Saturday, 12 December 2009

At college, we learned how to shoot 16mm film. I've been asked by a lot of people why our teachers even bothered with it.

In our program, the technical skills that we learned, especially in digital production, were those we chose for ourselves. Our instructors answered our questions and gave us suggestions when we asked for them, but our production classes were based more on aesthetics than technique, and more on problem-solving for the one-man-band kind of filmmaking than training in discrete roles like camera or sound.

16mm fit neatly into that kind of teaching, because shooting film is a discipline, and in our classes, we were expected to discipline ourselves. On the first day of Intro to 16mm Production, John Mann showed us the cameras, and the cold boxes that held tight sharp-smelling daylight spools, and before we could begin, he told us to respect the film. Never to waste it. Never to take it for granted. Because for all the decades of science that went into making that film, it only has one chance to be beautiful, and you are that chance. Each frame is counting on you to make it into something beautiful. You can't rewatch it right away, erase it and reshoot it. You have to care about every single shot.

In digital cameras, a lot of the quality is in the technology contained in the body. And it's too easy to assume a better camera will automatically give you better footage (despite your lack of skill or effort). It's also too easy to shrug off errors by assuming the problem is in the quality of the camera.

For 16mm cameras, as long as the body is clean inside and light-tight and the motor is in working order, the quality lies entirely in the optics and the film stock. The filmmaker can't escape responsibility because she consciously chooses which stock and which lenses to shoot with. There aren't any mysterious computer components to blame errors on. And every single shot counts, because every time the camera rolls, hundreds of thousands of cold fragrant frames dash by taking their 1/24-second chance to be beautiful.

Of course we all took the time, around classes, to learn digital production. We took workshops at the digital media center, and weekends just getting to know the cameras. We spent hours compressing the same video different ways until that stickiness or the popping went away. We learned how to shoot on miniDV tapes and on cards and on hard drives. But we had the discipline to learn all of these things because we love film.

Diana finished this film despite terrible weather, unpredictable light, impossible equipment scheduling, and multiple camera failures. She kept working (this is why we are always covered in bruises at the end of a shoot, because we fight the elements) and captured some truly lovely 16mm footage of Wyman Park. Stay to the end of the credits and the film will say goodbye.

Moleque from Diana Peralta on Vimeo.

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