FILM AND VIDEO: My early Super-8 films

Super-8 is a type of film that was once common, but is now rare. The film is 8mm across, like the old standard 8mm film, but Super-8 made use of the space made available by smaller sprocket holes down only one side of the film. In its day it was the cheapest way an amateaur could make films. A reel lasted about three minutes and 20 seconds at 18 frames a second. My parents got me a third-hand simple camera and a borrowed tripod, and I was in business. For lighting, I typically used a photoflood light-bulb, which went into an ordinary table lamp, but burned with the brilliance and heat of 250W or 500W, but for not many hours before giving up. This single-light source technique created many problems, but also gave the films a dramatic look when I was using 3-D models. far and away the greatest cost of each film was the film stock itself, plus processing, with light bulbs next after that. My fourth film I recall cost me about 7.50, about 20p of which was for a packet of glitter from W.H.Smiths.

Having no splicer until my fifth film, I had to shoot the films in order in one continuous go, with no editing. This is certainly a pretty effective way to enforce discipline. It is sometimes called "in camera editing". Later on I got a really awful splicer that used ineffective glue to join the the film together, and then later again I bought a tape splicer, which, though it was reliable and gave good strong joins, also made the splices very visible, because for no reason I could fathom, the width of the splicing tapes was not exactly a multiple of the frame size, so I always saw the ugly edges of the tapes in the picture area.

Now I have converted my films into digital video files. I did this by the rather primitive but attractively cheap method of projecting them onto a piece of white card, and the videoing the card with a simple Mini-DV camera. This method has several flaws. One is that the camera cannot share the position of the projector, and so one side of the picture is taller than the other (perspective, you see). Another is that the projector, which had sat unused for twenty years in my parents' attic, broke its elderly drive belt into many pieces when I turned it on. I replaced the belt with many rubber bands, each of which lasted a short life in its new role, and none of which gave a consistent and predictable speed to the projector. A third flaw was that there was no way on my amateur video camera to set a fixed exposure, and so each time the picture changed in brightness, the video camera after a short lag altered exposure to compensate.

However, once I had a digital file of each film, I could load it into my editing software on my computer and then try to restore it and add a sound-track. The results are now on YouTube and are embedded below.




My early Super-8 films


Here they are, not all of them in the highest picture quality, but watchable enough. You might want to look up "Lindybeige" (that's me) on YouTube, watch my videos there, read the astute comments from the YouTube-watching intelligencia, and then leave loads of positive comments.
A Quiet Day on the Game Reserve

My first ever film, shot on silent Super-8mm film, in full colour, when I was thirteen.

When I first saw it, I was tremendously disappointed, but now I think that it has childish charm. It appears here almost completely unadulterated. I have added just a few words of text to explain some dialogue, and a commentary on the soundtrack, but otherwise this is it in its raw form. Every bad splice, blurred or over-exposed shot, and every bit of bad framing, has been left uncorrected.

One thing I did a few times is switch back and forth between animation and live-motion footage in single shots. Amazingly, I pulled this off every time. Later I learned how very difficult this is, and never tried it again.

Attack!

My second film, made when I was thirteen. A moving tribute to the men who fought World War Two, a dramatic reconstruction of the Normandy landings, or, more accurately, an excuse to get all my toy tanks out and blow things up.

The film, as you'll see, went horribly wrong. The eyepiece on my camera had twisted round for some reason when it was stored in the box, and this meant that whenever I measured the distance from the camera to the object with a measuring tape and set the lens to that mark, everything through the eyepiece looked blurred. After a while I lost confidence in my method of focussing the camera, and tried other means, and things went disastrously fuzzy.

Fortunately, the bit with the Action Man figure in the turret of a tank came out well enough. That same Action Man was spotted by a talent scout and cast in the lead role of the film "Prax Warrior" soon afterwards, so some good came of this project.

Anyway, in an attempt to make this tolerably entertaining, I have added a commentary track as well as a fabulously realistic sound-effects track which (although you may find this difficult to believe) was executed in one take, entirely a cappella.

Models mainly by Airfix, with some by Matchbox, Fujimi, and Esci.
Spaceways

My third film, shot on Super-8mm film when I was thirteen years old, with the help and hindrance of my friend Paul Kendrick.

The plot is fairly simple: a spaceman comes across a ship drifting in space that has been attacked. He docks with it and goes aboard to investigate, and while there enemy ships arrive and attack. He destroys all the little enemy ships, but the big enemy ship damages him and then disappears. He then escapes (possibly).

