Here are a few tips for planning and creating your next Super 8 film.
We’ll go over some filmmaking techniques and how to make the most of each second of Super 8 film.
What Kind of Movie Do You Want to Make?
The first thing to consider is what type of film you’d like to make.
Are you taking your Super 8 camera on vacation with you and would like to tell the story of your travels?
Would you just like to document your kiddos or family members over the summer?
Maybe you’re a professional photographer and would like to use Super 8 with your wedding photography.
Make a Plan
Regardless of what kind of film you’d like to make, on its very basic level, you will be telling a story. You will want to think like a storyteller—a visual storyteller.
As you know by now, nothing in the Super 8 world is inexpensive, so before you begin making your film and telling your story, you need to have a plan. You don’t want to waste a second of that precious film!
I don’t make scripted Super 8 films, so I am not talking about a script. My filmmaking experiences have been primarily documenting something for personal memories or for a wedding. I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t predict exactly what I will be filming, but I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to capture.
One of the easiest ways to plan out your film is to storyboard it or at the very least to make a shot list of moments and things you want to be sure you have on film.
Storyboarding is something done in professionally made films. It helps the filmmakers plan for lighting, angle, and action within the frame.
You don’t have to be an artist to sketch out various scenes and situations to plan your film. Boxes with stick people and notations are as fancy as I get!
If you don’t think you need or want to take the time to do this, just making a list of the scenes and people and action you want to capture will help keep you on track and make sure you don’t forget anything important.
Remember that a standard Super 8 cartridge is only about three to three and a half minutes long. If you want to tell your story with just one cartridge, plan accordingly.
Of course, if you want a longer film, you can shoot as many cartridges as you need, and then edit them together later in your video editing software, but planning still helps to streamline this process.
I don’t map out my Super 8 films down to the second, but I do try to do some general estimating. Usually, my filming bursts are anywhere from five to 15 seconds in length. Of course, there are always exceptions to this, but that estimate is generally what I aim for.
Also, I don’t like to spend a lot of time “in the cutting room” editing and splicing together my films, so I really try to shoot only exactly what I want and in the order I want it.
This isn’t always possible, of course, but it’s a nice goal to aim for, and storyboarding helps achieve it.
Tell a Story
Humans are compelled by stories. We love them!
We all know that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. We know that they have settings, characters, and conflict/action. When making a Super 8 movie, you will want to include all of these elements.
So how do you do it?
One of the first things we encounter in stories is the setting—where the action takes place.
There are lots of ways to do this visually. Shoot about 10 to 15 seconds to help set the scene of your film.
Here are some suggestions:
Show a sign
Show a map or invitation or other document
Show the outside of a building
Show an entrance
Pan the interior of the room
A combination of any of the above
Right after the setting (or sometimes even before) come the characters.
Who is the film about? Will you introduce them all at once, or will more characters be added as the story goes on?
You can introduce characters in a static way or with action. This can be as simple as just a few seconds of footage of a character looking at the camera, or it can be several seconds of footage of your characters within your setting (killing two birds with one stone).
It can also be your characters interacting with one another or doing something relevant to the upcoming story in your film.
Most of your options will depend on you and the story you want to tell.
If you’re part of the story, don’t forget to get into the frame! You can do this by having someone else film you or by using a tripod and the camera’s self-timer.
Don’t forget that you can include yourself through reflections or by filming body parts like your feet walking along on the beach.
When you introduced your characters, you may have already begun to include some action, which is great!
Your story is on its way!
Because I make my Super 8 films to document real life events, there is very little if any conflict. Conflict and its resolution are the main engines of storytelling in fiction and movies. So how do you keep your film moving along and interesting without conflict and resolution?
You show progressive action.
Wedding films or travel films are great examples of this.
Once you’ve set your scene and introduced your characters, you will show the actions as you move through the event or the day.
For example, a wedding film will move from the venue to the couple, to the wedding party (setting and characters) to walking down the aisle, saying vows, the kiss, and the reception (progressive actions).
A travel film might begin by showing the destination, the mode of travel, and the travelers (setting and characters as well as a little action), and then move through different activities, locations, and events (progressive action).
When filming these progressive actions, you will have to use your best judgement on how much time to allot to each. Again, just a few seconds is really all that is needed to show what is happening and how it moves the story along.
Good storytelling and good filmmaking have transitions between elements. Usually, they are so subtle that you may not even notice that they are happening.
In Super 8 filmmaking, which is usually a more primitive type of filmmaking, transitions can be more abrupt. In fact, you may want them to be abrupt to keep the feel of amateur filmmaking.
These hard transitions where the film abruptly goes from one scene or action to the next are called cut transitions, and they will be the most common transitions you make with Super 8 simply because the camera does not have any other fancy options like fading in or out.
Cut transitions are made by simply stopping the film on one scene and starting it up on the next. However, if you would like to vary things up a bit and try your hand at some other more cinematic techniques, here are a few suggestions to try:
Transition from one scene to the next by showing a detail or closeup shot of something in the next scene to begin to set the stage, so to speak.
If the action of your film moves from one location to another between scenes, make the transition by setting the scene again using one or a combination of the above suggestions.
This is one I like to use often. Choose an element of the new scene and focus on it and slowly zoom in or zoom out depending on the feeling you are going for.
Do you want the viewer to focus in on something specific or do you want them to see the big picture?
Out-of-Focus to In-Focus
This is a technique that I have discovered via happy accident, but now use intentionally to transition into scenes. It could also be used to transition out of a scene.
Begin by showing something out of focus and then slowly sharpen up the scene.
This can occur simultaneously while zooming as well.
This would be considered a hard transition, but it can be rather cool if it fits with your narrative.
