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Nolan's Pop Culture ReviewSeminar: The Power of Super-8 Filmmaking
POSTED BY NOLAN B. CANOVA, March 2, 2011    Share

"The Power of Super 8 Film: Insider Secrets Every Filmmaker Should Know"
University of Tampa Seminar, 7:00--9:30pm, February 22, 2011
Main Speaker: Phil Vigeant, President of Pro8mm, Burbank CA

It's funny sometimes how a plan comes together with surprising swiftness. I had only heard about this seminar on Super-8 filmmaking about a day ahead of time through a Facebook post by University of South Florida's Rodrick Colbert. It was a brief publicity statement that Phil Vigeant of Pro8mm from out in California was going to appear and speak for a couple of hours at the University of Tampa's Plant Hall. I am a long-time uber-fan of Super-8 film and Phil is a hero of mine, so I knew I wanted to attend. Trouble was, I had only about 24 hours to organize the logistics like work schedule and transportation, and preferably, an event companion. I was astoundingly lucky that good friend and PCR co-editor Terence Nuzum was available and willing to go with me. None of that was predictable.

Ye Olde Editor, Nolan Canova, on left, with Pro8mm President Phil Vigeant!
Once we arrived (and negotiated the tricky parking at UT) we were greeted, given some DVDs, and were registered into a raffle. On the table, I saw Phil's book on Super-8 filmmaking and thought about procuring a copy after the meeting. That has a funny ending we'll get to later.

I was delighted to meet Phil almost immmediately (I recognized him from his YouTube videos). Terence and I introduced ourselves and I managed to babble incoherently about my long fandom with Super-8 for several minutes before the program started. I did not see Rodrick Colbert, however, which I found surprising, I wanted to thank him for the alert. We did run into Marcus Kempton, a supporter of the late Tampa Film Review, and I met a film student named "Jessie". Jessie, Marcus, Terence and I all sat together. After a little more meet-and-greet from the small crowd gathered, the seminar and slide show started in earnest.

The uninformed may be wondering right about now how in God's name Super-8 managed to survive into the digital-video age and why would anyone would want to spend the money on old-fashioned film and processing when you can make digital videos for free, once you've bought the camera.

I can't speak for everybody, but for me, it's about the look of film, simple as that. I fell in love with it after exposing my first few rolls of movie film around 1976. You flat-out can't get that look in video, I don't care how many editing program plug-ins you throw at me, it's not the same. Please don't get me wrong--I don't hate video, it has its uses! But it's different texture and latitude make it second-fiddle to film for storytelling, sorry. Secondly, if you're committed to film, Super-8 is more affordable than the larger 16mm and 35mm formats usually associated with motion pictures. Many professionals have adopted it, and it has appeared in more media than you probably realize.

Minutes away from the opening remarks, we find our seats. Terence, center-right, crosses in front of the screen.
Soon after those first few reels, I began collecting issues of Super-8 Filmmaker magazine which I read voraciously, cover-to-cover. Besides the terrific articles, I learned about Super8 Sound, a company in Cambridge, Massachusetts that specialized in advancing the art and technology of Super-8.

The following is a mix of my personal memories and Phil's bullet points of the program, much of which I already knew from being a, well, crazed fanboy.

Super8 Sound's then president Bob Doyle's goal was to upgrade the humble home-movie format of Super-8 into something more professional by integrating double-system sound recording apparatus into the filmmaker's arsenal (among many other improvements). "Double-system" is simply recording the audio separately from the camera through a sync-sound system, at the time, a modified tape-recorder. The advantage is in editing; in "single-system" sound--where the audio is recorded directly on the film's magnetic track--when you cut the picture, you cut the audio at the same frame. OK for home movies, but a limiting disadvantage for anything more ambitious.

In the late '90s this took on a greater urgency when Kodak announced they were discontinuing "striped" movie film (that is where the magnetic sound track is actually on the film itself) due to environmental concerns related to the adhesives used. Double-system sound was now, by default, the de-facto standard.

I believe it was in the early 90's that Super8 Sound became Pro8mm and the main offices were moved to Burbank. (I have a recollection of placing a phone call to the Cambridge MA facility around 1996 when I took up with Super-8 again, so I think there was still an office there then.)

Bob Doyle's successor, Phil Vigeant (my hero and tonight's speaker), innovated several important processes for the Super-8 format:

  • Custom-loading film cartridges with professional 35mm motion picture negative film sliced into 8mm-wide strips. In addition to the tried-and-true traditional reversal film, a powerful addition to the small format's arsenal.

  • A wide-screen version of Super-8 (w/camera gate modification) to better integrate with Hi-Def. A version called (facetiously) "Super-Duper 8" was already in existence, but the Pro8mm official version is called "MAX 8". It is very close to the 16:9 ratio of Hi-Def Widescreen.

  • A scanning facility to digitally transfer all films to both Standard Definiton and High Definition.

    I'll take a moment here to clarify the difference between "Regular" 8 and "Super" 8. Regular 8 is 16mm film slit down the middle and was a very popular home-movie film. Problem is, the 8mm wide film had perforations meant for 16mm and took up nearly half the space! In 1965, Kodak introduced Super-8 which had much smaller perforations (therefore larger picture area) and came-preloaded into cartridges for fast-and-easy use. Until video came along, this was the best there was, but, believe it or not, you can still buy Regular 8!

    Author, speaker, and Super-8 filmmaker, Phil Vigeant, speaks to the audience.
    I'll take another moment to indulge myself about spelling. I believe Phil prefers "Super 8" with no hyphen. Ye Olde Editor prefers "Super-8" with a hyphen (it always used to appear that way). We both dislike "Super8" with no space or hyphen!

    Like many digital transfer facilities, Pro8mm can transfer old home movies to standard or hi-def. But their ambitions are much higher. More famous customers include Paula Abdul, Beck, John Mellencamp, Oliver Stone, and more recently, Steven Spielberg. (Current DVD re-masters of '80s low-budget comic-shockers A Polish Vampire in Burbank and The Dead Next Door, both shot on Super-8, are beneficiaries of the new digital technology--however, I'm unsure if Phil was involved in those particular transfers.)

    After Phil's segment, a local wedding photographer named Bryan Coward took the podium and exhibited his examples of ceremonies he'd captured on Super-8. The finished product was incredibly impressive! This is a lucrative way to enhance any business like Bryan's; ironic, in that before VHS, this was the standard. Now, it's an enhancement for couples who desire a prestigious film look!

    After the seminar, the raffle was held. Ye Olde Editor won a copy of Phil's book The Power of Super 8 Film (yay, me!), and Terence won a Pro8mm Super 8 Boot Camp membership! Unfortunately, the Boot Camp is in California, so he had to decline. Phil's wife, Rhonda, presented Terence with a copy of the book as a substitute. Together with the free DVDs, not bad at all.

    This seminar appears to be traveling the country. If you are a fan of Super-8 filmmaking, by all means get to it and get educated on the state-of-the-art of this all too often under-appreciated (but fortunately, resurging) art form!

    Pro8mm, Burbank California
    Bryan Coward Photography

    "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" is ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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