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Teaching on Film

Analog 16mm 35mm Film Kodak Analogue

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#1 Tenzin Phuntsog

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Posted 29 April 2017 - 10:39 AM

Dear Filmmakers,
 
I am a young assistant professor teaching Cinematography and have been introducing shooting on film to my college students. Most seem to be really excited about the prospect of shooting and learning cinematography on film. In an effort to make the entire process more streamlined, I am reaching out to the community here to learn what other people are doing in this digital age: I am curious what other programs are doing with film. If you are still teaching with film what kind of system do you use to cover film stock and lab/telecine fees? What do you emphasize when teaching on film? Please message me directly or leave a response below, thank you!
 
For me teaching on film forces students to really think and plan their shots ahead of time. The film camera's stripped down approach without the aid of the digital WYSIWYG viewfinder also tests the student's ability to perform proper exposure, focus, etc. Shooting on film is also a wonderful way to learn about light and the science of filmmaking.

Edited by Tenzin Phuntsog, 29 April 2017 - 10:40 AM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 29 April 2017 - 11:01 AM

CalArts still has the basic cinematography workshop where you shoot a 100' daylight spool of 16mm (3 minutes) and cut it down to a 1-minute film with two tracks of sound.  When I was a student, it was a roll of b&w reversal, which made it easier for students to learn to cut their own original, but then they switched to 16mm b&w negative (and I think someone cut the negative for them).  Now I think they are allowed to shoot color if they want to.

 

The 1-minute went through a mix stage and then to a print.  Back when I was a student, since everyone shot b&w reversal, all the 1-minute shorts were cut onto a long reel and printed to b&w reversal.  Then a few years later when they all shot b&w negative, it was all printed to b&w print stock.  They may have dropped the finishing to a print, which is why I hear that some are allowed to shoot a color roll, I don't know.  They might telecine now and mix to a video cut.

 

It was in some ways the best class I took because everyone shot and finished a short film to completion and many were pretty clever with their ideas for cutting 3 minutes down to 1 minute with some simple soundtracks.  We had to shoot the entire short within the 3-hour class time usually on a soundstage though we were allowed to shoot elsewhere on campus too.  The students cycled through the crew and cast responsibilities and we recorded sound on a Nagra. My short intercut a talking head against black on stage with handheld moving shots through campus as the main character talks about dealing with a boyfriend who was obsessed with Hitchcock, intercut with sort of stalking shots as she gets even with the ex-boyfriend.  My lead actress later won an Oscar for co-editing "The Hurt Locker"...

 

After three or four years at CalArts, that first 1-minute short was often one of the best things that students made -- for some, it was one of the few things they finished.


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#3 Tenzin Phuntsog

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Posted 30 April 2017 - 09:50 AM

What a simple and effective idea: 100' reels edited down to 1-minute films. Thank you for sharing your experience at CalArts David.

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#4 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 30 April 2017 - 02:29 PM

At City College of San Francisco, we had a cinematography class where we formed groups of 3-4 and shared a 100' roll of 16mm film per assignment. One 45sec shot per student.

Within that structure, we each had to put together a particular photographic assignment - emulate candlelight, rack-focus, light an emotion, mix color temperatures, etc. The professor would show us film clips to give an idea of what could be done.

When the film came back, we would screen the workprints and the whole class would get to see how everyone else handled 'candlelight' or whatever on the same filmstock with the same processing. It was instructive to see the same problem approached in many different ways, in different locations, with a variety of success. We could ask each other how something was done immediately. That was the best class I ever took on cinematography and filmmaking.

Another important aspect of filmmaking to learn is editing. I can think of two editing exercises which would be great for students:

1. Cut someone else's footage - the second best class I took at CCSF was the beginning editing class where we had to cut together a sequence from an old episode of 'Gunsmoke.' We received a tape of synced dailies and cut on an old tape-to-tape machine, so it was a linear editing experience. Each time you laid down an edit, that baked in the previous edit, which necesssitated a certain amount of discipline.

Again, it was instructive to see 15-20 different versions of the same scene. Problems with pacing, match cuts, and continuity became obvious. Certain students with a rebellious streak would cut a comedy out of it or find unintended innuendo in the footage, which was really interesting to see how raw material could be re-purposed.

