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Shooting on 16mm

I wondered if people would be able to share their experiences of shooting on 16mm, particularly as newbies on a small budget? I'm trying to get a very particular 16mm look for a music video but don't even know where to begin...

  • Wanting a 'look' and wanting to shoot on a particular medium aren't the same thing. Pretty much nobody shoots on celluloid any more, and with good reason - it's very expensive and inconvenient.

    Maybe post some stills of the exact 'look' you're after and people can suggest suitable ways to approach it?

    2 years ago
  • Thanks Paddy.

    I'm looking to do something similar to this: which the Director told me was on 16 mm. Any thoughts on achieving that look without celluloid are most welcome.

    2 years ago
  • I suspect most of that camera look actually comes from the film stock, and that's something you can almost certainly do in grade with one of many presets. There's vignetting and flicker with the odd flare. You may choose to slightly play with altering the barrelling to simulate some lenses. It could likely get you 90% of the way there. And think about how the camera is used as well - on legs

    2 years ago
  • Hi John

    There is actually a bit of resurgance in shooting on film at the moment; at least in the world I inhabit.

    The flicker etc looks to me to be added in Post. Paddy is right that the pastel look in a combination of filmstock and grading.

    You can actually fake this digitally. The closest digitally I have seen to achieving the film 16mm look is the Digital Bolex Company (a company, alas, no more) but the cameras are out there. There are many LUTs that simulate the film look. Get a good DOP.

    Kodak has recently teamed up with Kickstarter ( and will provide free film stock to the value of money raised on Kickstarter.

    You can get process paid stock from Frame 24. Also, people are always selling sort-ends and recans and unused rolls from finished projects.

    Contack Kodak directly, they will help you.

    With regards to camera. There are many out there. I, myself, have access to three (two Arri SR3s and an Arri 416). I don't own them so you would have to speak to the owners.

    Speak to a lab. Kodak recently bought Idailies. Its now Kodak Lab London. (0208 993 9779). The MD is Nigel Horne. Speak to him, he will help you.

    If you would like to speak to me (I've shot loads of film and all my time as a Camera Assistant was with film) then my contact details are on my SP page. You will also find links to stuff I have shot on film there.

    Hope it goes well for you.

    2 years ago
  • I meant Digital Bolex camera, not company.

    2 years ago
  • Forgot the email for Kodak - This is for Kodak's Independant film Package.

    2 years ago
  • As a PD who has shot a lot of 16mm including wildlife films in a tropical rainforest, short fiction, etc, and experienced in motion graphics/post - I confess to still loving celluloid. Yes you can probably mimic the look and feel on digital, you can drop in flashes and flickers, but the product of a 16 or 35mm shoot is the product of a particular discipline and a process. You've got the x no. of rolls and just so many minutes of film, just so many takes and so many hours of suitable light. Its the marriage of maths and precision and planning that truly boils your idea down to its essence and makes you give your best. And that is exhilarating. Good advice from Mark Wiggins there. All the best of luck. Please do shoot on film, even if its the only time you do.

    2 years ago
  • Don't get me wrong, I've nothing invested in your choice of shooting medium, I'm just wary of the value in doing so as you'll either commit to an analogue or digital post workflow.

    Analogue would be quite cool, sitting on your Steenbeck with magnetic edge for audio before a neg cut conform, optical soundtrack and three light grade. That, or you're going digital anyway for your edit, sync, online and grade, so reducing your options in the shoot to have fewer angles and less useable material is purely a choice.

    Hey, Spielberg still shoots on 35mm, but I guess he can afford to ;-)

    2 years ago
  • We've had this discussion about film before. As Paddy says, one can achieve the look of 16mm digitally, to the extent that the only rational reason for taking on all of the entirely unnecessary and costly palaver is perhaps the one suggested by Shona. But it seems to me to be an equally unnecessary and costly way to exercise the discipline of shooting. Much of the traditional tutelage that was taught in pre digital film school was informed by the limitations of film, not it's possibilities. Sure it meant great care and discipline, very tight shooting ratios and and the application of narrowly specific technical demands that are entirely irrelevant to digital. It also meant that being able to make any sort of film at all was out of reach for a great many people who might otherwise be good at it. Film, apart from having it's own je ne sais quoi is also somewhat anti democratic. As much as there are many great classics exemplifying the disciplines of film, for each one of them there's a hundred that exemplify the skills of digital. There's still some reason to use 35mm but even that formats days are numbered. Sorry celluloid buffs but reintroducing the canal network as a means of transport is just not rational in anyway at all other than for those who enjoy a very slow and limited scenic journey through the past.

    2 years ago
  • Analogue post does not exist anymore. Neg cutters do not exist anymore. 16mm gets scanned at 2k, 35mm at 4k and 65mm/IMAX gets scanned at 8k.

    Shooting on film is a choice. Its not dead, its very much alive (its the Mark Twain of the Film Industry) but it is definately niche. Buts its not going anwhere anytime soon. Too much investment is being made at the high end for that to happen.

