Entered Straight 8 2017 Film Festival

About the Straight 8

This year I decided, rather abruptly, to enter the Straight 8 2017 Film Festival held by CineLab in London. Each year I see the festival come and go and each year I think about entering but somehow don’t pull the trigger (so to speak). But this year, I saw that I *might* have enough time to put an idea together so before thinking about it too much I paid my entry fee.

Luckily, I already had one roll of 500T sitting around. So I quickly went to work piecing together a concept that was bubbling in my mind.

For those unfamiliar with Straight 8 festivals it works like this: using a single roll of Super 8 film you shoot your film from beginning to end without edits, without takes, without the opportunity to reshoot anything. Once you start shooting, that’s it – what you capture is what you capture and there is no changing it. The film is sent off for processing and digitizing. Meanwhile, a soundtrack is put together, thankfully, editing is involved with the soundtrack but because there is no picture for reference it is difficult (if not impossible) to completely synch up audio and visual. The soundtrack is submitted as a digital audio file.

The film and audio is placed together and the first time the film premieres is the first time it is seen, in full, by any audience or even the filmmaker!

This makes the film creation process that much more exciting, unpredictable, experimental, and…risky.

The Script

I began in earnest putting my script together, documenting shots, proposing run times for each scene. My method of pre-production involves a lot of brainstorming, keeping random notes, writing anything down that comes to mind and then sorting it out as I come back to those notes again and again. Old ideas dissolve and new ideas take shape.

As I found this happening naturally, I decided that was what this film would be about – things taking shape, changing, and reemerging as new things. A constant continuous process of change; changing forms. I began to tie this concept to a couple of visual ideas – the process of making something by hand – in this case the forging of an original art piece from it’s early stage as a wax sculpture to that of the human and natural environment. Tying these two worlds together of the human-made vs. the natural environment, the common thread being that we are all part of a “process.”

Soundtrack

For this idea I wanted an original soundtrack. I immediately jumped to wanting a cello piece – the cello has a certain power and mood about it that is unique and carries a certain weight that is appealing. I began asking friends about people who played cello and where I might be able to find someone to create an original score – in a short amount of time! But it seemed a tall order to find someone who could commit their time and energy to something like this on such short notice. I began looking online and quickly remembered using Fiverr for a couple of past graphic design projects so I began exploring there for a person that might be able to accomplish what I wanted. I posted a request and within hours received a number of replies from various composers and musicians about what they could offer. After sorting through the offers and listening to sample works I selected one that I felt could best achieve what I was looking for.

I was lucky enough to find a young Venezuelan composer to complete the score in less than 7 days! Here is a sample of the music:

In the midst of conceptualizing the idea I wrote a narration – sort of a spoken essay or long-form poem. It materialized as free-form writing, ideas popping into my head that became the “story.” I didn’t spend a lot of time writing and re-writing as I wanted to embrace the idea of “the first take” even in this part of the process. So not a lot of revisions. I used Fiverr again to seek out some talent to narrate the story. I found someone and received a version back pretty quickly. I made a couple of suggestions and received another version back.

Ultimately, I wasn’t getting exactly the tone I was looking for so I decided to do the narration myself. It took me several takes and I ended up revising the script a little bit more. The best takes were recorded in my clothes closet using an R-09 Edirol (the same one I’ve had for years now – in fact, the batteries are starting to rust out the inside).

I used Audacity to cut the audio and shifted things around a bit more. Final running time for the audio was 3:23 (about 3 min long but that’s fine).

Shooting Days

My first roll ended up being used on another -related- project so I purchased a second roll. (I have the first roll and will be posting that footage as part of another project which covers more of the interior of the Crucible Foundry and the molding process for the soon-to-be bronze belt buckle that Rick Sinnett designed.) It is the wax positive of that piece that I chose to use for my Straight 8 project.

