I had recently modified and serviced my Arri SRII 16mm film camera and I really wanted to take pictures with it. Instead of just taking random test shots, I thought it would be a lot more fun to make a short story short to really test it.
It's one thing to test a camera's technical capabilities in a controlled environment, but using it in a real set is a completely different experience. The latter not only gives you an insight into the technical performance of the camera, but also into the effects on your process on site.
These two variables were important for me to learn more about, as I intend to use this camera for projects with longer forms (namely functions) in the future.
From a purely technical point of view, I wanted to test the overall performance and image quality because I was taking pictures for the first time since switching to the camera Ultra 16mm. I took the camera in 4: 3 mode several times, but I wasn't sure what to expect after the gate was extended.
I wanted to see creatively how it would be possible to shoot a no-budget narrative project on 16 mm. In the past, some of my favorite digital projects were those little short films that I threw together without money (and sometimes without a crew) and that I wanted to see if I could do something like that even when I was filming.
I had a 400-foot can with 16mm 200T from another shoot in my fridge and bought another one from B&H for $ 150 – one of the few expenses for the shoot.
Each 400-foot roll runs at 24 frames per second for 11 minutes, which means that I only had 22 minutes of "recording time" in digital language.
Although that has absolutely nothing to do with it, the script I wrote was a little over 2 pages … Although I only had a limited film inventory, I still had enough for a 10: 1 ratio due to the minimal runtime.
When I went into the project, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible to keep costs as close as possible to $ 0. This not only meant keeping the script incredibly short, but also basing it on my resources. The whole story is set in and around a place (my house) and there is no dialogue.
These two decisions made a big difference right away. Locations are usually my biggest expense. So when I shoot my house, it gets easier straight away. And because there was no dialogue, I didn't have to roll a sound on the set. I build all of the audio in the post with a mix of library music and custom sound effects that I record myself.
I was also lucky enough to have a couple of friends who also helped on the crew side. In total there were only four crews outside of me (Andy Chinn / DP, Ryan Oksenberg / BTS, Michael Bachochin / AD, Jon Stanley / PD) and some friends who came out as the background for one of the scenes.
I always want to respect everyone's time on the set, especially on a project like this where I'm calling for a favor.
To make it easier for everyone, I limited the shooting day to just 6 hours.
Aside from a few hours spent earlier in the day putting up some practical lights, the actual shoot only ran from 4pm to 10pm. In just 6 hours we were able to record 6 scenes in 3 different locations inside / outside the house.
We were able to work so quickly not only thanks to a short script, a tight shot list and a great crew, but also thanks to a technical shortcoming that we met early in the day.
About 15 minutes after we started shooting, we had a problem with one of the camera magazines. I had preloaded both the previous evening and recorded a few seconds of test material to make sure they both ran smoothly … what they were.
But about three or four shots in scene one, the first magazine had one issue. It sounded like the film had slipped and hadn't caught the sprockets properly, which is never a good thing. When this happens, the sprockets do not pinch the perforations, but actually pinch themselves in the film, which of course can damage the image.
We immediately stopped rolling and appeared in the second magazine, which ran perfectly.
I had to decide whether I should re-thread the faulty magazine so that we could continue using it later, or whether I just wanted to completely scrap it. I decided to take the last option.
Although it would have been easy to simply remove the exposed film from the magazine and reload it, there was no guarantee that the magazine would not have the same issue again. Maybe it wasn't about how it was loaded, but about the mechanics of the magazine itself … In either case, I didn't have time to experiment as we tried to get everything into the can so quickly.
Since only about 1 minute of raw material has been recorded so far, I called to try to shoot the rest of the film ONLY with the second, properly functioning magazine. This would cut my shot rate in half. Instead of a ratio of 10: 1, it would be closer to 5: 1 …
This immediately forced me to rethink my reporting and essentially throw away my shot list. While I was still using the admission list as a rough guideline, I had to combine groups of two or three shots into individual shots, or in some cases scrap shots entirely.
My main concern was our main party scene, which required adequate reporting to pull off. Although I was able to eliminate some specific shots, I knew that most of the footage we had had to be used for this scene.
Since we knew that, we shot most of every other scene with single shots. As long as there was no obvious error in the camera, we would never do it again. It was a little nerve-wracking to work like this because there was practically no room for error, but it was also fun.
We went through each shot a couple of times to get a quick camera sample, and once everything looked good we really shot it. It felt weird to go on so quickly, but in the end that was all we really needed! I'm currently knee-deep in editing and don't feel like we're missing anything …
When we shot our party scene at the end of the day, we had more than enough footage on our reel to record everything we needed, including a series of bonus footage that wasn't even on the recording list.
That would never have happened if we had shot digitally! With Digital, you almost always record more settings than you need for scenes that you probably already have in the can.
At the end of the day, there is no time to try out new ideas or collect bonus material, as you have spent all of your time re-recording new material.
As I look at my rough cut of editing, there is no sign that we were shooting with such a limited number of shots. If anything, the film looks more dynamic than many of my digital projects since we were forced to shoot more material rather than doing more shots of the same thing.
Not to mention that the film is basically self-editing because there is so much work done in the camera and there is far less footage to browse. As someone who works on most of my own projects, this is a dream.
The film was scanned in Full HD on ProRes 422HQ, resulting in a single 12-minute video file. That's all I do in the post, and it has allowed me to do a full rough cut in practically no time. Finishing / color correction will undoubtedly also be easier since the 16mm film contributes so much to heavy lifting.
I should also mention that my total film / processing / scanning cost was less than $ 500. That was effectively the film's budget, aside from pizza and a couple of Venmo payments. I tend to see anything under $ 1,000 as a no budget project as there are SOME costs – food, gas, media, props, etc.
In any case, I look forward to releasing this film and soon sharing it with all of you. I originally planned to submit to festivals, but since so many of them have now been canceled or postponed indefinitely, I will probably publish them online to get them out as soon as possible.
As soon as the time comes, I will share another blog post with the film itself, as well as a copy of my script and my recording list. I thought that would be helpful for those of you who want to see how things are translated from the page to the screen.
In the meantime, I will post some screenshots from the following film.
Almost everything you will see was recorded with practical lights along with a single LED litemat and / or a quasar tube.
There is a little more grain than usual for 200T because we stopped it in the laboratory. That is, the exposure meter was set to ISO 400 (not 200) and the film was developed a little longer to bring out more details. We did this due to our limited daytime lighting.
With regard to the lens, everything was recorded on my Angenieux 12 – 120 mm, which served us very well during the entire shoot.
The lab scanned the film a bit closer than I would like, which is why the following images have an aspect ratio of 1.66 instead of 1.85. Ultra 16 mm is an unusual format and requires the scanner to pull back all of the negative including the sprocket holes. This way you can achieve an even wider aspect ratio.
I can have the footage scanned again for 1.85, but I also like it in 1.66, so I'll have to report back soon. Check out these pictures from the film for now –
Check back soon to read my follow-up post that includes the finished film. In the meantime, if you have any questions about 16mm shots, leave a comment below!
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Noam Kroll is an award-winning filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!