Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Super 8 Adventures Continue, Part 2

In the war on digitizing this Super 8 footage, I have long felt like I was on the losing end.  But just like Col. Donlon said during his on camera interview, winning the battle is not about more than just the number of soldiers on the field or the equipment they use to fight.  It's also about the spirit of the warrior: what makes someone motivated to fight, keep fighting and carry on long after it seems impossible to win.  And let me tell you, friends, this warrior is far from giving up.

In fact, tonight marks one small victory at the Battle of the Elmo Projector!  Thanks to help from a great number of people, the Super 8 footage shot by Surry in Vietnam played in my living room tonight!  So many hands have helped make this happen.  

Josh Steadman tried to help me view the footage at his office once, even going so far as to take photos of it and then trying to scan it in.  That attempt helped us at least see some of the stills, which was at the time a huge step forward.  The projector wouldn't budge, though.  It refused to work.

More recently another new friend, Neil Grant, borrowed the projector for a while and fixed whatever ailed it.  I believe he actually took it apart and slaughtered something back together.  Huge pat on the back, Neil.  I don't have a clue what you fixed, but you did the trick!

The projector made its way back from Wilmington, N.C., to Raleigh, N.C., in the caring hands of my old Meredith College friend Sarah Barbee and Neil Grant.  We finally got a chance to meet up while they were in town, saw a show at ComedyWorx, and made the exchange after we caught up.  Neil, quite the gentleman, even carried the projector to my car for me because it's relatively heavy.

The projector came home with me that night, but quickly traveled to Goldsboro with me where I met up with my dad.  He took a look at the projector and showed me how to thread the film through it to make it work.  This photo at the left shows dad holding the projector, figuring out how the film threads through the inside so we didn't accidentally ruin any of the footage.

That day, for the first time, I finally got to see what was on one of the reels!  I thought I'd jump out of my skin when it finally started playing.  Surry has been very humble about the footage, trying to keep my expectations low because it's been so long since anyone's seen it.  But I think what I saw that day (and tonight), it's perfect for our film.

During that visit, dad even took the time to thread a piece of header film through the projector so I wouldn't forget how to do it by the time I got home (he knows me so well).  It helped a lot tonight when I sat down to start working on it again.  I took pictures of how it was threaded through so I didn't forget once it was no longer there.

Tonight, for the first time, I was able to view about three reels of film in the comfort of my own living room.  It took me about two hours from start to finish: threading the film, "rewinding" it (putting the film back on the right reel again), and figuring out how to thread the film through the projector so that it worked properly.  

You can see in some of these photos that most of the insides of the projector (on one side of it) is metal, but there's a way to thread it through properly.  After a while you figure out how to get it to thread right part of the way, and then let the projector thread it the rest of the way (while watching it to make sure nothing jams).  Every now and then something would go wrong, causing the reels to jump off the projector, film to get tangle up, threading of the film to go wrong...the list goes on.

I must have been muttering to myself for a while.  Chris Moore was in the other room editing video, and heard me making a racket.  He came out to check on me and tried lending a hand, too.  He watched the few minutes of film with me.  I don't think I've ever been so excited to see Super 8 footage!

After playing about three of the reels, the projector became coated in the white stuff that rests on the reels.  I'm guessing this is a mold of sorts.  It's white and flaky, so I doubt there's anything else it could be, right?  In this photo you can see a bit of the mold stuff on part of the projector.  It's pretty gnarly, and I wish there were a DIY way to clean the film safely but I'm a bit tentative about going down that route.  It'd be so great to have the help of a professional, but at the same time making a film on a limited budget makes you even more creative, no? 

Last week I talked with a guy who owns a conversion shop in Cary, N.C.  He will take your old media and convert it into your new media of choice: A tracks to CDs, Super 8 to MiniDVs, or what have you.  In December he quoted me about $200 for the conversion.  

In the scheme of things that isn't a bad deal, but when you've already invested a fair amount into a project, that small amount becomes a big one.  (Which was part of my decision in raising funds to go to the Full Frame Film Festival.  I felt that if I were going to spend a few hundred bucks on something, it should go towards converting the film, you know?)  I talked to him last week about perhaps bartering, but he didn't seem too keen on it.  I'll stop by again, per his request, to talk about it in person some time in the coming weeks.

Tonight, though, I shot some terrible (read: terrible lighting and handheld/shaky) footage of the Super 8 film playing with my Blackberry.  I was so excited about watching the footage, that my phone was the only thing I had within reach to capture footage of the footage.  I'll try to download that later, and perhaps put it online somewhere should anyone be curious about it.  The priority right now is getting the Super 8 film converted, though.

There are a number of online articles about how to do it.  You have to play the film on a solid white backdrop, preferably in a room that has no vibrations.  For example, you don't want the projector sitting on hard wood floors where co-inhabitants are walking around to make the projector jiggle.  It's better to do it on something super solid like a cement floor.  Also, you have to make sure the frame rate is right and you should film a reflection of what's playing from the projector.  I did a bit of research on how to do it, and will now have to start spinning those wheels once again--now that the projector works!

There are a few friends who have said they'll lend a hand with this part of the process, which is very comforting.  It's great to be surrounded by men who are just as curious and determined to get the thing to work as I am.

Until next time, the adventure continues...

Previous posts about the projector include:

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