Diving in at the deep end of cinematography

Super 8 cameraOK, cinematography is a fancy word for it. I’ve been given a reel of Super-8 film that I want to use, despite various hurdles. Let me explain.

I’ve had a collection of Super-8 films and a cine-projector for a while now. I even put a couple of them on YouTube. I also have a Super-8 cine camera, although it has never been used due to the cost of film and processing.

KodachromeA Super-8 cartridge contains 50 feet of film, which is enough for 3 minutes and 20 seconds at the consumer framerate of 18fps, or just 2 minutes and 30 seconds at the industry standard framerate of 24fps. These cartridges cost more than £10 these days, often £15, and processing is about the same again. I’m no stranger to the cost of shooting still film where I often spend £1 per shot on film and processing, but to shoot Super-8 it is likely to cost £10 per minute of footage – so I’ve never tried.

Today I was given an unused Super-8 cartridge as a surprise gift, so it seems a shame to waste it. Unfortunately, the film stock is Kodachrome positive transparency film, which is not manufactured and cannot be processed these days, neither for love nor money.

Given that it can’t be processed as colour transparency, I wondered if I would be able to process it myself as black & white. It seems mostly easy to process it as black & white negative – you just use regular B&W developer, stop bath, and fixer.

One snag is that the back of the film is coated with something called a rem-jet backing. While still photographic films are transparent, some motion picture films had an opaque carbon coating on the back to prevent the build-up of static electricity while the film was moving through the camera at a high speed. I did some reading, and according to this thread, it is possible to remove it in a home darkroom after development but before fixing, by using an alkaline bath made of sodium sulphate, sodium borate, and sodium hydroxide. Then you have to use a cloth and/or a squeegee to remove the rem-jet from the film, taking care not to let it stick to the front of the film. It sounds tedious, but not impossible for a mere 50-foot film.

Super 8 projectorBut a negative film is not much use for projection. It’s only really useful if you want to convert it to digital using a telecine, and are able to invert the colours digitally. Whilst I do have the facility to do this, taking the digital way out hardly suits a project that was started by scraping rem-jet off the film stock with a squeegee.

Fortunately, the good people at Ilford have published a guide on how to process black & white negative film to end up with a positive image – known as reversal processing. It looks quite tricky, and requires a few chemicals I don’t already have. Fortunately, working at a university and having geeky friends in the science faculty means I can hopefully barter some ale for what I need. Once I’ve got that, the reversal processing is a few steps performed after the normal negative processing.

Super 8 reelSo that’s the plan. Hopefully, if…

  • I can find a subject worthy of shooting, and
  • the film has not expired, and
  • I can calculate/invent the times needed for B&W negative processing, and
  • I can obtain the chemicals required to remove the rem-jet, and
  • I can obtain the chemicals require to do the reversal processing, and
  • I don’t mess anything up

… then I should end up with 50 feet of positive black & white transparency film that I can project at home. I’ll be sure to take careful notes and publish them here in the future. No doubt other people have Kodachrome, both still photography and motion picture versions, and would be interested in processing it.

This had better be worth the trouble. So what’s everyone else’s New Year’s resolution? 😉

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