2. Editing in-camera - shooting without a chance to re-edit later really forces you to pre-visualize shot selection, timing, sequencing, and blocking. With only one chance to nail the shot, you have to rehearse and work everything out before rolling. A 50' roll of Super8 or 100' of 16mm would be perfect for this.
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#5 Chris Burke

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Posted 30 April 2017 - 05:39 PM

Have your students check out the best of the Straight 8 festival. There are two that come to mind that epitomize preplanning. Deja Vu and the second one I am not too clear on the title but it was a musical with a broken heel. In Deja Vu, keep in mind the effort they went through to maintain an in camera edit. 


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#6 Chris Burke

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Posted 30 April 2017 - 05:43 PM

Here is the Heel film. I think that it is one of the most thought out in camera edits I have ever seen. 

 


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#7 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 01 May 2017 - 01:44 AM

I went to Emerson College in Boston for filmmaking during the summers before I graduated from High School. I had already been working on film for quite a while, so working on 16mm wasn't a huge change. The big difference was finally having access to better equipment then my childhood super 8 stuff. It was a great program because they allowed us to go out and shoot shit, consequence free. In those two summers prior to going full-time, I shot 5 short films, 3 for class and 2 for myself. The ability to nab equipment anytime you wanted, was critical. We had to pay for everything ourselves, but there were a lot of short ends being traded and really good lab deals thanks to Cinelab. 

 

To me, it's not just the in-class education, it's the hands-on style of teaching Emerson had that I really liked. Back then the program was also 100% film and even though I was told by several people they're done with film, evidently they are still using it today, 20 years later. 

 

Today I run a public arts high school (LACHSA) and college-level (Celluloid Dreaming inc) "shot on film" programs here in Los Angeles. The high school pays for processing, but I've been covering the cost of film stock, mostly using short-ends I got online or Kodak donations. The College level program, the students pay for everything themselves. Though, I have helped setup deals with Kodak and lab costs.

 

Here are some pix and video's of the students working : https://www.facebook.com/celluloiddreaming 

 

In my High School program, we shoot 3 films a year: 

 

1) 16mm 90 second commercial/promo (color or B&W) edited on film with dubbed soundtrack (no sync sound)

This was all about the basics of shooting on film from loading the camera through exposing. It costs around $250 bux to do this on color negative with prints. We did a hybrid this year of half the short being B&W negative and half the short being color negative. The cost was simply because I did the work through Fotokem and they rake you over the coals on the print pricing. If it were just reversal, it would have cost around $75 bux. 

 

2) 16mm Music video (Color negative) this project is using a modern workflow of color film stocks and scanning to modern digital formats. This teaches the kids the full workflow they will use on anything they shoot today. We do a music video for many reasons, mainly because it allows them to write a script without doing dialog, staying away from the arduous task of syncing and letting them focus on shooting. We made our Music video for around $450 bux, but that's with FotoKem's pricing and paying for new stock, 

 

3) 16mm or 35mm narrative project. We write this script earlier in the year together and shoot it right at the end of the semester. This project will be shot with audio and it's generally short, something we can shoot in two classroom periods at school. We shot our project on 16mm this year and it's still being worked on right now, but it's coming along well. We got full Kodak support on this project, so the cost was a lot less then it could have been. 

 

4) This is super important. The last two years, I've gotten at least one of the students to make their thesis film on 16mm. Last year's project won some awards and this year's film is looking great so far. The 28 minute film they shot this year was a very big project to chew, I was shocked they wanted to spend the time doing it on film, but it was important to them. One of their dad's paid for the stock and processing, of which Kodak helped considerably and Robert @ Cinelab, did a killer deal as well. It took a while to get done, but the results were great and the price was even better.

 

The college level program is entirely different. My focus is with students who are making the transition from digital to film and get some experience. Generally they track me down through the web and they'll sign up for a refresher course (no cost) and they'll rent the equipment to do a shoot on their own. Sometimes I'll tag a long, but most of the time I let them do their own thing. I've found letting the kids experiment and fail is super important to learning. I generally force them to make a print from at least one roll of film so we can watch it on 16mm or 35mm together using one of my many flatbed's or projectors. 