    2 years ago
  • Sorry but I have to digress with you there Mark. Even if there are reasons to use film still remaining today the march of technology is relentless and I can't see any possibility of film retaining even it's current niche beyond nostalgia. If serious money really is being invested in film it's hoping against hope. Wouldn't be the first time anyone invested a lot of money in a 'South Sea Bubble'. Let's take a look at another retro analogue revival, the rebound of vinal records; from the way some commentators speak one might imagine it to be significant; the fact is however that the vinal revival represents less than a half of one percent of all music distribution and may have already peaked. In terms of aesthetics I'd imagine that there's more reason for a vinal revival than there is for film. Once digital leaves clear space between itself and 35mm cellulose in terms of latitude of contrast and colour, thats it.

    2 years ago
  • I think we're going away from the intial discussion which was helping John with his questions about film and back to our previous discussion on this subject.

    I've been in this game a very long time. In that time, I've seen the death of film anounced with the arrival of video tape. Tape died, film didn't. Then it was announced that film was dead with the arrival of 2k digital and film kept going. Then 4k arrived. Didn't kill off film. We now have cameras with 5k, 6k and 8k sensors, yet film seems quite healthy.

    As I say, its choice. Kodak have said, that as long as people want to shoot on film, they will continue making it. When you have a situation like we have now where you can buy a film camera on Ebay very cheaply, then do a deal on process paid stock (where the price includes processing and scanning), then sell the camera on ebay after you have finished with it, and still have paid less than you would when hiring an Alexa ST package or F55 package, people will still be able to shoot film if they want to; and many do.

    There are many Music Videos being shot on film at the moment, for example, and not just for big name Bands.

    2 years ago
  • Personally I think that films can be shot on film quite cheaply, if (and here's the rub) the crew know what they are doing. The cinematography, the lighting, the camera operating, director etc etc... all need to be from experienced and skilled hands.

    If your crew are cutting their teeth with 'film' I'd say don't shoot on it. It'll get expensive pretty quickly. Shoot digitally.

    I started out on 16mm film, making shorts, in the 80s. It could be expensive back then and it could take a lot of 'takes' to get the shot right. All the while with film running through the gate. However, it taught a discipline that isn't appreciated today. Only many films I made, we had maybe 2 or 3 rolls of 400ft. Once it was gone, the film had to end!!! So we tried our best to get things right the first time and put more effort into pre-production, planning and blocking etc.

    And let's not forget the glass. Even with film, the glass you put on the front of the camera has, in my opinion, more impact of what you get out the other end than whether its 16mm or 35mm...

    My 2c worth.


    2 years ago
  • I'd agree 100% with Lee. That's how I started out. Glass is very important. The Youtube clip that John linked to looked like Cooke S4s to me. I once shot a Music Video where the A Camera was an Alexa, B Camera a Sony FS100 and the C Camera was a Canon 5D. The Alexa and Sony both shared the same lens set (Cooke S4s). The images captured with the Sony with the S4 glass were fantastic.

    2 years ago
  • Shoot digital and then use a plug in like filmconvert ($200)

    Film is probably x10 more costly.

    2 years ago
  • Yes, film can cost more but, as I have said, it can turn out cheaper. There are so many variables in terms of deals on equipment, stock, post, crew etc that is impossible to make statements like x10 more expensive. I would think that if you shot on film and it turned out to be x10 more expensive than shooting digital, your Producer would have to have seriously f...Ked up.

    If you have a DOP that knows what he/she is doing and has set the picture profile of the camera up correctly, combined with a good film emulating LUT, combined with a decent lens, you can make digital look pretty much look like film.

    2 years ago
  • I trained using 16mm at Westminster and worked with it for years and years on many productions. You will need to carefully control your shooting ratio, and light and expose properly, using a light meter. Unlike the "old" days, you no longer need to strike a positive print, cut the neg, color time, etc, so the combination of film with digital is why there is a renewed interest.

    The lab to contact is as they offer full service - they will process the neg and then scan to digital for you. I heard them speak recently, and believe they can guide you.

    2 years ago
    • I've been in touch with cinelab recently regarding a project i want to shoot in B + W. They are very helpful. Highly recommend!!

      2 years ago
  • I've shot 16mm film on my old trusty eclair camera, I love it, you can't beat it. Have you thought about shooting 8mm?

    2 years ago
  • Eclair NPR, a camera from my youth! Cinelab or Kodak Lab (formally Idailies), its a matter of choice. 8mm is also getting a renaissance at the moment. As Janelle pointed out, a lot of the resurgance in film is to do with the fact that it goes straight into the digital domain these days.

    Also, its particularly strong in the UK as an awful lot of Hollywood 'Tent Pole' movies are shot here and an awful lot of thoses are shooting on film. Hence the money that is being poured into the 'film' infastructure in this country to support this. The by-product is that its actually easier to use film in low-budget in the UK than in a lot of other places.

    2 years ago
  • I started a debate around this about a year back and went ahead and shot on film. I was biased, but I also believe that we should have a choice of old and new mediums just like an artist who can use oils or a musician with their old guitar. Film is pricey and it's much harder to get good deals now but it is possible. If you're not worried about sync you can get hold of old Bolex cameras very cheap. Here's an ungraded trailer for my film shot on Kodak, camera from Take2, developed at Cinelab: - do get in touch if you want any advice.

    2 years ago
  • As an actor I have to say I hate it when film stock is used - when there isn't really a big enough budget for it. The stock is so prized that performances get over rehearsed and stale and then you get only one or two takes (retakes just for camera usually). Film might be great if you have a large budget, but if you have to skimp on the film stock, I'd prefer to go for making it look like film, rather than using film. Just my opinion though.

    2 years ago