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Comparing graininess in UK / US tv shows of the 70s


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#1 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 04:43 AM

Hello all. I have been reading this forum from time to time and I thought that I would join. Here goes my first post.

As is common knowledge, many BBC tv shows of the 1970s utilized film for exterior shooting and video for interior shooting. When I watch the exterior scenes of such shows as The Goodies, Doctor Who and Some Mothers Do Ave Em etc, one thing that strikes me is how unusually grainy they are. I don't mind this as I find that it looks atmospheric. Though by comparison, when I watch US tv shows of the same decade, for example MASH and Happy Days which were shot completely on film, the footage looks significantly cleaner and finer grained.

I am wondering why this would be so. Perhaps in England, they were forced to use faster film stocks because of dull weather outdoors but then again, the interior shots in US shows would have used fast film as well and they are still finer grained. Even US shows of the previous decade, like Bewitched, were finer grained. I assume shows like MASH and Happy Days were shot on 16mm rather than 35mm. Would anybody care to elaborate?
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 05:44 AM

Hi,

Two reasons - first all the BBC stuff was 16mm, and second, the US shows were actually lit. We have just about got around to the idea that putting a 2K over camera allows you to use slower stock, but there's still precious little actual lighting that goes on in UK TV drama.

To be fair there is a mitigation here in that the omniscient dull grey overcast is actually quite bright, it's just not very directional. This makes it very hard to get any kind of modelling into a scene because you either need the world's largest black flags or a billion-kilowatt light to overwhelm it. Unless you're a huge production, you're unlikely to have either.

Phil
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#3 John Holland

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 05:49 AM

American filmed shows were shot on 35mm, British filmed inserts on 16mm. John Holland , London.
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#4 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 20 October 2006 - 08:43 PM

"American filmed shows were shot on 35mm"

That is interesting to know. I do have a book on MASH which features a photo showing a few of the cast and crew members gathered around a Bell & Howell 16mm projector - I assumed they were viewing 'rushes.'

Out of curiosity, were US shows of the 1960s like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligans Island etc shot on 35mm as well? I do recall that in the early days of television, 16mm was adopted because 35mm was considered to be too expensive for that particular application.
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#5 Milo Sekulovich

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 02:50 AM

Hi,

I know for a fact that MASH was shot in 16mm. So was the Bob Newhart show.

Happy Days,Bewitched,and Gilligan's Island were all shot in 35mm with Mitchell BNCR's.

The 16mm stocks at the time (70's) were much grainier and less sharp than the stocks we have now.
To give you an idea,Kodak Vision 2 500T 5218/7218 has half the grain that 5254 and 5247 had-and those two were 100 ASA stocks!

All the best,
Milo Sekulovich
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#6 John Holland

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 03:31 AM

think you will find MASH was also shot on 35mm , some tv stations in the states may have shown 16mm reduction prints of the series . John Holland, London.
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#7 Patrick Cooper

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 03:49 AM

I do notice a number of MASH 16mm film prints in circulation on the second hand market.
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#8 Stephen Williams

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 04:19 AM

I do notice a number of MASH 16mm film prints in circulation on the second hand market.


Hi,

That would fit in with what John Holland said.

Stephen
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#9 Matthew Buick

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 07:54 AM

Stupid BBC. :angry:

What were they thinking, mixing Ampex and 16mm.
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#10 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 11:35 AM

there's still precious little actual lighting that goes on in UK TV drama.


I'm sorry Phil, this is just wrong. There may be some shows which would prove your point, but the majority of current British TV dramas are lit by talented people who care about their work.

The '2k bounced off the ceiling' approach may once have been common, but the influx of very well lit American shows has forced UK drama to raise its game and compete.
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#11 Stephen Williams

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 12:00 PM

Stupid BBC. :angry:

What were they thinking, mixing Ampex and 16mm.


Matthew,

The only other option would have been 16mm in the studio and location. Portable camcorders did not exist then.

Stephen
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#12 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 12:42 PM

"American filmed shows were shot on 35mm"

That is interesting to know. I do have a book on MASH which features a photo showing a few of the cast and crew members gathered around a Bell & Howell 16mm projector - I assumed they were viewing 'rushes.'

That was a 'prop'. They were watching Frank's home movies in an episode.
They would have viewed rushes in a studio screening room.
& I've seen photos of BNCRs being used on the M.A.S.H. set.


Out of curiosity, were US shows of the 1960s like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligans Island etc shot on 35mm as well? I do recall that in the early days of television, 16mm was adopted because 35mm was considered to be too expensive for that particular application.


I've set up a number of original negs of 'Bewitched' and 'I Dream of Genie' for new I/Ps.
They are 35mm A/B rolls.

16mm was mostly used for news. In the 50s the only fiction shows shot on 16mm were the occasional syndicated COLOR show such as 'The Cisco Kid'.

think you will find MASH was also shot on 35mm , some tv stations in the states may have shown 16mm reduction prints of the series . John Holland, London.


Those would be be for local stations when the shows went into syndication after they were through with their network run. the network broadcast would have been 35mm.
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#13 Charles MacDonald

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Posted 21 October 2006 - 08:42 PM

{about 16mm Prints of TV shows}
Those would be be for local stations when the shows went into syndication after they were through with their network run. the network broadcast would have been 35mm.

