I received the processed film back from Yale Film & Video today. I can’t tell you how nervous I have been about this test footage episode. The results of my first film test (using Ektachrome 64T color film) was a mess. Completely overexposed. Completely worthless. So going into this test shoot I feared that I might do one of a number of things to muck it up, namely, screw up the light and overexpose, screw up the light and underexpose, or get everything out of focus. Any one of those things would mean not only a waste of time and money but a need to go back to the drawing board and re-think this whole idea of shooting black and white Super 8 altogether. Given the circumstances, I felt, just prior to watching this film, that I might a) cry if the footage sucked b) cry if the film footage was miraculously gorgeous or c) remain at a happy medium if it was somewhere in between. Obviously, option “C” was the biggest gray area going into this.
It was with some reluctance that I ran the film through my projector and adjusted the picture to the screen height and distance. I paused more than once and might even have said a little prayer (though, truth be told, I don’t really pray, just in circumstances such as these) before twisting the dial to run. The lamp flickered on, the film raced through the projector shutter and then: light. Picture. Clear. Clean, Focused. Utterly beautiful, black and white with a hint of sepia tone. There before me on my old, somewhat yellowed, Da-Lite pop-up movie screen was an image as beautiful as anything I have ever shot on camera before. Everything about the picture was what, and perhaps more than, I had imagined. It was scenario “A.” And for a moment I thought I felt the tears coming. But no – this was just the beginning of the film – the whole thing couldn’t possibly be this perfect.
The second “take” came and it was blurry. The light was perfect but the picture was blurry. And soon enough I realized what had happened – the camera focused, at the beginning, on the slate and not the action/talent, so when the slate was moved I was left with a close focus rather than a further away focus where the action was. This will be an easy fix and one that I will be more aware of during the actual filming. I was feeling closer to option “C” but still with the high of option “A.”
Then I was taken by surprise again, the next scene, take 3, appeared almost more beautiful than the first scene. I picked this shot from the outside of the building looking in through an old window, the glass missing. The light is just such that it accents the actors face through the window and the shadows are still there for contrast. I can’t wait to use this same shot in the film. I was nearing option “A” again.
There were a few more experimental shots that I did, all with good results. Only one of the later scenes had a focus issue – none had a light over/under exposure issue, which is what I was truly afraid of. With Tri-X film there is not much “latitude” in on the film in terms of light so if you are off by an F-stop (or God-forbid, two) then you are screwed.
The pictures I am including here are of still shots taken directly off my movie screen – they probably don’t really do the actual pictures justice as I’m not the best still/digital photographer. But they should give a sense of the scene and the lighting.
All in all I consider this test-shoot a huge success. There’s an enormous sense of relief in knowing that I can do this. I can set up a shot, understand and adjust for the light, depth of field and focus, and come away with footage that it is worthwhile.
I’ll take this footage and get it transferred to digital and mess around with syncing it up to the digital audio we recorded. Given the results, I feel that it is time to move along to the actual shoot. I have pretty much everything I need now, including the re-assurance that this whole thing IS possible.
Next step is going to be a read-through rehearsal and then shooting begins. Thanks again to everyone who was there for the shoot. And a special thanks to Erik, for his willingness to be on camera for this.