Principle photography took place over a period of three days. The first day took place at the Crucible in Norman. One of the most important – if not THE most important shot – is the first three seconds of the film because it has to display a unique ID number that identifies this cartridge, this film, as a valid submission. If the ID number is not in the first three seconds, you’re disqualified! So I made sure to open with that shot. I continued with a fade-in on an exterior interactive/movable sculpture and then moved inside for a few more select shots.

An Impossible instant photo of the two film actors, Baylor and Virginia.

The second day of shooting, about a week later, took place in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oklahoma. This is one of my favorite places to visit so shooting there would be fun. I rounded up a couple of friends and fellow staff members, Virginia and Baylor, to be actors.

I wanted some interesting shots so I played around with a stop-motion idea and a moving time lapse scene. After a couple of hours and multiple locations I wrapped up the day.

Day three of shooting was back at The Crucible location in the sculpture garden again for a final shot that would wrap things up where they began. Not knowing exactly when the film would run out was challenging.

Issues Encountered

It is not so far removed to try and shoot Super 8 film in one take. In fact, I try to approach filmmaking with the idea of using as few takes as possible because, frankly, film is expensive and every unusable shot is wasted film. But this was my first foray into zero editing where planning is everything and time-keeping is critical. Probably the biggest mistake I made was purposefully ejecting the film cartridge just prior to my second day of shooting. There is always a cool effect when a cartridge is exposed – sort of a flash effect – so I thought it would be cool to include one. What I didn’t take into account was that my in camera run-time counter would reset once I opened the cartridge door! In fact, I realized I’d made an even bigger mistake from the very beginning when I didn’t have a designated stopwatch or time keeper. So I had true way to measure how much I’d shot and how much film was left.

Having a larger crew – or should I say – having a crew at all, would have been helpful. Even a couple of people to help me keep things on track, to keep time, to help with equipment, etc.

Thoughts on the Process

It’s difficult to say with a film like this if it’s going to be good or bad. The best you can do is try to make as few mistakes as possible and hope for the best. A number of things can always screw up what might be a good film: poor focus, bad lighting, shutter-speed settings could be off and affect your color (such as I encountered with my first run of 500T film that was very yellow because I failed to engage the correct setting). I managed to accidentally pull the trigger at least twice that I’m aware of – so who knows what those frames will look like. And I’m pretty sure some of the close-up shots are going to pretty damn blurry.

Everything is easily critiqued on a project like this….in retrospect. But fortunately, film shot in this manner has its value rooted square in the moment. That defining moment when the decision is made to pull the trigger and just go-with-it, for better or worse. I guess therein lies the reason for participating in something like this. Yes, it puts boundaries on what you can and cannot do but those boundaries require you to rise to the occasion and put forth your best effort without room for do-overs, re-shoots, re-takes, or previews.

I can see that for some professionals that call themselves filmmakers but are really videomakers (doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?) that process would be too restricting or cumbersome for their current “workflow.” But to me the thought of capturing something that is un-perfect and trying your best to dial-in everything leading up to the shot, and then once it is done, it is done – that it is both exciting and nerve-wracking all the same.

I guess that I hope the film is good but then again what is good anyway? Good seems to only be another individual’s judgement placed on the work. So whether what ends up as the finished product on screen is worthy or not is not for me to decide. What was good was the process of creating this project from start to finish. In that respect, I learned a lot and reinforced the idea that making film is a rewarding and fulfilling experience.

The Final Film

As of this writing the final film has been submitted and the soundtrack as well. At this point it’s a waiting game. Once the film digitized and the assembled with the audio track it will be placed online – at which point I will reference it from here for everyone to see.

UPDATE

My film was selected to show at the Straight 8 Film Festival in London!

Show is Sunday, July 9 at Picturehouse Central

Tickets Here

 

New Super 8 Film added – State Fair 2013

I added a new film to my Vimeo channel last night. This one is from the Oklahoma State Fair this year and features my fam at the livestock barns and at the midway. This was the first time I used my “nicer” camera at the fair. I used my Canon 814 XLS 814XLS_3to shoot the footage. I shot on Kodak 500T Color Negative film. The soundtrack is from live recording at the fair using my Edirol R-09.