When you stop filming your most recent scene, open up the film door and remove the film. You’ll only loose a few frames to the light leak, but it makes a fun transition.
Note that if you do this, your film counter resets, so pay attention to the filming indicator so you know when your film runs out.
You can also use video editing software to make digital transitions between scenes if you want by fading in or out, wipe outs, and many other options.
I choose not to use these types of transitions, preferring the simpler analog options.
How and What to Shoot
How do you go about choosing what to shoot and how to frame it?
This is a personal choice for all photographers and filmmakers and will primarily depend on what your personal vision is.
When I am looking for what to include on Super 8 film, I think of it in the same way I think of still photography. I use the same composition techniques and my personal shooting style.
Anticipate the action as much as you can and begin shooting just a bit beforehand and continue shooting just a bit past the end of the action.
This is called shooting through the scene. It helps ensure that you get the entirety of the action, and it gives you a little leeway for editing the clip.
Don’t forget the details and close-ups.
Close-ups help the viewer feel connected to the characters in the film and can be a great storytelling technique. Details make all the difference and take your filmmaking to the next level.
Good Filmmaking Techniques
Don’t forget the technical aspects of good filmmaking. These are basic techniques, but they require practice.
Focus and Focus Pulling
Focusing on Super 8 can be tricky because you’re looking through such a small viewfinder, and it definitely takes practice!
Spend lots of time with your camera without film in it practicing getting good focus.
When you zoom while filming, you will notice that your image goes out of focus. This is because your lens is moving, so your focal point is moving.
In motion picture making, there is a person on set whose only job is to keep the camera lens focused as the camera moves, pans, and zooms. They are called the focus puller. (Look for them in the credits!)
Unless you are working with your camera on a tripod or have more than two hands, you really can’t pull focus while shooting Super 8, and that’s okay. One of the reasons we all love Super 8 is for its amateur look.
So how do you avoid losing focus as you zoom?
Make sure you’re shooting in bright light with a small aperture and make sure you’re zooming within focus range usually at infinity.
You can also stop zooming and refocus.
Honestly, I don’t worry too much about this. I try to make sure things are as in focus as I can, and just roll with the rest!
Always look for good light!
In some ways, this goes without saying, but I have noticed that with so much new stuff to keep in mind, it’s easy to let the basics slip my mind!
Super 8 film is rather slow film, and most cameras were designed to work with film up to ISO 250.
Yes, there are ISO 500 films, and there are quite fast Super 8 lenses, so you can shoot in some pretty low light. And low light isn’t always bad light just like bright light isn’t always good light.
So, look for good, soft, directional, bright light sources when shooting.
Panning is moving the camera across or through a scene. It’s great for scene setting shots, transitioning, or introducing a large cast of characters.
I’ve found it’s really easy to pan too fast when shooting Super 8.
I am always conscious of how much film I am using because I want to be sure to have enough to include all the things I want to shoot, so it’s very easy to get moving too quickly across a landscape.
I actually count to myself as I shoot, one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…..
If you want to take your panning to the next level, you can purchase a track on which your camera can be mounted, keeping it level and its motion smooth.
Zooming is a great technique to aid in the storytelling process. But I have a few cautions for you on this as well.
Don’t over-do it, and don’t do it too fast.
Most Super 8 cameras have a manual zoom lever as well as an electronic zoom button. The manual zoom lever moves a lot faster than you think it does, and the electronic zoom button doesn’t move as slowly as it seems.
Also, the electronic zoom button makes the zoom actions smooth and steady.
All of that said, you may choose to zoom fast or slow or uneven on purpose if it suits your narrative. Think zooming in fast to introduce a new character or to show something shocking or surprising.
Be Ready and Observant
Just like still photography, Super 8 filming—especially of the documentary nature—is a lot of watching, waiting, quick thinking, and shooting.
Be ready to shoot. Be observant. Anticipate the action. And remember if it’s not as great as you thought it would be, you can always cut it out, but you can’t include the shots you don’t take!
As fun and wonderful as Super 8 filmmaking can be you will eventually have to end your film.
You will want to wrap it up nicely so that the viewers feel your story has come to a conclusion. There are lots of ways to do this:
An exterior shot at the end of the evening
An empty room
People waving goodbye
A door closing or characters walking away from the camera.
Editing and the Final Product
You’ve got your footage, and it’s been processed and scanned. Now what?
It’s time to put together your final product. This process could be its own article, but I want to touch on a few editing basics here.
Even if you tried to shoot everything you wanted in chronological order by making your storyboard or shot list, it’s pretty rare that can be accomplished, and that’s okay!
One of the wonderful things about shooting analog in the digital world is that you don’t have to physically cut and splice your film in the order that you want it to be. Digital editing makes things so much easier!
There are lots of different video editing software programs out there, and you can use the one of your choice to reorder your scenes in the best storytelling way.
Once you’ve got your story in its final form, you can choose to add opening titles and/or closing credits.
The software I use has lots of options to do this, and I like to choose something that matches visually with the story I am telling.
I really like the idea of adding a title and credits because someday when I have passed my films down to my family members, they will know who made the film and who is in the film. It’s also nice to credit your licensed music.
Hopefully, you know that you can’t just add some music from your iPhone to accompany your silent Super 8 film!
If you want music to accompany your visuals, you will need to license it. There are several different outlets for licensed music, but I like to use Triple Scoop.
Their catalog is enormous, and you can always find the perfect song to help tell your story. Plus, they have flexible subscription options and rates. Don’t forget to give credit to the artist in your filmmaking credits if you include credits in your film.
This is by no means an exhaustive instruction manual for Super 8 filmmaking, but I hope it will help make you a better Super 8 filmmaker and storyteller!