I didn’t mention it in my last post, but I’m shooting “CD-Trip” on 16mm film! I’ve always loved the look of 16mm, and I’ve had a little bit of experience with it from a class I took. Even so, I’d always assumed that it wasn’t really feasible to do it on my own. But I want to put as much as I can into the project so I’ve saved up some money for this film, and film has turned out to be a viable option.
When I first started conceiving of the project I knew I wanted to do something different than I’d been doing. One idea was to shoot on DV – this would fit the late 1990’s content in a way, but it definitely looks pretty shoddy, and I don’t think that’s what I really want. The other idea was to rent a fancy digital camera – like a RED or something like that. And the last idea – the idea I barely would let myself think – was to shoot on 16mm…
First step of research was to look at rental houses. There are two rental houses I know of in Utah: Redman, which is what the big productions use, and I know requires insurance, and Underfunded Film Productions, which doesn’t require insurance, and is priced for low budget types like me. UFP rents RED cameras for $550-$700 / day. They are also down in Utah County (about 45 minutes drive away for me). They have all kinds of lights and other gear for rent as well. Renting could be nice, because you would get access to whatever you need, but you’d have to really plan your shoots to be all at once. In my experience, it’s somewhat difficult to get cast and crew to commit to much more than one day at a time. But I figured my shoot could take place over 3 weekends if I really worked to get everything together. So rental price would be in the ballpark of at least $3000.
Around this time I saw the film “Person to Person” at Sundance, which was shot on 16mm. It made me think again about looking into shooting on film, because it just looks so great! I started looking at cameras on Ebay, film prices at Kodak, and processing costs at film labs. Pricewise it seemed to be comparable or even less than renting a high end digital camera – granted this is assuming I keep a very low shooting ratio and don’t do very many takes. With good planning and rehearsal, I think I can get most shots in one or two takes.
So I decided to start heading down that path. After all, why spend a bunch of money on a digital look that I’m not that excited about when it’s comparable in price to get a film look that I’m way excited about? Plus I’d own my gear and be able to work at my own pace.
16mm cameras actually seem fairly cheap to buy, especially you’re not in a hurry. Not that many people are shooting on film these days, and I guess that means prices go down. I did some research on cameras good for low budgets and suitable for shooting sync sound, and came up with three options: Eclair NPR (used to shoot Texas Chainsaw Massacre!), Eclair ACL, and Cinema Products CP16-R. Then I set up Ebay watch notifications so I would be emailed as soon as anyone listed one. It took me a few months, but I ended up nabbing a CP16-R for just $380! (I was hoping for an NPR, but can’t argue with that price.)
Obviously you need to be careful with buying gear off of Ebay, but the price was so low that I figured it would be worth it even if I needed to spend some money on repairs for it.
Once I got the camera, I decided to shoot an initial 100 foot roll as a test. Of course I didn’t want to shoot my whole film without testing the camera, but I also would hate to waste film, so I picked out an outdoor scene from the script that seemed like it would be easy to film. That way if the film came back good, then I would have some actual usable footage. And if it came back bad, it wouldn’t be too much of a pain to reshoot.
From my film class experience, I already know the basic process of shooting and sending to a lab. In the class, we used a lab in Denver, but they appear to no longer be in business. I found a lab (Cinelab) in the Boston area that has good scanning facilities, so my plan was to send them the film and get 2K scans back, and just edit the film digitally. (In the film class we edited on film, and got film answer prints made. While that was amazing, it’s not practical for my purposes right now.)
Well, it took another couple of months for the lab to process the film (fewer labs in the country means they are all busier). But my footage came back looking great! There was a scratch going down part of it, but it went away after a little while, so I don’t think it’s something I need to worry about. So that was good enough for me, I bought the rest of the film stock I need, and have started shooting!
To save money, I’m planning to film everything else and send it to the lab all in one big batch. It’s strange to film scenes and know I’m not going to see how it turned out for months. It’s VERY different from the digital process I’m used to, but I think it’s had a positive effect even though it’s nerve racking! (I’ve attempted to film some of the rehearsals with my Sony T2i, to have some reference. But honestly there is always so much to think about while making a film, that it’s hard to be completely diligent about this.)
There are lots of pros and cons from a practical standpoint about shooting on film, but I think I’ll save that for another post.