Yes, that is a Commodore PET computer. The cine-video transfer has not been kind to the film. I just projected the film onto a piece of card and videoed it. It is tricky to read what the computer screen says, but you can just make out the writing which is green-on-black. It starts with "UNKNOWN... SPACE SHIP... INTER-STELLAR... FREIGHTER CLASS" and goes on to list the massive amount of damage that it has sustained. The black-on-green writing is lost in blur.

You may notice the remarkable number of times the hero changes clothes. Only one time is justified by the plot.

It's amazing how much the music helps.
Prax Warrior

My fourth film. This won the BBC Young Film Makers' Competition, and was shown twice: once in the programme Screen Test (as featured in the recent feature film Son of Rambow), and once in The Multicoloured Swap Shop.

It cost about 7.50 to make. My main costs were the film, processing, and a light bulb. The ground you see is a small off-cut of green shag-pile carpeting. The reason you never see more than two Action Man figures at once is that I only had one Action Man (realistic hair, but no gripping hands) and my brother's Action Man had to play all the opponents.

I had no splicer, so everything had to be shot in order in one go - edited in-camera. The version you see here is slightly tweaked, but mainly to cope with the ravages of time on the film, and the rather poor tele-cine transfer.

The music is a version of Bach's Toccatta by the group Sky. To make it fit better, I have edited it a bit. The music was the initial inspiration for the film, although in my head things were a great deal more spectacular, involving a horseback chase and duel, lightning, and a cast of thousands. I had to rein-in my ambitions a bit. Another source of inspiration was an advert for the album Classic Rock.

I was fourteen when I made this, and I remain rather attached to it. It is simple, and I think handsomely coloured. My favourite bit is near the end when the hero collapses - this is done with three shots one after the other from different angles and they go together just as I wanted them to.

Some shots are not animated, but rather live-action puppetry. The galloping horse effect was achieved by making a Meccano seat for the figure and a stalk to stick the horse's head onto, which rocked back and forth when a handle was cranked. The red mist was a red light-bulb and steam from a boiling kettle. Flying arrows (not easy to see) were thrown cocktail sticks with little paper fletchings.

"Prax" is a place in a fictional world: Glorantha, featured in the role-play game RuneQuest.

I got to go to Liverpool and appear on the show Screen Test, receive a trophy, and meet Brian Truman (writer of Dangermouse) who was a top bloke. I also was given four reels of Super-8 film, with which I shot my next epic: Crossing the Runes.
Crossing the Runes

My first live-action film. With the four reels of film I won with my fourth film, Prax Warrior, I made this film when I was fifteen. Amazingly enough, it was shot in someone's back garden in Hanwell, Ealing, although from the look of it you could be forgiven for thinking it deep in the countryside rather than suburban London. In a couple of shots, you can see the golf course in the background, and you get glimpses of buildings too.

It was shot over four weekends, which were spaced far apart, and so the weather ranges from sunny to icy, which was not optimal for continuity. The sword-play is somewhat second or third rate, I admit, but I was young and that's my excuse. The swords were made from aluminium stilts. The rectangular shield was made from a picnic table.

The ending when you see the knight's face when he removes his helmet is not deep and meaningful. It is just something I put in for the sake of ending with a twist.

Cast:
The wanderer: Nikolas Lloyd
The knight: Alex Brannen
The brigand: Paul Kendrick
The witch: Roxanne Selway
Treasure Chase

A film I made when I was fifteen. It was my first all live-action production. Shot at Peckforton Castle, near Bunbury in Cheshire (the last shot is actually of Beeston Castle on the next hill), where today there is a very up-market restaurant, but back then it was the home of Treasure Trap - the world's first Live Action Role Play (LARP) holiday camp.

The actors were other people who were staying the week, like me. Almost all the adventure scenarios happened at the weekends, which left plenty of time for the filming. The red stains you see on some costumes are the paint used as part of the combat system there.

They were not great actors, but enthusiastic enough. For the opening shots, I told them to have an 'animated conversation'. They certainly didn't let me down.

Super-8 film was expensive, and I didn't have enough for retakes, so some bits are not what they could have been with modern cheap video tape. I told the actor actor to see if his friend was alive, and when we did the take, his method was to poke his friend with his sword. I think in a video age I'd have gone for a second take on that one.

One aspect of the cheap costumes I hated was that no one had a scabbard, so the two main characters are forced to walk around holding their swords all the time.

