Super 16mm did for the traditional 16mm film format – a modern application of analog film, keeping it viable in modern workflows.
The future of Super 8 film remains strong. This year a brand new Super 8 camera was introduced to the market. Logmar
Camera Solutions of Demark has brought to market a brand new camera built from the ground up. (listen to my interview with the Logmar team) Currently still in Beta Testing with 40 users world wide, it Is a digicanical Super 8 camera. Features such as
- Pin registration & dedicated pressure plate
- Crystal synchronized frame rates from 6fps to 48fps
- Stereo audio recording on SD-CARD as well as true XLR 48V Phantom power.
- WiFi remote control via iPad, iPhone or Android
- Digital viewfinder with low light CCD sensor and video output for external monitor
- Programmable “Function button” for: Phase Advance, Alternate speed, Rule of thirds grid etc.
- Firmware upgradable (future proof) via standard USB connector.
- 200ft custom reloadable cartridge option
This is a game changer for anyone who loves shooting Super 8 Film!
Here is a list of some current projects shot on Super 8 film or in production.
We will be highlighting these projects over the next year in a series called
50 Years, 50 Feet, 50 Voices
DO A SHOT PROGRAM (since 2012 we have put about 1,000 people through the program who have never shot on Super 8 before) http://www.doashotwithpro8mm.com/
Monsanto Years (Neil Young) http://pitchfork.com/news/59348-neil-young-announces-monsanto-themed-lp-recorded-with-willie-nelsons-sons/ )
Second Coming of Russell Brand (filmmaker Ondi Timoner; opened SXSW 2015 . Super 8 insert shots in London) http://www.brandthefilm.com/
Montage of Heck – Kurt Cobain (Brett Morgan, producer
American Idol ( Owen Smith) Many behind the scenes shots
American Horror Stories (Michael Goi /James Chressanthis)
Minnetonka Moccasins Commercial https://vimeo.com/70003793
I Saw The Light http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3789828/
Marshall Head Phones Commerical https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85WAwbwkPIs
Tory Burch Commercial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYwOY16mrec
Jessie Jo Stark (music video) Monster Party http://jessejostark.com/videos,4.html
No Entrerence (music video ) https://vimeo.com/79759407
Rebel; (James Franco) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1961476/
Spike Lee (many projects) 2015 music video for pepsi with Kelly Rowlands super 8 cut into the digital https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=59aUxXn-BO4#t=15
It’s About You: John Mellencamp (Kurt and Ian Marcus)