I finally registered for a Super 8 filmmaking workshop. Yes, you read correctly. In the digital age we live in, Super 8 may not be as convenient and is often thought of as something an old or long deceased relatives used, but it sure is pretty and in certain emerging, growing subcultures it's also alive and well. Just considering the fact that I found three separate places in my area offering workshops is a testament to the resurgence of small gauge filmmaking and even non-linear editing.
Don't get me wrong, I haven't illusions of feature length silent Super 8 films set to music or narration at my local Loews. I don't believe Super 8 will ever even be what it was to the 1960's and 70's family home moviemaker, but small gauge filmmaking does have a place in the art world and amateur filmmaker community. Hopefully manufacturers and developers of Super 8 film will remain because there is a modest but stable market for the products and services around Super 8.
My personal interest, like many I'm sure, came from inheriting my Grandpa Al's 8mm and Super 8 camera, equipment and the footage he shot over the years. I have been gradually transferring it to a digital format. A lot of it is family, or travelogue like footage of vacations depicting an Americana now virtually gone. Projecting the footage or sending it directly to a transfer house was like opening a time capsule. I found it all very fascinating. I realized things I never knew about my family and found new mysteries. This discovery transitioned itself into a growing collection of Super 8, 8mm and 16mm found footage through garage sales, ebay and community center sales over the years.
I have wondered why I'm so interested in social history documentation in general and why I'm so captivated in particular by documentation in the small gauge film format. I realize it's partly because digital video, high def or standard, will never look like film. It can't because it's not. And although film is too time consuming, inconvenient and expensive to use in my daily work life, I can still enjoy it in my off time.
Small gauge has been a popular medium for both amateur and independent filmmakers through the years (and still is), which makes for a rich, sometimes mundane, sometimes fabulously bizarre collection of works stowed away in museums, galleries, basements, churches, schools, libraries and more random locations throughout the world. It can turn into a bit of a treasure hunt. Just ask any film orphanista. But outside of the fun involved in found footage that someone else shot, there is also a joy in filming with small gauge formats. Most hobbyists don't want to spend the money on 35mm or even 16mm, which require more technical understanding of the medium itself and its equipment, so what's nice about Super 8 is that it was developed for the home movie enthusiast and therefore comes as a cartridge you just click into the camera. Super 8 cameras are pretty straight forward that way, but why this format has seen resurgences every now and again over the years (particularly in the '90s and then again now) is perplexing. Super 8 seems to like to be dismissed and then again considered. Take today, in an age where it's pretty cheap and easy to just purchase and use a little HD camcorder and SDHC card to shoot, the mini Super 8 renaissance is especially peculiar. Modern convenience allows present day filmmakers zero developing costs and (usually) only requires the ingesting of their digital footage into a software program before anyone can easily start creating non-linear cuts.
At the Union Docs Super 8 filmmaking workshop I started last week, our instructor brought up a word often associated with Super 8 films. She suggested we think about "nostalgia" and what it means to us. She also asked us to think about why and how nostalgia fits into our present day digital and virtual society, citing Final Cut Pro film grain filters, Instagram and other apps that create an 'old timey' feel. Despite the modern age, we like things to look old sometimes.
It's an interesting question to ponder. In a period which embraces youth over age, virtual over physical, this phenomenon appears to be an exception. Societal attitudes tend to lean away from what is considered old or dated. Then again, there are circles who covet vintage because of it's apparent quirkiness, which in turn makes some feel individualized or special by owning the unique. In fact someone in the workshop said that in so many words and I do agree. Because vintage is in the past, it's also easy enough to romanticize objects of yesteryear and look at it through a tinted lens (yes, play on words here). That's probably part of the reason why Super 8 is thought of to be so beautiful. The film itself is physical and therefore tangible, but the results of developed film are sort of dream like. They often appear as an idealized fantasy of a better yesterday or sometimes a mysterious yesterday. Either way it's romantic and the grain gives it an otherworldly dreamscape if you ask me.
I've checked out youtube videos of different Super 8 enthusiasts adventures in filmmaking and no matter if they're shooting traffic at an intersection in modern day New York City or someone on top of a mountain skiing in the latest gear, there is a nostalgic look to it, regardless of the contemporary settings. The contrast of the black and white or the vividness of the Ektochrome colors, it's rich and romantic.
Outside of all this romance I'm waxing on about, I find learning about film of any gauge is an important education and really pretty exciting (I guess that makes me an eccentric, depending on who's reading this entry). Coming strictly from a digital world professionally I often haven't realized where a lot of editing language came from. There are a lot of cutting (there's one!) terms from that have somehow survived the transition from film to digital and remain in use.
Cutting and splicing in the literal sense also requires an editor to plan scenes more methodically. You can't just hit "undo" if you make a bad or unwanted cut. You have to physically remove the tape and start again. It requires a different way of thinking when constructing a scene or even just one cut. That's both a nerve racking and attractive thought process from my perspective and one that I've never encountered. This workshop will give me a first taste. I doubt I'll want to edit a feature documentary in this way, but a 3 minute film sounds like a fun exercise and one I might repeat. Of course I say that now. We'll see when I'm breaking out the guillotine how it all goes down, but I'm looking forward to it.
The workshop is broken up into four classes and the first covered gauges, some Super 8 film viewing and some general information covering differences in negative and reversal film stock. Union Docs offers both Super 8 and 16mm workshops.