I live in Canada - The Canadian Networks have a provison that they can demand that their transmission be subsituted in the cable TV system for an American Transmison for a program that is shown at the same time in both places. (This means that Canadians get to see the Canadian comercials no mater what chanel they tune in.

I can recall watching back in that time persiod, and seeing a show start on the US channel, and then have the feed switch to the Canadian staion. One could see the picture quality go down, as the Canadian Staions would be running a 16mm Print, and the US network would be running a 35mm print.

In one of the old Kodak publications they even outline a perfered method of production where a producer wants to make 4 35mm prints (main and backup for New York and Los Anglees network centers) and 10-20 16mm Prints for Canadian TV and other distribution.

Syndiation was almost always done with 16mm Prints. and those are likely the ones that get into the hands of collectors. The network 35mm prints no doubt were shipped back to the studio after the rerun rights expired.
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#14 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 06:02 AM

Hi,

> the influx of very well lit American shows has forced UK drama to raise its game and compete.

I think they've tried to do that, I'm not sure they've been terribly successful. If that were the case, Doctor Who would have been on film, no? Instead it just looked gaudy.

Argh, Casualty.

Phil
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#15 grantsmith

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 07:49 AM

The late 60s Avengers episodes were shot on 35mm though I think the reason was so they could be sold to America.

Some Mothers Do Ave 'Em looks very 16mm but a Cameraman I know once told me when he was a BBC focus puller working on mid 70s Doctor Who exteriors they used 35mm rack-over cameras, possibly Mitchell BNC's. Though why would the BBC use 16mm for one show and 35mm for the other? Maybe it was a one-off experiment, or his (or my) memory is a bit fogged with time.

It would be interesting to know for sure what formats the BBC used in the 70s and 80s.
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#16 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 08:43 AM

I think they've tried to do that, I'm not sure they've been terribly successful. If that were the case, Doctor Who would have been on film, no? Instead it just looked gaudy.

Argh, Casualty.


Doctor Who has largely always been shot on video. For archival purposes it was transfered to 16mm film. When working at a cinema a few years ago that once held a Dr Who convention I was shocked how auful 4 decades of it looked. Auful as in dreadfull - if comparing it with ITV shows that span the same period - The Avengers, The Saint, Thunderbirds to Cracker, Inspector Morse all of which were shot on film.

I assume it was BBC execeutives that made the decision to shoot the new serieses on DigiBeta, they seem to avoid film at literaly all costs. Then it comes down to lighting and the familiar 1/4 ProMist to try and make it look good.

It wil be interesting to see how Torchwood does but with HD.

Casualty, is a lost cause, when ever i meet someone who's worked on it they never stop complaining about the blatant politics, racism, and all out bigotry that goes on in poduction. I never get over the fact that they try and mix DV and DigiBeta without anyone noticing.

The late 60s Avengers episodes were shot on 35mm though I think the reason was so they could be sold to America.


I once heard that The Avengers is the only British TV show to penetrate the main US networks, pretty amazing considering how many US shows have been aired on BBC1 and ITV primetime.
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#17 Matthew Buick

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 09:19 AM

Matthew,
Portable camcorders did not exist then.


I know that, but they could have still wheeled them outside and used them, just think about the Three Strip Technicolor people, and their 450 kg cameras.


I live in Canada


Oh yeah, so you do.
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#18 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 09:50 AM

I think they've tried to do that, I'm not sure they've been terribly successful. If that were the case, Doctor Who would have been on film, no? Instead it just looked gaudy.

Argh, Casualty.

Phil


It may look gaudy, but it IS lit, which was the orginal point.

As for 'Casualty', obviously you can't compare its' look with 'ER', but then neither can you compare their budgets.
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#19 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 01:33 PM

> the influx of very well lit American shows has forced UK drama to raise its game and compete.

I think they've tried to do that, I'm not sure they've been terribly successful. If that were the case, Doctor Who would have been on film, no? Instead it just looked gaudy.


I think it's important to note that for every nicely lit American show, there are probably five that are quite pedestrian. Also, many of the best, and best lit come from channels like HBO, who perhaps being pay-per-view have a freedom in content and look that the BBC does not.

On the subject of Casualty, it's worth noting that when, a few years ago, they experimented with a darker, contrasty, dropped field look, they were beseiged with complaints from viewers. It's not always producer choice....
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#20 Andy_Alderslade

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Posted 22 October 2006 - 02:04 PM

On the subject of Casualty, it's worth noting that when, a few years ago, they experimented with a darker, contrasty, dropped field look, they were beseiged with complaints from viewers. It's not always producer choice....


Ha, its amazing to think the program has essentialy been repeating the same plot/formula every saturday night 50 weeks a year for the last 20 years. Its core audience appears to be the middle aged to elderly, much of which are female.

They seem to be running out of ideas on how to injur and kill people - last time i saw it some guy's 'peck in-plants' had gone wronge. Never laughed so much in my entire life.

Of course perhaps there is genuine debate that the BBC should stop spending so much public money in disposable entertainment (soaps/variety/reality tv) and spending it on television which is an investment, having an after life in DVD sales and repeats. After all what a worthwhile investment 12 episodes of Faulty Towers turned out to be.
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