Monday, June 20, 2011

Super-8 Mystique: When Moviemaking Was Special

Kenrg, in response to my previous post here at Childhood According to Rich, recently posted a vlog about his own early experiences in super-8 filmmaking.  His post, and the responses that followed, led me to consider the elements that made our individual experiences so special, and particularly unique to those times. Super-8 captures some of how we all took the process so very seriously, but I think it's worth asking why.

Central to the experience, of course, was the fact that film, unlike modern video, wasn't unlimited.  It cost money to buy, and cost money to develop.  Each reel of film was only about three minutes long - so we kept (or tried to keep) screwing around to the minimum.  As much as 12 or 13 year-olds could, anyway.

The challenge of creating a film without sound - super-8 sound didn't come around until I was in high school - also gave us a direct connection to the filmmaking process.  We felt connected to the history of movie-making.

It was a much smaller club than today.  While millions of people owned super-8 movie cameras, there weren't nearly as many kids making movies as there are today.  The process of movie making, even for kids, could be time consuming. You needed special equipment - I had some simple lights, some creature-type make-up (liquid latex and vampire blood come to mind), a hand-cranked viewer to look at my film, and splicer to cut and tape my film together - and a projector.  Most families simply shot home movies, got them developed, and ran them through the projector.    It was relatively rare for a kid to have what he needed to make movies.

As Kenrg remarked, a super-8 camera had some heft - it felt important.  Even this, my very first camera, which was small, minimal and light even by standards of the time, was solidly built - and it made that exciting mechanical noise as the film ran through the camera, you felt a jolt of adrenaline, and the scene began.  

Sure, everyone might crack up laughing a second later - but at that moment, we weren't just pretending - we felt like real filmmakers. 

1 comment:

Ken Goldstein said...

Yes, in Super-8 days, you would rarely "wing it" and see what came out in editing. You had to acquire the right amount of film, pay for processing, and wait a few days (at least) between the end of shooting and the start of editing.

We'd first plan; not just scripts but full story boards. Since editing was nothing but straight cuts, we had to know what our opening and closing shots would be and do the fade in/out in-camera. We'd also try to create other effects live, on-set, and in-camera. No digital effects to save us in 1978.

Now, I just shoot some video, run it through my MacBook and fancy it up, and post it to YouTube, all within 24 hours. But back then, I was a film maker.