The Unique Look of Shooting Black and White Super 8 or 16mm Reversal Film
(c) Pro8mm and David Dibble. All rights reserved.
We have always wanted a gorgeous black and white film demo that shows how powerful this traditional, iconic, time honored reversal stock could look when properly shot, processed and scanned. So we decided to have filmmaker David Dibble put his amazing talent to work to create something spectacular!
At Pro8mm, we have always supported the technology for black and white reversal film processing for traditional projection, or scanning to digital. Our legacy black and white film projects such as Paula Abdul’s 1988 Straight Up and Madonna’ s 1992 Erotica were at that time a modern tribute to the evolution of filming on Super 8 black and white motion picture film. That was 35 years ago! The scanning has greatly improved since those days, but the power of Tri-X (Pro8-66), scanned or projected looks better than ever.
GUEST BLOGGER DAVID DIBBLE:
Being a fan of silent films, I was thrilled that Pro8mm gave me the green light to demonstrate black and white film with an homage to silents. Rather than shoot a simple demonstration, this turned into a somewhat large but fun production.
My friend, Joe Rinaudo, is a renown silent film historian and restorationist. I actually became interested in silent films after seeing him screen a Buster Keaton film in my hometown on his hand-cranked projector while decked out in his victorian tuxedo. Besides being a walking encyclopedia on film history, he’s also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and he let our small film crew invade his private theater to film the first half of this demonstration. Just being in his recreation of a silent film theater was unique enough, however, when we wrapped shooting, he gave our crew a mini concert on his fotoplayer, a rare instrument created specifically to accompany silent films. I’m pretty sure few film crews ever get such a special experience and trip back in time.
Robert Pimentel helped me produce the silent film homages, which were all shot on Super 8. With a small crew, mostly friends, we had fun recreating some iconic scenes such as the moon with the rocket in the eye from “A Trip to the Moon” or “Nosferatu” in front of simple backdrops, similar to how films of those days would have been shot.
There are several old school tricks we used to create this piece to keep it in the silent film flavor. I’m proud of the Model T truck scene as it was a toy truck pulled on a string filmed in front of a bungalow house using forced perspective. To create Nosferatu rising, we had our actor fall backwards onto an air mattress and the footage was played in reverse. We also did some modern techniques such as filming our “filmmaker,” Connie Deng, against an LED wall to create an abstract background representing her imagination. That was our use of modern technology combined with old school Super 8 and it worked great. Another modern twist is that the end title of “Shoot on Film” was created in Photoshop and I simply filmed my laptop screen. I’m sure Buster Keaton would do that if he had Photoshop, right?
A silent film wouldn’t be complete without a pipe organ score and I wanted to go all the way. I was incredibly excited to be able to get Mark Herman, a hot shot organist and composer, to compose and record a pipe organ soundtrack. This particular Wurlitzer organ used to live at the 20th Century Fox sound stage and was used in famous scores since the 20’s. It now resides at Bandrika Studios and many thanks to owner/composer Nathan Barr for letting us record there and to sound engineer Harry Risoleo for recording and editing Mark’s score.
The silent film theater scene was shot on 16mm while all the film supposedly being projected was shot on Super 8. Before shooting the real thing, I shot a few tests in Joe Rinaudo’s theater and outside. Black and white reversal has a very small range of exposure latitude, which made shooting in a dark theater tricky. I found that one stop underexposed would start to go murky and grainy and anything below would go to black very fast. This worked fine when representing a dark movie theater, but I still overexposed the key by one stop. Outdoors in bright light, the film captures images beautifully though shadows do go completely black if there is no fill light. Our outdoor scene had a silk above to even out the sunlight, we had an LED light on Connie Deng and we bounced fill into the house and bushes behind her. On early tests of the miniature truck, because it was black, it would lose all detail quickly so we made sure to have bounce on it and overexposed slightly to still capture the details, especially since we ended up filming it at 70 fps to give it a heavier feel.
The Sprocket puppet has to be filmed against green screen, so we had to cheat and film it with 16mm color (50D). But it was turned black and white and composited with the Super 8mm shot of the miniature truck leaving. Therefore, everything in this piece is 100% shot on film. And 100% fun to get the chance to recreate the feel of silent films on real black and white film. Tony Smyles, who narrated the first Sprocket video, provided the final touch with his voice over.
(C)Pro8mm 2022 & David Dibble.