The music doesn't really work well with this film, I know. To get it to fit at all, I had to hack it about something rotten. I fear that the spectacular quality of the music serves to emphasise the smallness of the low-budget film. Still, better than silence, I hope.
Hilt and Shaft

I never spent any time thinking up names for my films. The first one that popped into my head was used. This film was the sole exception. I agonised for ages over the title for this one, and came up with dozens. Eventually, I settled on one, which without doubt was my worst ever. Out of loyalty to my childhood self, however, I have not changed it for YouTube, and you see here the opening titles in all their embarrassing glory.

"Prax Warrior 2" was one possible title, as this was another film of the same type. This one, however, was massively more ambitious. Whereas I made Prax Warrior with just two Action Man figures, after I won a film award and had been on telly, suddenly all my friends at school started admitting to having Action Men and they lent me theirs (by stealth - shoving them in my locker before anyone saw us), so now I had a cast of many.

The more astute and discerning viewers will spot that the first half of this film is more exciting and coherent than the second, and that the quality of animation tails off a bit towards the end. This is because I was part-way into the film when I was sent down for a two-year stretch at a boarding school where there were strict no-animation rules, and I had two evenings to finish off the film in a hurry. I had planned so much, and so much went to waste. At the end of this video, you'll see shots I took (that pain me to view) of the dozens of shields and helmets and weapons that never got used, because while I was away at the school, they all got thrown away.

There is in this an amazingly complicated shot, and I'm not entirely sure how I did it. It has suffered somewhat from the poor tele-cine transfer. In the background, too dim to see properly, are 1/72nd scale figures moving about on a hillside. Closer in, a drawbridge is rising, and a portcullis lowering. Three Action Man figures slide down the drawbridge and two make it under the cullis, and then fight some more figures with plastacene faces making look like trollkin. Closer in again, other trollkin rush back and forth close to the camera, and a few missiles fly around. As you might guess, this took a fair few hours to shoot.

I'd love to get back into to animation one day.
Doodles

My first cel animation. Made when I was sixteen on Super-8mm film. I bought some non-adhesive book-covering film from W.H.Smiths, and some dry-wipe marker pens, and off I went. I started I think with four cels, but later expanded to six and possibly as many as eight. The cels were held in place with Meccano and Blutak. It was lit with one ordinary Anglepoise lamp, which explains the dull orange look. Since the cels didn't lie flat (they came on a roll), the look of each frame varies a bit. The camera was propped up on a plank of wood with some books and looked down through a hole cut in the plank.

There is no overall plot, just a few unconnected silly sequences. I was quite proud of the bit when the adventurer runs through the maze, as seen from behind him. Yes, his running action isn't great, but I only had four cels to do it with, and the other two cels were the world around him, which I was drawing entirely by eye as I went along.

How to trap an adventurer: hang a rope in front of a pit. Seeing the rope, he will naturally swing on it and end up over the pit.

I can remember giggling for ages as I animated the bit where he sets fire to his cloak accidentally. It was stupidly funny the fact that I could see the flames but he hadn't noticed them yet.

Sorry about the awful picture quality. I've been trying to get my Pinnacle software to work properly for three days, and have reinstalled the whole thing three times, and chatted to support on-line for hours. This is the best I could do. Every time I got the picture looking right, the programme went berserk.
Dark age infantry skirmish

Filmed with silent Super-8mm film, this is an edit of three different skirmishes fought by the same people over the same ground, put together to look like one fight. This explains why people keep getting wounded and then sometimes can be seen soon afterwards all right again.

The weapons used are full-weight iron weapons, and the people using them knew what they were doing, and no one got hurt. The fight is not choreographed in any way. These people are genuinely trying to hit each other. The rules forbade striking for the head, hands, or feet, mainly for safety, but also because otherwise lots of people got poked in the foot and this made for dull fights.

There are members of a few different societies here. My lot was called the "Arthurian Society" from Newcastle University (later mystifyingly to rename itself "The Early English Settlement Society"), and others were from "Regia Anglorum".

This edit has been done for dramatic effect. I'll do another with a commentary explaining what's going on. I may also use this footage to illustrate a video on the topic of how shieldwalls and spear fighting work.
There are other Super-8mm films of mine on YouTube too, but these are more the usual personal home-movie type things, and of less interest to the common viewer, although I try to add interest through commentary. Bryanston Geography Field-trip to Wales, and Rock Climbing in Dartmoor are two you can find there.

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