Back to Bolex

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Back to Bolex

Postby sahra on Sun Apr 06, 2008 11:51 pm

I am the first to argue that nothing should stop you from going out and making a film, and for most of my films I pick up my mini-DV camera and set off with a budget to cover a few mini-DV tapes and a cup of coffee for my actors. But occasionally I allow myself to experience what first attracted me to filmmaking 10 years ago: the whir of a Bolex16mm film camera, the tactile experience of loading real 16mm film into a little black metal camera, the joy of turning the hand-wind crank, the magic of dropping your film off at a lab and anticipating the results, and the challenge of fitting all your shots into the 20 seconds that one “wind-up” lasts. I am not saying that digital video doesn’t give great results: it definitely can, but I find shooting on real film sometimes brings a bit of magic to the experience and the end result can be wonderfully rich in texture and colour. The best thing about using a Bolex camera is that you need very little training to get yourself shooting on real film.

To begin with, get your hands on a camera and some film. The cameras are not too difficult to track down; many film schools have them or you can even get one on eBay. I don’t own one, but for my Filmaka final round film, I was fortunate enough to have my fantastic DOP Amy Newstead borrow a beautiful H-16 Bolex through a friend. Next, you’ll have to buy some film. Make sure to get it in 100 foot daylight spools. The beauty of a daylight spool is that you can load it right outside without exposing the whole roll. This is perfect for a beginner because you can actually see what you’re doing. One roll is only 3 minutes of footage long, so right away you can see the problem if you’re trying to make a film. For a really short (2-3 minute) film you can get away with shooting 3-5 rolls if you plan it carefully. Keep in mind, for each roll you’ll have to pay for the film stock, the processing, and a transfer to a tape or digital medium (i.e. mini-dv) if you plan on editing it on a computer (i.e. final cut pro). As an example, I shot 4 rolls of film to create a 3-minute filmaka final piece, together with processing this cost around 200 pounds ($400).

Okay, okay- enough budget details- now it’s time to shoot your film. Before you begin, it is best to learn about setting the proper frame rate, focus and exposure levels. But have no fear! The first time I shot on a Bolex I had absolutely zero experience or training and it still came out great! My tips are: make sure you have ample light- it’s best to shoot outdoors in the daytime unless you can afford to rent lighting equipment. Make sure you’ve planned out the action of your shots to fit in the speed of one “wind-up”- that means around 20 seconds per take. And lastly, one of the biggest challenges, you have to think about sound: the Bolex doesn’t record sound, and even if you do record sound separately (i.e. on a separate sound recorder or camera), it doesn’t run in sync so it is pretty hard to match it up. For “The Secret Adventures of Mr. Boots” I tried to record sound separately on a mini-DV camera (and making sure to capture a “clap” with each shot)- but the noise of the camera was so loud that it didn’t work out in post (in addition to be completely out of sync). Luckily, I found a great song that worked perfectly with the story (good things seem to come out of my many mistakes).

There are pros and cons to shooting on film- all I can say is that fear of the technical aspects should not be one of them.

by Sahra Girshick

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Re: Back to Bolex

Postby anshulj on Sun Apr 13, 2008 11:44 am

good article, sahra. thanks for taking the time to write this. i had no idea what a bolex is. but now that i do.. maybe one day when the cost of film doesn't discourage me and i'm feeling a little brave, i'll come back to your article, read it again and go shoot my first FILM... yeah! Cheers mate!

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Re: Back to Bolex

Postby patkelman on Sat Jun 07, 2008 11:21 pm

Thanks for this post; it's pretty inspiring.

I've always loved film, who knows, if I get a chance to make a Jury Level film I may well go for it!


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