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Emulating a 1930s film look

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#1 Guillaume Cottin

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Posted 04 March 2014 - 09:28 PM

Hello everyone,

 

I'll be shooting a short film this month, for which I need to emulate the look of an early b&w silent film. It is a bold look but has to be watcheable as the entire movie is shot this way.

I'll be shooting on Super 16, and was considering a couple options regarding film stock and processing:

 

- Shooting black and white directly on 7222 stock, exposing normally. I like the idea, the stock is naturally grainy, but the dynamic range is quite limited.

- Shooting 200T 7213, under-exposing the neg and then push-processing by one stop. Black and white would be done in post. It is risky, as the image is probably going to be grainy, high-contrast and the blacks will be muddy ; but I was thinking all of this would help "sell" the look.

- Shooting 500T 7219, over-exposing 2/3 stop and then pull-processing. Black and white done in color grading as well. I like the idea of keeping color information to grading, and this looks like the safest option to me.

 

As far as lenses and diffusion is concerned, it will be a series of old superspeeds, which I will be diffusing with something like a Glimmerglass or a black soft net.

 

I know I should shoot tests, and I will. But I'd be glad to hear your opinions and if you think there's an obviously better option.

 

Thanks !

 

G.C.


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#2 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 04 March 2014 - 11:31 PM

Are period films necessarily that grainy anyway? Also look into the Orwo stocks, I'd say, and originate in B/w if you can-- then you can play with all those old filters.


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#3 Guillaume Cottin

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 07:35 AM

True, it's not that grainy. Plus they were using 35mm and I'll be using 16mm, so I'm not looking for grain as there will be enough of it anyway.

On the contrary, I may ask the lab for a stand development.


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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 08:14 AM

I did this once when producing the filmed inserts for a production of Singing in the Rain, which is supposed to take place around the dawn of sound - 1929, 1930. It was shot on standard-def DV, which of course is about the least appropriate format, but at least it was nearly 1.33:1.

 

The question is whether you want to make it look like 1930s 35mm would have looked in the 1930s - which is probably pretty good - or whether you want to make it look like what people's perception of old film looks like. Being an element of a stage musical we had ample access to hyper-reality and went for quite a grainy, high-contrast look. I used a fairly harsh diffusion filter, too, to make the highlights halate, and some instability. But that's a choice.

 

Black and white 35 in the 30s would have looked pretty good.

 

P


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#5 Freya Black

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 08:27 AM

I did this once when producing the filmed inserts for a production of Singing in the Rain, which is supposed to take place around the dawn of sound - 1929, 1930. It was shot on standard-def DV, which of course is about the least appropriate format, but at least it was nearly 1.33:1.

 

The question is whether you want to make it look like 1930s 35mm would have looked in the 1930s - which is probably pretty good - or whether you want to make it look like what people's perception of old film looks like. Being an element of a stage musical we had ample access to hyper-reality and went for quite a grainy, high-contrast look. I used a fairly harsh diffusion filter, too, to make the highlights halate, and some instability. But that's a choice.

 

Black and white 35 in the 30s would have looked pretty good.

 

P

 

The Jazz Singer was released in 1927.

 

I would have thought that early B&W meant more stuff like Battleship Potempkin or Nosferatu, Metropolis etc.

In which case it could be worth trying to track down a load of orthchromatic sound stock or something! (Very low ASA tho)

 

It might be helpful if the original poster elaborated on what they mean by early B&W because different people may have different ideas about what that might mean!

 

Freya


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#6 Guillaume Cottin

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 10:00 AM

The references are the early work of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and The Jazz Singer as far as lighting.

 

I think I'll go for the Orwo N74 stock, which seems to look a bit better than 7222, and is faster as well (400 EI). I'll expose it at ISO 250, do a 2/3 stop pull and stand processing to keep grain under control and lower contrast a little.

 

It's the first time I'm asking for a stand processing, if there's someone familiar with this technique, i'd be glad to hear more!


