Shooting on Film on a Budget

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Shooting on Film on a Budget

Postby maxsacker on Sun Apr 20, 2008 5:24 am

Are you bored of video? Do you want to shoot on film? Are you broke? Do you have a bathtub?

Although conventional wisdom would have you believe that you should avoid shooting on film
unless you have an inheritance to deplete, Fear not! Shooting on film CAN be as economical as
shooting on video, if you pour your heart and soul into it.

The first thing you need is film stock and a camera. You can get both for under 200 dollars.
Go to ebay and look for the Krasnogorsk-3. This is a wind up 16mm camera from the former
Soviet Union. You can find them on ebay for under 200 dollars. Buyer beware: Unlike the Bolex,
Arri or Beaulieu cameras which are hand made, the Soviets mass manufactured the Krasnogorsk
in one single factory, so you either get a good one right out of the box, or one that needs a little
bit of fine tuning. Either way, the camera is built like a tank, and even if you drop it a few times,
you'll be fine. Next find out where your local Kodak or Fuji vendors are. March into their offices and politely ask
them if they have any shortends or recans in the fridge. Often the big productions don't know what
to do with their leftover films and if there isn't a greedy camera assistant that takes the leftovers they
send them back to the manufacturers. They can't resell used film, so you should be able to get a few
rolls for free. Production companies will also have leftovers in their fridge. I was able to get over
1000FT of film from the BBC fridge via a friend who worked there.

My final film "The Secret Adventures of the Projectionist" was almost entirely shot on Vision-2 shortends.
But BEWARE! You don't want to compromise your production!

When opening the cans (in a dark room or changing bag) make sure to find out if the film is A or
B wind. If the film is the wrong way around, there is a good chance that it has run through a camera
or worse still, a processing machine before, resulting in exposed images.

Next, go to youtube and type in "Krasnogorsk Loading." There are a few videos on there about how
best to feed your film into your camera. Take a dead piece of film and practice this over and over
until you get it right. When your camera purrs like a kitten, you're ready to shoot!

So now you've got your stock, taken care to load it properly and shot your film. Your local lab tells you
that processing it will cost three figure numbers. What next?

Log in to ebay again and search for a "lomo tank" or a "morse tank." These are both developing tanks
from a bygone period, but they are essentially the same thing as 35mm photographic developing canisters.
Both are a bit fiddly, but I recommend the Lomo tank at first, as the morse tank is a rotation system, in which
the film only moves through the chemicals as it passes from reel to reel. With the Lomo tank, the film sists
in the chemistry at all times. What this means is that you will have to alter your chemistry times from their
original documentation when using the Morse tank and it's best to stick to the manual when you are starting out.

So now you have your tank, what about the chemistry? Several companies, such as Kodak, Ilford, Fomapan and
Tetenal make ready made kits which you can order over the internet. If you have a pharmacist in the family
it may be even easier to get a hold of chemicals.

Wipe down your bathroom or kitchen sink. Make sure to eliminate dust, dog hair or any other free floating particles.
If you have an attention craving dog (as I do) who needs to be at your side at all times, lock it in the garden.
Animals + chemistry + total darkness = bad idea.

Black out your windows, turn off all your lights and look for any stray light that may come into your home-made
dark room. If you can't black out your room entirely, make a little work surface which you can cover with several
coats. Remember: the higher ISO (ASA) your stock, the more critical absolute darkness becomes.

It's generally easiest to develop black and white negative film at first, as this is the closest to the photographic
process you may have already learned. If not, and you have the spare cash, I recommend taking a rudimentary
photo developing course before you start.

Find out process your film requires. E-4? C-41? Look on wikipedia and find out what these terms mean.

Wind your film from it's core or spool onto or into your processing tank. With the morse tank this is quite simple,
with the Lomo tank you will have to adjust the spool size and make sure that the film seats nicely inside its
threading and that no two layers of film are touching each other. Practice this a few times in the light with some
dead film.

If you want to develop colour film, you will need accurate temperature control. Sounds complicated, but you can do it
with a bucket of water, a sink and a thermometer. Place the loaded processing tank into a bucket filled with water
and adjust to the temperature you need.

Now, follow the instructions of your chemical process. Pour the developer into the tank for the allocated time.
If you are using the morse tank, continuously rotate the film from one reel to the other. You should be doing this quite
quickly, so that the film goes from end to end in about a minute. If you are using the Lomo tank, push down on the little
plunger every 30 seconds or so. This will free up any trapped air bubbles between the film layers.

After the time is up, pour out the developer into a plastic bottle (preferably black or non-transparent) and mark this bottle as DEVELOPER or POISONOUS! Remember to label all your storage bottles. I once nearly drank anti-freeze because somebody (who shall remain nameless) poured it into a water bottle and left it in the car.

Remember that you can re-use developer and some other chemicals for as long as the stated shelf life. At a certain point,
they will loose potency though and you may need to remix or use a new batch of developer.


They can be extremely hazardous to the environment. Pour them into containers and take them to a waste facility.
Never mix chemicals that aren't supposed to be mixed. Hazardous gas clouds can suddenly fill your kitchen. Trust me. I've been there.

The complexity of your chemical process will vary depending on whether you are processing negative, reversal, colour or black and white film. Check the documentation.

