|Super 8 mm
Some people wonder why, in the age of digital video, I am still using 1960s technology.
My super 8 editing "studio" I set up in my apartment. Unfortunately, it had to be taken down to make room for Kirby's crib. There are still a lot of my Grandfather's films (in the blue reels) that I have yet to edit and splice. The white boxes behind the splicer contain film I've recently shot.
When I was younger, I used to take my dad's cheap fixed-lens Bell and Howell XL to school, to Ecuador, et cetera, to make movies. At the time my reason for making movies was simply to create live-action documentation; we never owned a VHS camcorder.
However, as Super 8's market share continued to wane over the 80s and drugstores discontinued selling and devloping reels of film, the cheap fixed-lens Bell and Howell XL got thrown in the closet to collect dust. Super 8 filmmaking, it appeared, was dead.
My grandfather passed away in the summer of 2000. I ended up being the person receiving his ponderous Super 8 collection, spanning over 20 years. I have been put in charge of cataloging, editing, cleaning and splicing his films (spanning from 1967 to 1990) with the hope of one day transferring them to tape or DVD so that the entire family can enjoy them. By putting them on DVD I can also re-edit them on my computer using iMovie or similar movie editing software (maybe even Final Cut Pro, if I ever can afford it!).
While searching the internet for information about editing and preserving this antiquated medium, I came across a wealth of information about the format. I learned that Super 8 filmmaking is very much alive indeed. And it inspired me to begin experimenting with the format once again.
In the fall of 2000, I put together a documentary of the fall 2000 football season, including tailgating activites and the games themselves, from University of Houston and University of North Texas games I attended. I used almost two dozen rolls of both color and black and white film to make the documentary, which ended up being 2 reels long when I was done. I had a lot of fun capturing the sights and colors of college football and describing the (generally pretty awful) exploits of the two teams, and I had so much fun putting it all together that I did it again in 2001 and 2002.
While many consider Super 8 to be obsolete, it is alive and well and retains several advantages. Your average (i.e. non-professional) analog or digital video just isn't going to have the same vivid colors as a roll of venerable Kodachrome. And, as grainy as Super 8 film might be, it still has a much higher resolution than your standard amateur VHS. The limitations of Super 8 film also lend to its creativity. Because it is a silent medium (Kodak has discontinued manufacturing sound-striped Super 8 film), you have to tell your stories visually, rather than with sound. The fact that a 50-foot roll of Super 8 film only lasts 3 minutes and 20 seconds means you also have to take footage sparingly. Thus, you have to be very thoughtful as to what you're going to film and this adds to the creative aspect of the medium.
Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against standard VHS or digital video. These formats certainly have a lot of advantages over Super 8 film and have become household standards. In fact, last Christmas I received a nice Sony DV camera and have been using it ever since. But there's a special, timeless quality about Super 8 filmmaking that VHS just can't match. And that's why I continue to dabble in the format.
Super 8 film is still available in some photography stores. However, I usually buy it direct from Kodak (unfortunately, they discontinued their online store, but you can still call them to order it). I mail my film out to laboratories for developing; it's not any more expensive than it used to be at the drugstore and they get it back to you a lot quicker, too.
NOTE: I've noticed that there are many more super 8 websites and resources available on the internet today than there were in 2000, when I first put this page up. This indicates that super 8 filmmaking is not dying but is actually thriving!
The 8mm Film Format Metadirectory - links to hundreds of recources; a great starting point
filmshooting.com - a comprehensive site about the art of super 8mm filmmaking
super-8mm.net - super 8 filmmaking in the digital age
k14movies.com - I used to send my rolls of Kodachrome film to Dwyane's Photo in Parsons, Kansas for developing. Unfortunately, Kodak no longer manufactures Kodachrome film for super 8 cameras
Yale Film and Video - I send my rolls of black and white and Ektrachrome film to these guys in California for quick and reliable developing