How A Film Becomes Law Part 4: After Taking The Film Out Of The Camera

How a Film Becomes Law

Hoy-hoy, everybody! I’m taking a quick break from editing Rum and Pancakes and I don’t have a lot of time, but I thought I’d tell you a little bit about the lab-based confusion we suffered when shooting our first 16mm assignment, by this point going by the title The Key, or The Strange Key, or That Movie Thing.

After we ran out the last of our film and boxed it up and wrote “WARNING! EXPOSED! DO NOT USE! WARNING! LOOK OUT!” all over the boxes, we needed to figure out how to get our film to the lab. I mentioned earlier that the person who left our group when she dropped the class was the only one among the three of us to have a car. Luckily, we were able to get in touch with someone in another group who was willing to take our film in with theirs. So far so good.

The problem occurred when she went back on Saturday to pick up the film. The web site of Film and Video Services ensures anyone who might wish to know that they are open until noon on Saturdays. Turns out that’s a lie. Turns out that they wouldn’t be open again until Monday morning, the same day as our class, at which we were supposed to present our films.

So we panicked a lot, then made a compromise with our teacher: although we would not have an edited piece to show, we would let our class look at our rushes. The fun part is that we would not have seen a single frame of our film when we popped the tape into the player.

Well, here’s what we (and the rest of the class) saw.

I like to think of myself as a fairly articulate person, but the only word that springs to mind when watching this transfer is “yuck.” It’s not that the film we shot is that bad, although it is perhaps just a tad underexposed. It’s that the video transfer just doesn’t look good.

Time for a lesson on film-to-video transfers!

Ever since television has existed, there has been a need for a system for transferring film to video. The earliest and simplest way of accomplishing this was a method known as film chain, in which a film projector is basically just pointed into a video camera lens and run at full speed. Later on, a more sophisticated process known as telecine or occasionally rank transfer came to popularity, in which the film is transferred frame-by-frame directly to an image sensor (this is more akin to running the film through a scanner than projecting it into a camera).

Well, Film and Video Services offers only film chain transfer, which looks jittery and ghosty and dark and yucky. Yet another reason to never use them again.

Anyway, there’s nothing we can do about a bad transfer (and to be fair, reversal film doesn’t look all that great in the first place), so we just have to work with it. Our next task was to edit, and do our level best to make the transfer look decent.

Check out our results next week during Exploding Shorts Month!

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