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#7 joshua gallegos

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 10:51 AM

Hello everyone,

 

I'll be shooting a short film this month, for which I need to emulate the look of an early b&w silent film. It is a bold look but has to be watcheable as the entire movie is shot this way.

I'll be shooting on Super 16, and was considering a couple options regarding film stock and processing:

 

- Shooting black and white directly on 7222 stock, exposing normally. I like the idea, the stock is naturally grainy, but the dynamic range is quite limited.

- Shooting 200T 7213, under-exposing the neg and then push-processing by one stop. Black and white would be done in post. It is risky, as the image is probably going to be grainy, high-contrast and the blacks will be muddy ; but I was thinking all of this would help "sell" the look.

- Shooting 500T 7219, over-exposing 2/3 stop and then pull-processing. Black and white done in color grading as well. I like the idea of keeping color information to grading, and this looks like the safest option to me.

 

As far as lenses and diffusion is concerned, it will be a series of old superspeeds, which I will be diffusing with something like a Glimmerglass or a black soft net.

 

I know I should shoot tests, and I will. But I'd be glad to hear your opinions and if you think there's an obviously better option.

 

Thanks !

 

G.C.

 

Silent films weren't very prominent by the 1930s, I think you mean the 1900s/1910s/1920s - after the Jazz Singer's success in 1927 everyone was making talkies.To me, one of the most quintessential directors of the silent age was Fred Niblo, I particularly enjoyed the films he did with Greta Garbo like 'The Temptress', I have the TCM collection, but you can watch a clip here. 

 

Usually silent films were shot at 18-20 fps, which is why they look so jumpy, and most of the most prominent ones you see have been restored, and I imagine that is how they looked when they were released at the given time, so the scratches and excessive grain other silent films have are due to the deterioration the film stock has suffered over time. Most silent films have a distinguished look because they were shot on sets, so most of them have a  dreamy-like state, not to mention the poor emulsion and excessive amount of light needed, which affected the make-up actors wore, etc. I don't think a "silent film" look can be achieved on camera without looking a bit false, unless you're making a period piece like The Artist (2011). 


Edited by joshua gallegos, 05 March 2014 - 10:52 AM.

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#8 Freya Black

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 12:20 PM

The references are the early work of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and The Jazz Singer as far as lighting.

 

 

 

 

Buster Keaton was only really active in the 20's.

Charlie Chaplin started out in 1914 working for Keystone.

I think you are maybe looking at the early 20's rather than the 30's.

 

Freya


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#9 Guillaume Cottin

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 12:36 PM

Sorry, I meant the Charlie Chaplin from his early United Artists period. "The Gold Rush", mid-twenties.

 

Oh and yes this is a period piece.


Edited by Guillaume Cottin, 05 March 2014 - 12:39 PM.

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#10 T Sanders

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 12:36 PM

I'm glad someone brought this topic up. I'm doing something similar; shooting film noir style for a short I'm doing in Jan of 2015. The film is set in the year 1944 and I want to create a similar look of film noir films shot during this time when I shoot 16mm for the project. I was thinking of going with Tri-X Reversal but Guillaume has given me other options to consider. I've watched many film noir films of the era and they all have a different look some darker than others, etc. So I'll have to decide where I'd like my short to fall.

 

I'd love to see how yours turns out Guillaume. :)


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#11 Guillaume Cottin

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 01:33 PM

January 2015... this will give you plenty of time to do tests.

I'll share the results of my shoot but as it turns out, do not underestimate the cost (and time) of developing B&W S16 mm. It is higher than color stock because demand is very rare. There are only a few labs who can do it properly, especially if you want to do some funny things like stand processing. And they need to run a batch just for you, or develop your film at the end of a standard color processing batch (I don't know about developing a b&w film in a color process, but it can be done and apparently gives good results (?)). This cost and time issue also makes tests more difficult, but again you have plenty of time.


