One of the most continuously engaging and inspiring elements of DIY culture is the limitation. Of course, lots of creators would love to have millions of dollars to blow on equipment and 80 hours a week to dedicate to a project. But that’s not a reality for most people, and I think too much energy and time go into thinking, “Oh, I’ll finally be able to do this project when I have this thing and oodles of time to use it.” This isn’t to say that there aren’t projects and techniques that demand some baseline of investment, but in our money and productivity obsessed culture it’s far more prominent that these material concerns get in the way.
Lately I’ve really been enjoying the blog at OnSuper8.org, which is dedicated to filmmaking on small-format film, like 8mm and super8. Like a lot of media that people think is dead, 8mm film is still alive, and you can still get fresh new stock for it, too. OnSuper8 posts a lot of videos of films produced on 8 and I find them consistently more creative and engaging than 90% of what’s on the web. What I appreciate most is how the filmmakers make the most of the limitations of the format: it’s small physical size and limited resolution, the short length of reels and frequent lack of live sync-sound.
Right now OnSuper8 is posting a series of the best films from the Straight8 Festival, which features films that are shot on just one cartridge of super8 films, without any post-production edits. Any editing is done “in camera,” meaning that any switch between scenes occur because you stopped the camera and then restarted it. The resulting films are all three minutes long, because that’s how much film fits in a cartridge. The challenge is to use those three minutes wisely and not shoot tons of footage because you “can fix it in post.”
I’m really impressed by Nick Scott’s “The Other Half,” where Scott devised a custom matte box in order to block out half of the frame, leaving one half unexposed, and then running the film through the camera again to expose the other half. Since the super8 cartridge is only intended to be used once it took a little creativity and trial-and-error to pull it off. It’s like a lo-fi version of Timecode.
Scott also documented the formation of the technique and filming “The Other Half,” resulting in an exceptionally interesting “behind the scenes” video.
It’s true that these retro-tech movements can succumb to being more about fetish than utility and aesthetics. But anyone who’s ever read a digital audio, photo or video message board knows full well how much wankery is devoted to fetishizing multi-thousand dollar cameras, microphones and other gear that rarely get put into service to produce a damn thing.
Films like what OnSuper8.org is featuring more than make up for the other hipster-retro dreck.