IFH 107: How to Shoot Super 16mm Film with Egon Stephan Jr.

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How to Shoot Super 16mm Film with Egon Stephan Jr.

So you want to be a filmmaker. You want to put the FILM back into FILMmaking. This episode is for you. Film is not dead my friends. It has been quietly working in the background of the industry.

Some of the productions that shooting Super 16mm film these days are:

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Noah
  • The Avengers
  • The Bourne Legacy
  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Iron Man 2
  • The Magnificent Seven
  • Westworld
  • The Girl on the Train
  • The Walking Dead
  • Jack Reacher
  • Batman vs Superman
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens
  • Star Wars: Rogue One
  • Spectre
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Jurassic World
  • Wonder Woman
  • American Horror Story
  • Star Trek

The knowledge to shoot film is dying. There’s nowhere online where you can take a course on how to shoot Super 16mm film. The “workshops” available are extremely expensive and don’t really give you practical knowledge from someone who has actually shot in the field.

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I wanted to put together an online course to preserve that knowledge for future filmmakers. Today’s guest, Director of Photography Egon Stephan Jr from Cine Video Tech, and I got together and shot The Definitive Super 16 mm Film Masterclass.

On today’s show, Egon and I drop some knowledge bombs on shooting film. So if you ever wanted to know if shoot “real” was an option for your indie feature or short film then perk up those ears. Enjoy my conversation with Egon Stephen Jr.

Right click here to download the MP3 (Transcription Below)

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Below you’ll see examples of the course and get a full history of Super 16mm film.

History:

16 mm film was introduced in 1923 by Eastman Kodak as an affordable and less costly amateur substitute to a 35mm film. The format was even considered as a substandard by the professional industry during the era of the 1920s.

William Beech Cook was hired from his 28mm Pathescope of an American company by Kodak so that a fresh, new 16mm Kodascope Library could come into existence. Apart from the fact that people could make home movies, they could also rent films from the library which turned out to be the major selling factor of the format.

Initially intended for inexpert usage, 16 mm film happens to be one of those formats which bring into use acetate safety film as the film base. Nitrate film was never used by Kodak due to the high flammability of nitrate base. By 1952, 35mm nitrate was discontinued altogether.

The 16mm film is an economical and historically famous gauge of the film. The number 16mm denotes to the width of the film with the other usual film gauges that include 8mm and 35mm. 16mm films are more commonly used for non-theatrical purposes like educational and industrial filmmaking or for motion pictures which happen to have a low budget.

For a number of decades, 16mm film remained a popular format for unskilled home movie making format together with 8mm and then later on Super 8 film. Eastman Kodak released the first 16mm outfit in 1923 which comprised of a camera, a tripod, a projector, tripod, screen and a splicer for $335. A 16mm sound movie projector was introduced in 1932 by RCA-Victor along with that he also developed an optical sound-on-film 16mm camera was released in 1935.

Evolution:

Initially aimed at the home fanatic the silent 16mm format made its way into the educational sector by the 1930s. The addition of Kodachrome in 1935 with optical soundtrack was the cause of major boost in the 16mm market.

16mm professional filmmaking was widely opted for in the post-war years and was used rigorously in WW2. A large network of professional 16mm filmmakers and services related to it came into existence in the 50s and 60s due to the films made for business, medical, government and industrial clients.

With the advent of television production, the usage of 16mm film was enhanced basically for its cost effective and portability over 35 mm. It was used for television programming as well at first which were shot outside the boundaries of a television studio or production sets. 8mm film and the Super 8mm format were adopted by the home market gradually.

The Format Standards:

Standard 16mm:

The area of exposure of a standard 16mm camera lies between 10.26mm by 7.49mm which happens to be an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, namely the standard pre-widescreen Academy ratio for 35 mm. Double-perf 16mm film which is the original format, has both of its sides perforated of each frame line. Single perf, as the name suggests; are perforated at one side only which makes space for magnetic as well as an optical soundtrack along the other side.

Super 16mm:

Swedish cinematographer Rune Ericson developed the variant called Super 16, Super 16mm Film or 16mm Type W in 1969. Using a single-sprocket film, it makes use of the extra room available for expanded picture area of 7.41mm by 12.52mm and with wider aspect ratio 1.67. Super 16 cameras are commonly 16mm camera that has the film gate along with ground glass placed in the viewfinder modified for a much wider frame.

Films that are shot in this format can be maximized by optical printing to 35mm for projection. In 2009, German lens manufacturer Vantage introduced a set of anamorphic lenses under the brand named, HAWK which provided a 1.3x squeeze factor especially for Super 16 format.

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Ultra 16mm:

The Ultra-16 tends to be a variation of Super 16. It was invented by cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco on 1996 while the shooting tests of Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. It is created by widening both the left and right sides of the gate of standard 16mm camera by a 0.7mm so that the vertical area between the perforations is exposed.

With frame dimensions of 11.66mm by 6.15mm, the Ultra-16 format provides the frame size between the standard 16mm and Super 16 achieving a wider image. The image is readily converted into NTSC/PAL (1.33 ratio), 35mm film (1.85 ratio) and HDTV (1.78 ratio) and tends to make use of either both the full width or fell vertical frame depending upon its application.