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#12 John Holland

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 02:01 PM

Most B/W movies of the 20s/30s were low contrast . I shot a 16mm film about 30 years ago set in that era . It was a studio shoot i had the top of the set covered with a huge parachute which i punched a large amount of light through , from the floor again lots of soft light bounced and diffused the stock was 125 iso . No diffusion on lens . It looked fantastic.
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#13 Mei Lewis

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 04:07 PM

Why is the clip from 'The Temptress' above tinted blue?


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#14 joshua gallegos

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Posted 05 March 2014 - 08:04 PM

Why is the clip from 'The Temptress' above tinted blue?

some silent films were tinted to heighten the mood, other silent films were colored by hand, the most famous of all is Georges Melies' 'A Trip To The Moon'.

 

Usually blue emphasized night and for romantic settings. Ben Hur also has tinted scenes, as well as Nosferatu and many other silent films. 


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#15 Simon Wyss

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Posted 06 March 2014 - 02:58 AM

We had to close our lab here in 2008. At the Filmkunst as it was called we offered hand-processing with free choice of developer formula and treatment at one foot price per format. For example, 35 to negative in spiral cost 64 Rappen per foot, about $ 0.72. I did tinting and toning.

 

Fuchsia.JPG
 
The 35 and 16 step-contact printers have been stored away. Darkroom equipment is also still around as well as some projectors. Steenbeck and processing machines went to the scrapyard. The 35 one-light foot cost 80 Rappen (90 cents).
 
The last production we served was a 35 silent 20-minutes period film. Producer ran out of money, then we did.

 

If there is enough demand, I will reopen.

 

 


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#16 T Sanders

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Posted 06 March 2014 - 04:08 PM

January 2015... this will give you plenty of time to do tests.

I'll share the results of my shoot but as it turns out, do not underestimate the cost (and time) of developing B&W S16 mm. It is higher than color stock because demand is very rare. There are only a few labs who can do it properly, especially if you want to do some funny things like stand processing. And they need to run a batch just for you, or develop your film at the end of a standard color processing batch (I don't know about developing a b&w film in a color process, but it can be done and apparently gives good results (?)). This cost and time issue also makes tests more difficult, but again you have plenty of time.

 

I'll look forward to seeing your film. Yes, I'll definitely do some testing.

 

 

Most B/W movies of the 20s/30s were low contrast . I shot a 16mm film about 30 years ago set in that era . It was a studio shoot i had the top of the set covered with a huge parachute which i punched a large amount of light through , from the floor again lots of soft light bounced and diffused the stock was 125 iso . No diffusion on lens . It looked fantastic.

 

Now you have me thinking John. I bought two 30' things from this public auction that they were calling sky boxes. I can find no info on them anywhere but basically they look like giant parachutes and they feel like parachute material. They have velcro on one edge and heavy clips on the other. Anyway, they are a near white color and I bought them for the purpose of using them for diffusion. Sounds like I can use them similar to how you used the parachute for your film. There are a few scenes I want to be low contrast.

 

Is there anywhere I can watch your film John?

 

I love this topic. :)


Edited by T Sanders, 06 March 2014 - 04:11 PM.

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#17 Dan Dorland

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Posted 06 March 2014 - 08:37 PM

The only thing I'd add is to try shooting on lenses that aren't very sharp wide open. This, in addition to any diffusion you use will definitely lend to the soft, flattering look of 20's-30's films, like Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.

 

http://www.blu-ray.c...0557&position=5


Edited by Dan Dorland, 06 March 2014 - 08:38 PM.

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#18 John Holland

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Posted 07 March 2014 - 04:21 AM

I have no idea where that film is now i cant even remember what it was called sorry .
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#19 Guillaume Cottin

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Posted 09 March 2014 - 05:14 AM

Any idea what shutter angle they were using in the thirties when they were shooting 18-20 fps? was it already 180°?


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#20 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 March 2014 - 12:00 PM

Yes, generally a 180 degree shutter was used back then.  Film stocks were slow so there wasn't much opportunity to close down the shutter to a smaller opening.


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