This is my blog about my interests in photography and film-making, also my travels as well as other items that I feel may be of interest. I also run the Photography equipment website, Filmcam....................................... IF YOU WANT TO ENLARGE ANY IMAGE BELOW SIMPLY CLICK ON IT !

Monday, March 1, 2010

Copying Movie Film to Film

For quite a few years now, I've been using simple home-made set-ups to copy my films onto other film. Why would anyone want to do this you may ask... Mostly, folks are busy transferring it all to digital.

Making the apparatus in its simplest form takes only a few hours and it's cheap. It means that the original film is copied in 100% sync with no flicker or density fluctuation. But what are the reasons for doing this ?

Firstly, if like me you still enjoy editing on film, it makes good sense to use a cutting copy which can be cut and recut and generally thrown around the place, secure in the knowledge that the original is not being harmed in any way. (Later you carefully cut the original to match.) Using out-of-date film you can easily make economical cutting copies.

Secondly, Special Effects. And there are countless possibilities here. For example, you can add a zoom or other movement to a shot, even make a static scene appear hand-held ! Add distortions, colours, foreground miniatures. Add moving silhouettes, bi-packing another strip of film in the projector. Place a shot into another live action shot so that the composite is seamless. The only effects you can't do are those that require altering the apparent speed, because the copying camera is anchored to the projector.

Every movie camera and every projector has its own one-to-one shaft. This system merely involves joining them together, so that they are locked in sync. You can do the job without the join, but there is likely to be sync-loss and other problems. Project onto a small card screen or a good translucent one. It's the same as copying onto video, and for more on this please click on "2008" and see "Telecine Without Tears".

Because all cine apparatus is basically made the same, you can copy ANY gauge of film onto ANY other. So you could copy a 28mm film to 9.5mm if you so wish ! And vice versa I suppose if you could find some 28mm film at Jessops. So film format doesn't matter, all you have to do is find an easy way to join up the 1:1 shafts. What does the 1:1 shaft look like ? If you take the side off a projector (not forgetting to remove the mains lead!) you'll most likely see a rod running its length, carrying the spinning shutter. Sometimes it culminates in an inching knob, and if so this is usually a good point to attach a flexible shaft, perhaps removing the knob first. I've been using old car speedo cables as flexible shafts, and they work well. Some sort of tough collar is needed to lock the shafts together securely with grub screws.

The camera 1:1 shaft is perhaps less easy to reach. Super-8 cameras usually seem to sprout a shaft near the front end. If you're worried about losing those screws and destroying a perfectly good camera trying to find it, why not experiment with a cheapo model ? All you need is a camera that produces reasonable images, perhaps with a close-up lens fitted, and it doesn't even need to have auto exposure. In fact, manual exposure is a must for copying. I'm always testing super-8 cameras, and I reckon that probably one in five of the ones that appear to work have defective auto-exposure... they usually end up in the 'as found' box or worse. But many of these sorry specimens still work on full aperture, so they could be used as copiers. As projector lenses are generally not as good optically as camera lenses, it makes sense to adjust the projector aperture by a stop or so, use the black card washer trick... see that Telecine article again.

So we end up with camera and projector (perhaps running the same film-size, perhaps not) connected by a flexible shaft. Maybe I should say they have to be connected so as to both run film in the same direction! Unless you want reverse effects. Some projector shafts will allow both ends to be utilized. It goes without saying you'll be cutting holes in your projector. The camera is run entirely by the projector-motor, in perfect sync. Turn the projector shaft by hand to check that the shutters are correctly phased, so that they both open simultaneously. One of the collars may need adjusting for this. Projectors normally sport two or three shutters but only one is used to hide the film transport. This is the one that corresponds with the camera-shutter. The others are superfluous for copying film and only absorb light, so could be snipped off if you don't mind a flickery picture (this flicker is not seen by the synchronised camera !) Because the camera is on a flexible shaft it can be set up almost anywhere as long as the shaft doesn't tie itself in knots. The projector can go at any speed and it's often best to keep it fairly slow.

Putting a shot into a new scene is possible by placing a screen or card somewhere within the frame and projecting on that, preferably at a normal speed. Have a go ! Next time I'll maybe show you my 16mm copying set-up.