Hints for Newbies

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Legal stuff[edit]

Yes, it's not best practice to spoil everything with some rules. But I'll do it nevertheless:

  • In most countries, the legislation didn't change much since the 1950s. So, in most cases, putting any camera (still, movie, whatever) onto a tripod will make you a "professional". Also using any movie camera without a tripod might make you a "professional". Hence, you might need a permission when "publicly" filming outdoors. In most cases, the local town hall is responsible for these permissions. As long as you're really just a hobbyist, you'll get these permissions for free and online. (Don't worry: When you're fast, then nobody will bother to ask you for your permission. But e.g. when you're shooting for hours in front of your local town hall, then be sure that someone wants to see your filming permit. So far, I only needed to show such a permission once, when filming ten actors shooting with toy guns on a public parking lot for two-three hours on a Sunday morning. The police came as some neighbours complained about the "strange noise" the team was making.)
  • Without special permissions, you might not be allowed to shoot "defence related" areas (army camps, police stations, ...).
  • Some "public places" might not be as public as you think, e.g. shopping malls, train stations, ... . Here, you might also need a special permission.
  • In many countries, filming sick, dead or nude people might not be allowed. In these cases, don't film any real car accidents, burning houses, hospitals or nudists' beaches.
  • When filming with actors, use an "actor release form" (known as "model release form" in still photography). Otherwise, even unpaid actors might have the legal right to prevent you from showing your films in public (e.g. competitions) or putting telecined versions onto YouTube/Vimeo/whatever.

Selecting the right film format[edit]

  • Super8, 16mm and Regular8 are the most common readily available amateur film formats. So it's best to start with them. Please note that Super8-films can also be used in Max8-cameras and that "single-perf" 16mm-films can also be used in Super16-cameras.
  • Films for Single8 and DS8 are also still available, but they are less common.
  • In 2020, the status of the 9.5mm-format is unclear. Some years ago, there have been two official sources for films and some unofficial ones:
    • The French company "ColorCity", that produced the "CineDia"-films, went bankrupt. "Its" perforator/slitter was (and is) owned by a French club of 9.5mm enthusiasts. It is now located at "Color Films Archives", a successor of "ColorCity“. But the production is stopped as there’s no available unperforated color reversal film in 35mm that would serve as a base. More information can be found here.
    • The British source, Mr. Grahame L. Newnham, died in 2020. (May he rest in peace!)
    • There are rumors about some European amateurs that constructed their own devices to turn 16mm-single-perf into 9.5mm-film. But they only do this for their own purposes. And e.g. the DIY-device that existed in Czechia was reported to be broken.
  • In 2020, all other small film formats are "dead". This means that you cannot buy fresh films any more. So, unless you're a collector, avoid them.

Selecting the right camera[edit]

  • As a rule of thumb, Super8 and Single8 cameras can be sorted into three categories: "entry level" (no zoom or a zoom-factor <=3x), "middle class" (zoom-factor > 3x and < 8x) and "top of the line" (zoom-factor >= 8x).
    • In most cases, the "top of the line"-models are "too complex" for a newbie, and they're still very pricey.
    • I would recommend to start with a "middle class" model. They're cheaper, they're less bulky, they weigh less and they've only got all the features that a newbie needs. And they're of a better quality than the "entry level"-models.
    • The "entry level"-models have been cheap when new. And they're still the cheapest models on the second hand market. However, most of them are fully automatic and will only have an "on/off"-switch and a "film/don't film"-switch. As they are normally very compact and lightweight, they're ideal for special purposes, e.g. as a "travel cam" when hiking. And due to their low price, you can use them as a "stunt camera", e.g. mounted onto a bike or a skateboard, ... . However, these models have their limitations that can be extremely irritating and frustrating for newbies.
  • Keep in mind that sound film (films "pre-striped" with a magnetic soundtrack) isn't produced any more since the early 1990s. So a camera's "sound recording" feature will be completely useless these days, unless it records optical sound (which is an extremely rare feature). So try to avoid "sound cameras" as they're heavier and as they require more batteries than their silent counterparts. E.g. the silent Canon 310 XL AF only weighs 650 g (including batteries), while its sound-sibling Canon 310 XL-S AF weighs 900 g (including batteries).
  • Some cameras need a special coin cell for their integrated light meters. Without that coin cell, the light meter will not work at all. Unfortunately, most coin cells went out of production when the industry abandoned mercury-based batteries. Some coin-cell-sizes aren't available at all any more, other will have a different voltage (e.g. 1.5V instead of 1.35V when not buying expensive "Weincell"-batteries), ... . So it's best to avoid them - unless you've checked the availability and prices in your area.
  • Some cameras use solar energy for their integrated light meters. Unfortunately, the manufacturers used Selenium for this. And over time, the Selenium will not work any more.
  • Avoid "AF" (auto focus) cameras. They were all made with the first auto focus systems that kind of worked. But the auto focus will drain your batteries very fast and will not work in all situations. E.g. when the actor isn't 100% in the image's centre, then the camera will suddenly start to focus on the background etc. The only cameras, where the AF worked for me (within its limitations), were the Canon 514 XL-S AF, the Canon 310 XL AF and the Canon 310 XL-S AF. But the best thing is that you wouldn't need an AF when shooting outdoors on a sunny day! Simply use a wide angle and set your focus to the specially marked distance on your lens, and everything between 2m and 100m will become "in focus" due to the depth of field - please refer to your manual or use e.g. Kodak's tools.

Before shooting with actors[edit]

  • Before shooting with actors, ensure that your camera is really fully working. In other words, you'll have to shoot a test roll/cartridge. Simply film your local attractions (town hall, ...), your neighbourhood, some construction areas, some trains passing by, ... . (Remember to also film at least the year - in ten years from now, even these boring scenes might become fun to watch.)
  • Have your script ready before searching for actors.

Your first film with actors[edit]

  • Only do a short film that can be shot on a single day. So your first film's final cut shouldn't be longer than 5min.
  • Don't try to do a remake of Spartacus, Matrix, Star Wars ... - work with a maximum of 4 actors and a minimum of dialogues (or no dialogues at all).
  • Try to make it a comedy. (This way, you can later claim that all your hilarious beginner's mistakes were made by purpose to increase the film's fun-factor ;-) .)