Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Dreaming In Analogue: Our Super 8 Adventures

Stills from forthcoming Super 8 short, MERZFRAU: Bloomed, which will screen at the
MIMC installation as part of Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Hawick, 2017


Analogue forms and technologies are inherently suited to capturing ghost worlds: the realms of the subconscious, dreams, nightmares, fantasy, other planets, histories misted by memory.

Having spent years creating moving images, stills, music and design using digital technologies, editing in the “Soft World” of computers, laptops and tablets, we became obsessed last year with immersing ourselves in the “Hard World” of analogue creativity. We bought vintage Super 8 cameras, projectors and batches of long-expired filmstock; learned how to home-process the cartridges using household products; handcrafting film by directly scratching or painting the frames; then projecting the results.

Whereas digital forms are inexpensive and promote limitless possibilities, Super 8 costs upwards of £20 for a few minutes of film, which must then be processed before it can be viewed in a projector. We've found that – much like the Danish Dogme 95 rules - these limitations of the form actually invigorate us, as filmmakers, releasing untapped creativity.


We made our first Super 8 short, SuperFly Super 8 Circa Nineteen Seventy Seven, using a Canon 514XL (circa 1977) and an AGFA Family camera (circa 1980) shooting a cartridge of Kodak TRI-X 7266 B&W Reversal film at the standard 18 frames per second. We filmed mostly indoors with lots of summer sunlight spraying into the room. We hired Gauge Film in the West Midlands to process and create an HD digital scan of the cartridge which we were then able to edit on our Mac using iMovie: imagining what a trailer for a Film Noir might look like if it was directed by the New York No Wavers.

SuperFly Super 8 was shortlisted for Edinburgh International Film Festival's Short Film Challenge 2016, with a screening at Edinburgh Filmhouse in August, followed by two at Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival. The film has since had further screenings in Glasgow (FOMO 2 at Stereo Cafe Bar), Edinburgh (Forest Cafe) and London (London Short Film Festival at the Moth Club, Hackney).


There is a lot of long-expired Super 8 filmstock still available to buy on eBay, especially the hugely popular Kodachrome 40. Kodachrome film is no longer manufactured and has not been processed as a colour reversal film since 2010, when the last of the chemicals required were used up by Dwayne's Photo Lab in Kansas. We discovered that a few pioneering DIY filmmakers - such as Ben Slotover from London's Zero Budget Film School, Dagie Brundert in Berlin, Cherry Kino in Leeds and Troy's Visual Arts in Australia – have been processing expired K40 as a black & white negative at home using Caffenol: coffee, washing soda & vitamin c. We decided to give this a go ourselves and bought up a largish batch of Kodachrome 40 and all the kit and ingredients required.

This video shows us making up a 2 litre bottle of Caffenol CM, twice what is required to process a cartridge of Super 8.

Using old stock & Caffenol produces a monochrome negative with a golden tinge.

Once the footage has been turned into a positive in your computer you're generally left with a fairly lo-fi & grainy image with a blue tinge and a white frame.


If you're not 100% happy with the results of your Caffenol experiments with expired Super 8 you can still create very interesting results by scratching, painting and manipulating the film directly by hand. Because each frame is only 8mm high the process of projecting these onto a large screen makes each tiny fibre, scratch or marking much larger and wider with interesting results. Messing about with contrast, exposure & other levels in your editing software can produce an array of vibrant colours.

Handcrafted Super 8 Experiment (Caffenol-processed K40 & TRI-X, scratched & hand-coloured). from The Bird And The Monkey on Vimeo.

MERZFRAU: Bloomed Stills