Taking my Super 8 camera and filming a roll or two has become a new tradition for me. I have been doing this for 7 or 8 years now and it makes me wish that I’d been doing it since my first visit there. I think the color and movement of film really captures the authenticity of being there.

This was also the first footage I’ve edited using Final Cut Pro X. I just downloaded the trial version yesterday and was able to quickly cut together the footage and the soundtrack without any real problems – which was great. I was a little hesitant about the interface to begin with but it turns out it was more intuitive than I originally thought. I didn’t search any help documents, just went right to work. Granted, there were no real edits within the film as I like to keep the film “whole” and as uncut as possible. But I did add titles, credits, and a layered audio track. Looking froward to playing around with FCP-X some more. Migration from FCP-7 looks imminent.

Oklahoma State Fair 2013 from Aaron Gibson on Vimeo.

Super 8 Wedding Film – Lauren and Adam

This is a short wedding film I shot in October 2013 for my brother Adam and and his wife Lauren. I’ve been shooting Super 8 film for a long time now and with this film have decided that I’m going to enter the world of Super 8 wedding films. So pass on the information and if anyone out there would like to have their wedding filmed please get in touch with me. I will have a complete website with all the information soon!

Things in production…

My family and I recently took a trip east across the US – 13 states in 14 days we like to say – from Oklahoma to the Outer Banks in North Carolina and back. Along the way we stopped in Saint Louis, MO; Pourtsmouth, Ohio, New River Gorge in West Virgina, then on to Manteo in North Carolina, then back through the south: Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas. It was a long trip – sometimes tough with two young ones who didn’t want to ride more than a couple of hours (or less) at a time. I took several cameras along and had the opportunity to shoot 3 rolls of Super 8 film. Also shot some video with my GoPro2 and some stills with my Nikon. I’m looking for to having the film processed and seeing how it turned out. More and more I’ve been using my old-standby MovieFlex S8 to shoot on. It’s just so easy and comfortable to use. It focuses well, the color (if it’s color film, of course) is great, and the light meter seems to adjust accurately and moreover, forgivingly. I say all of this before getting those last three rolls in the mail to see exactly how they turned out.

I had a couple of rolls processed not long ago – one was from a drive-in cinema with a miniature golf course just below the screen. I shot right at “magic-hour” on Ektachrome 100D and I have to say it’s probably some of the most beautiful color film I’ve seen – just perfect. I need to get it digitized and online.

I am working on a couple of independent projects outside of my Super 8 dabblings:
I am still working on the Oklahoma climbing documentary and hope to have some more interviews in the near future. That’s a slow going and long term project that I’m chugging away on. The other project came up recently and involves shooting some digital footage for the Silo Art Project. This is going to be a collaborative project – I think – one where I shoot and someone else edits the footage and pieces it together for a larger project. I’m not sure but I have this feeling that it’s going to turn into something. I’m just kind of free-wheeling it, not really planning or figuring anything. Just going to show up with a camera and document. it’s funny because it’s kind of how I envisioned my OK climbing doc to work but instead I feel more anxious about making the climbing doc “good” and so my up-tight-ed-ness seems to get in the way of actually accomplishing the simple act of just setting up these interviews, turning the camera on and letting the people speak. Why is that?

It’s kind of an exciting time with all this stuff going on. I’m hopefully that I will have something to show in the near future – maybe even a short Super 8 film to submit to some over-seas festivals. I need another reason to visit England!

Another thing on my mind that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, years in fact, is starting a Super 8 class or seminar or short course program. Give everyone a Super 8 camera, talk about the basics, learn the fundamentals, shoot some film, process it, transfer it to digital and host a viewing party. I wonder what the interest in something like that would be? Maybe I could even associate it with a school/university just to further the value of it – class for credit type of thing. Just an idea.

Finally, and this probably isn’t even worth mentioning because it’s nowhere near a fleshed out idea – but I’ve had a recent fascination with chairs. Chairs. I’m not sure why. I feel like I need to shoot a film about chairs.

Enough of this update. Next post will be something of more substance.