Physical Memories: Working With Film.


Real, tangible celluloid. 

I love it. It's gorgeous, and gives beautiful texture and colour to imagery. Despite the digital revolution that swept filmmaking and photography, I hope it'll never die. I don't think it will. There are far too many people that love and respect it. 

Shooting 35mm Stills:

I inherited my dad's old fujica 35mm camera years ago and have shot with it ever since. Below are some pictures taken with it from two separate trips of the very photogenic Berlin.

Picture taken by my friend Saoirse, in Berlin, on Ilford HP5 400 B&W film.
Inside Tempelhof, Berlin. Shot on Ilford HP5 400 B&W
My friend Richard in Berlin Aquarium, Kodak Portra 400
My friend Saoirse in Berlin Aquarium, Kodak Portra 400

Shooting on Super 8mm and Super16mm:

 I also have an 8mm camera, which I have used throughout the years, mostly for home movies. The window through the gate is so small, its difficult when shooting to see what's in focus, (and to be honest I think its a bit broken). As a result, videos are sometimes a bit blurry. The grain is so obviously present, which I enjoy. To many, it may seem sub-par because it isn't top, sharp quality, but what does that matter in this case? The physical texture is so real, and not hyper-real. I went to New York many years ago and shot myself and my friend's ramblings through Manhattan. 

Above video shot on Kodak Ektachrome 100D Super8mm.

It is a physical memory, etched onto 8mm of celluloid forever; something you can hold and feel, and most importantly, something that was there with you in the moment. It isn't on an ethereal, digital file on a hard drive somewhere, rather, film feels alive. Having said that, the video is on Vimeo so people can view it; that's where the analogue and digital meet. (Check out my corny and sentimental use of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.)

I am shooting my best friend's upcoming wedding on 8mm, with a new 8mm camera I'm adopting from a fellow filmmaker. I can't wait to do it for them, and capture the time and space of such a memorable day within the rolls of film.

The first short I made as soon as I left college in 2013 was shot on 16mm film. I was very fortunate to work with cinematographer Miguel Angel Vi├▒as who shared my vision for shooting Food Fight in black and white. When I wrote it, I daydreamed about shooting it on film, and luckily, Miguel suggested using up 3 canisters of Fujifilm Eterna Vivid 250 16mm film for the shoot. (It was in colour, but later graded in B&W.)

We shot slightly under exposed to give it a small amount of grain; small evidence of what we were working with, but more importantly a creative spark to allow for texture within the surface of the image. I had about 30 minutes of film to use, so as you can imagine, my takes were sparing. 

We sent the film off to a lab in London for processing. One thing I will say about working with film is that the additional lab costs for development (on top of post) can be a bit of a killer. Even developing 8mm film can be pricey, and its hard to find a lab to do it. I have sent my film for development to both Germany and Holland, but to Galway for digitising.

Food Fight was digitised into a .DPX file, and I cut it myself. It was  basically budget-less, paid for with my wages from my barista job at the time. New to the process, I barely knew who to call on, but cutting myself seemed like the best option at the time. 

Cutting and splicing I avoided. I've never done it, but would love to someday.

For another of my shorts, Lag, I used clips of a Super8mm film of my family. Lag deals with grief, and memory. The character goes on a journey through the memories of his childhood, and is about connecting to those memories and preserving them. The 8mm film was used to give a specific sense of time and space, and the grainy visuals leant authenticity to this aspect of the film. It was fun to use a different, and interesting means to provide flashbacks in film. I will shoot another film on celluloid someday. 16mm was lovely, and shooting on 35mm is a goal of mine. 

While my 8mm films might be grainy, shooting on film doesn't always mean it'll be there. I know some who don't rate the use of film at all, yet it is important to remember that film was, and is still used in some of the biggest, best and most beautifully shot films, both past and present. Christopher Nolan has been shooting on 65mm film for years, with Dunkirk projected in 70mm. Utilising such a huge cell to shoot the film  meant enormous amounts of information, and the capacity for it to be projected on a massive screen without the loss of detail. Audiences were able to see expansive, sweeping shots of beaches, and skyline in truly vibrant colours. My favourite contemporary use of 35mm is Carol shot by Ed Lachmann, and directed by Todd Haynes. The colour palette stands out in warm, sumptuous tones, and its old-style feel adds to the film's period setting. Little Women (2019) is also wonderfully shot on 35mm by director of photography Yorick Le Saux, whilst The Lighthouse was shot on 35mm film by cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, lending to the film's vintage, gothic visual aesthetic. 

For more on New York on Super8mm, check out Jem Cohen's short films. I quite like Little Flags, and Long For The City, a portrait of Patti Smith. Cohen's use of 8mm in his shorts help to situate the films in a particular time and space, and also lends to the wistful tone of Long For The City, and the sombre echo of Little Flags.. Another is a little known documentary shot on 8mm called Format Perspective by Philip Evans. 

Finally, Sarah Polley's beautiful doc Stories We Tell has an original, and intelligent use of 8mm film to demonstrate memory throughout the film.

For those interested in experimenting with film, go straight to John Gunn's on Camden St, and speak to him or a member of staff. They have small, cheap re-usable point-and-shoot illford cameras, (that look a bit like disposable cameras). 

For an 8mm camera contact Super8 Ireland. Based in Galway, they sell all types of Super 8 gear including cameras, projectors, and splicers, along with a selection of film. The will do a digital transfer of the film, but not development.

For 8mm & 16mm film development go to:

Andek in Berlin,

Super8 Reversal Lab in Holland

Cinelab in the US

Cinelab in London will develop 16mm and 35mm cine film.

For stills photography, I recommend following thefilmversions by Donal Murphy on Instagram. 

Thanks for reading,