The Modern Uses:

Kodak and Agfa happen to be the two major suppliers of 16mm film now as Fuji closed their film manufacturing facility in 2012. The television uses 16mm for Hallmark Hall of Fame anthology, The O.C, Friday Night Lights, HBO’s Westworld and also The Walking Dead in the U.S.

The 16mm format is quite rapidly getting popular for commercials as well as dramas. British Broadcasting Company has played a vital role in the format development.

BBC collaborated extensively with Kodak back in the 50s and 60s era so that 16mm could be taken to a professional level since the BBC required less expensive, more feasible, and portable production solution while keeping a higher quality than what was offered as the time when formats were usually used for theatrical shorts at home, cartoons, newsreel and documentaries for various purposes including educational videos limiting the high end unskilled usage.

Whereas today, 16mm format is often used for student films as its usage for making documentary has almost vanished from existence.

Super film is still used for some productions that are destined for HD with the invention of HDTV. Some of the low-budget theatrical features tend to be shot on super 16mm and 16mm such as the independent hit Clerks, directed by Kevin Smith.

Owing to the advances in the digital technology and film stock especially the digital intermediate DI, the format seems to have improved dramatically in sense of picture quality since the 70s and is a rejuvenated option now.

For instance, Vera Drake was shot on Super 16mm film which was scanned digitally at a high resolution as well as edited and color graded and then was printed out onto the 35mm film with the help of using a laser film recorder. Due to the digital processes involved, the final outcome of 35mm print is so good that you could fool some professionals into thinking that it was actually shot on 35mm.

The most exterior television footage was shot on 16mm from the 60s until the 90s in Britain when the more portable videotape machines and televisions led to the video replacing 16mm in many examples. A number of shows and documentaries were entirely made in 16mm prominently The Jewel in the Crown, The Ascent of Man, Life on Earth and Brideshead Revisited.

The British Broadcasting Company notes Super 16 a standard definition film format. Especially the show Scrubs has been shot on 16mm since the very beginning and is aired as 4:3 SD or as 16:9 HD. Although, according to a news the BBC has announced that it will not be accepting 16mm as an original format for HD video transfer.

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The Wrestler

Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and Black Swan were shot on Super 16mm. Leaving Las Vegas ,an Academy Award-winning film was shot on 16mm.

The famous TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was also shot in 16mm and for its later seasons, it switched to 35mm. The popular TV series Sex and the City shot its first two seasons on Super 16mm and later on 35mm.

Aired in HD, all the three seasons of Veronica Mars happen to be shot on Super 16mm. Another notable film, The Spinal Tap and other following mockumentary films by Christopher Guest were shot in Super 16mm.

Stargate SG-1 shot its first three seasons in 16mm which included the season 3 finale as well as the effects shots before switching to 35mm in the later seasons.

black-swan-30872_7

Black Swan

The Best Picture Academy Award Winner, The Hurt Locker was shot suing Fujifilm 16mm film stocks as well as Aaton Super 16mm. The cost savings that were made over the 35mm, enabled the production team to make use of multiple cameras for various shots and also exposing about over 1,000,000 feet of film.

The famous TV series of British Napoleonic era called Sharpe was shot on the famous Super 16mm all through to the film Sharpe’s Challenge (2006). The producers switched to 35mm for the last film of the series Sharpe’s Peril (2008). 16mm was also used in the movie, Moonrise Kingdom.

Digital 16mm:

Numerous digital cameras tend to approximate the look of a Super 16mm format by using Super 16mm sized sensors as well as Super 16mm lenses. These cameras happen to include the Ikonoskop A-Cam DII (2008) and the famous Digital Bolex (2012). The more recent, Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera which surfaced in 2013, happens to have a Super 16 sized sensor.

Here’s a bit about today’s guest Egon Stephan Jr.

“Like father, like son” they always say, yet nowhere has this cliché been truer than when you apply it to the love of filmmaking shared between Egon and his father. Egon began his professional career at an early age, eventually running the camera rental department for his father at the ripe young age of sixteen!

After a six-year stint as the camera rental manager of CineVideoTech, he pursued his love for film in the field, running up an impressive list of credits. He worked his way up from technician to second-assistant, second to first, first to operator, operator to second unit Director of Photography, second unit DP to Director of Photography on his first feature film, “Jungle Juice”, starring Christopher Walken, Morgan Fairchild, Robert Wagner and Rutger Hauer.

Shortly after this achievement, Egon’s father fell ill and his duty to continue the legacy his father had begun took precedence over his own successful career. He took over the helm at CineVideoTech in 2002 and has since been busy recreating the company that has launched so many successful careers into a vision of what is to come.


LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

SPONSORS

  1. VideoBlocks.com – (IFH Discount SAVE $50)
  2. Werner Herzog Filmmaking Master Class
  3. Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting Master Class
  4. Hollywood Screenwriting Directory
  5. Final Draft 10
  6. FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)

KILLER RESOURCES!!!

  1. INDIE FILM SYNDICATE Filmmaking Community
  2. IFH’s Online Film School
  3. Six Secrets to get into Film Festivals for FREE!

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