 

For students who aren't as up to speed on cinematography or wish to learn more, we go out and shoot a short narrative together. I have a great group of actors who can come out and work with my students in exchange for some "shot on film" demo-reel material. We've done at least a dozen shoots like this over the last two years and it's just a whole heck load of fun. I teach as we go along shooting the movie. I limit the shorts to 10 pages, but sometimes they go well over and I'll let them borrow the equipment for longer periods. There is no financial gain for me, outside of the extremely low flat-rate rental charge, which is just a gesture of goodwill. I simply want to see people out making movies on motion picture film. I ask they allow me to keep the prints they strike as stuff for my high school students to mess around with. I've only seen two complete movies my college level students have made unfortunately. With schedules and such being crazy as they are, I just forget to catch back up and see how things went. In just the month of April, my XTR package was out 3 out of 4 weekends on student shoots and May is looking crazy busy as well. So people are wanting to shoot on film, which is very exciting for me and the future of the format. 

 

So yea, that's my speech and we're having a lot of fun here in California! Come out and visit! :)


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#8 Tenzin Phuntsog

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Posted 01 May 2017 - 10:38 AM

Thank you, Satsuki, Chris, and Tyler,

 

I really liked all the suggestions: An assignment where every student shoots their own version of a particular lighting setup. In-camera editing. Shooting script. This list is getting good!

 

Chris, the HEEL film was sweet, thank you for sharing that too.


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#9 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 01 May 2017 - 12:26 PM

Temple University where I went had us on 16mm Bolex as well. We were given 3 rolls of 16mm reversal film, one for each project. The first was a wholly in camera-edit, so we shot and then developed and projected. At that time the school itself did the b/w reversal development. (they also sold film too!)

The second two projects however, were shot however you want, with "sync" sound, not easy to do on a wind-up bolex but you got it as close as you could, and then we could either use the film-chain in the college which made everything yellow as someone had melted the optics a bit, out to miniDV tape, or, more usually, we'd send the film, either developed or undeveloped to NFL films or sometimes Shooters Post and Transfer to get it laid out to DVCam. We'd then capture and sync-edit digitally in FCP and then ouput to DVD.

 

Later you had the option of a cinematography class on color neg, or bw neg or whatever, with Aatons and SR2s as well as a BL4, however in that instances you could use whatever stock you wanted, however you wanted within the rubric of whatever the project spec was (e.g.all natural light, all night shooting, no natural light ect ect ect to make your film)


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#10 AJ Young

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Posted 04 May 2017 - 03:35 PM

Columbia College has a class that focuses entirely on composition for cinematography. They've since moved to digital, but when I went we had to shoot our compositions on a 35mm still camera. This exercise eliminated the need of a crew because it was solely about composition. Shooting it on film made us find the relation between exposure and composition because we had to use a meter either in camera or separately.

 

---

 

If I may go off on a slight tangent: film is a great medium to teach students to think past the WYSIWYG, but only subconsciously. Motion picture film is has become a fringe medium for the industry; mostly students and high end productions use it now. With that in mind, your students (while still in school) will move on to digital with only at best 2 years of using film (which, in school, isn't a lot of projects). Inevitably (and I saw this at Columbia), students get sucked into the WYSIWYG approach. Furthermore, their first few years out of college will be low budget and fast paced that WYSIWYG will appear to be the best choice for them.

 

As educators, I think we need to constantly train and explain the discipline of cinematography that film forces students to do. We should encourage students to rely on their training and not the WYSIWYG. Assuming that film will teach students the discipline is like assuming a child will choose the salad over the pizza. Discipline is proactive, not passive.


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#11 Tenzin Phuntsog

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Posted 04 May 2017 - 11:00 PM

Hi AJ,
 
You pointed out the Elephant in the room, well said!
 
Getting students to get past WYSIWYG approach in digital and learn to appreciate the value of shooting on film is the issue.
 
I see it as being partly a generational difference which is growing ever wider as our world becomes less analog. 
 
For me, discipline is the key aspects lost in all digital education for both Photography and Cinematography.
 
My logic has always been: if you learn to shoot on film, you have an education that lasts you a lifetime.

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#12 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 05 May 2017 - 04:04 PM

As educators, I think we need to constantly train and explain the discipline of cinematography that film forces students to do. We should encourage students to rely on their training and not the WYSIWYG. Assuming that film will teach students the discipline is like assuming a child will choose the salad over the pizza. Discipline is proactive, not passive.


I agree and it's hands-down the biggest problem.
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