After you've developed, bleached and fixed your film, wash it for a good 20 minutes or more. Half of the quality of your result will depend on how well you wash your film. Human fingers are the perfect sponge for wet film. Pass from and to a bucket of water and thread the film through your hands, rubbing off any excess emulsion or chemicals. It's a pain in the ass, but the more
you do this, the cleaner the result.

Now for the last obstacle. How do you dry your film? You can hang it across your flat, but that's not ideal as dust particles
(and dog hair) will settle on it. The best bet is to build some kind of drying rack, especially one that can be rotated.
I'll leave this up to your DIY skills.

It sounds like a lot of effort, and it is! But if you're as obsessed with celluloid as I am, you will find it a very rewarding process.
Once you've put this behind you you are a filmmaker in the true sense of the word. YOU MAKE FILM.

And you'll never touch a mini-DV tape again. Unless someone makes you.

I will post more detailed information about this topic on my website

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Re: Shooting on Film on a Budget

Postby anshulj on Sun Apr 20, 2008 11:04 pm

"Animals + chemistry + total darkness = bad idea" lol...

Very informative (and entertaining) article, Max. Thanks for taking the time to write this. Don't know if I'll ever be brave enough to shoot on film, ever. Regards to your dog and bathtub. :)

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Re: Shooting on Film on a Budget

Postby sahra on Tue Apr 22, 2008 12:47 am

Bravo! I love that you develop your own film- and I am wowed by your final film. I've tried developing my own film once but had a freakish meltdown of one of my bottles which caused a chemical burn on my hands. I'm up for trying it again but I think I will make sure to use GLASS bottles for the chemicals as a plastic evian bottle just doesn't seem to do the job.

Does the Kranogorsk give sync sound? You seem to have it in your final film but maybe you did that in post?
congratulations on your results though!

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Re: Shooting on Film on a Budget

Postby maxsacker on Tue Apr 22, 2008 5:12 am

Hi Sahra,

Thank you for your encouraging comments!

We didn't use the Krasnogorsk on "The Secret Adventures of the Projectionist." The Soviet camera we used what the Krasnogorsk's bigger brother the Kinor 16CX-2M. This is the camera we shot the "metropolis" scene on. The other scenes were filmed on an Arri SR2 or and SR3.

The Kinor is by far the best and most economical 16mm camera that eBay has to offer. It has interchangeable magazines, a whole range of Prime and zoom lenses, a registration pin and is quiet enough to shoot sync sound. The Krasnorogrsk is unfortunately too loud for conventional sync sound, especially running at anything higher than 18fps.

If you want to use the Kras to shoot sync sound I would recommend at least draping a thick jacket over it and using a directional mike. But if you want to shoot sync sound on the cheap I would invest in a Kinor. I got mine for 800 dollars on ebay including all prime lenses and five magazines!

And yes, clear evian bottles are bad for storing chemicals as light gets to the chemicals and reduces their potency and pretty much cuts their shelf life in half. Also a friend might come over and grab a bottle from the fridge and end up in the hostpital.

The best containers are the black, plastic "accordion" containers that you can get at photo shops.

I hope this helps!


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Re: Shooting on Film on a Budget

Postby patkelman on Sat Jun 07, 2008 11:23 pm

Nice one Max

Your post took me back to when I used to develop and print my own photographs when I was at school.

I was never brave enough to develop my own 8mm film; but I do love the feel of celluloid running through my fingers.

Can't wait to play with this!


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Re: Shooting on Film on a Budget

Postby centermassmatt on Mon Jun 16, 2008 8:52 am

Ah, film! The burning emulsion, the smell of an open magazine, the subtle whirring of the motor...

Film, I have to say, is my bread and butter. I first started shooting on Super 16 when I was about 11, and had my first foray into 35mm at the age of 16, cutting on Steinbecks and Moviolas...I still have my Arri 16BL (affectionately named "bouncing betty") which has become more of an antique decoration than a functional camera, but I do so wish to get back to it at some point.

Over time however, I have been dragged (kicking and screaming, mind you) into the digital era. Now I'm nice and comfortable with the intermediate standard of HDV in its various forms and don't really feel the pull to fall back to film for a short film. If I were to do a feature, I would ideally attempt to shoot it on 35mm, but that also depends on the subject-matter (as some stories are better suited to the surreal "uncanny valley" that HD creates - as well as the whirlwind immediacy of DV..."28 Days Later" comes to mind).

The bathtub method of processing has always intrigued me, and does cut down on costs quite significantly, however I've never trusted myself enough as a chemist to actually attempt it. Sounds like a fun process.

I actually have probably about 3000 feet of 35mm short ends, however they weren't stored properly and have been in a hot environment for almost five years. I would love to get a 35mm camera and shoot on them, just to see what the heat decay has done...could be garbage, but might also create a cool effect!

Good article Max, loved your film by the way!
Many have worn the ferryman's chain...

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Re: Shooting on Film on a Budget

Postby modartgirl on Tue May 18, 2010 6:44 pm

Hence Max

There are so many fun products to use in the editing room now with video to make it look like film.

In my world it's all about the lens you use anyway and how you capture light/dark Giving the illusion of depth, texture and color...

Embrace video, it's a good thing....the cameras are getting better and the programs especially from Adobe are amazing.

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