Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Digital World 

Tonight, I transferred some old Super-8 movies to digital video, during which time I had occassion to thank the powers that be that I got to be an adult in the digital world. The movies were from college, actually made in the dying days of Super-8, that weird era when it was still cheaper to shoot things on film than it was to upgrade to video. (At the time, giant, expensive cameras that shot onto VHS tape. And for the kidlets who don't know what Super-8 was -- it was a form of film half the size of 16 mm. Er... one fourth the size of 35 mm. Most of us couldn't afford sound Super-8, so it was silent movies with soundtracks recorded on cassette tape, fingers crossed that it'd sync up in class. But, I do digress...)

Anyway, as I went through the process of trying to transfer these films to a modern form, I found myself constantly cursing, and wondering how the hell any of us put up with an analog world. Splices broke, take-up reels refused to take up (spilling acres of footage on the floor), film insisted on curling up into tangled jumbles when liberated from their reels. And I couldn't help but realize that the totally square image of Super-8 had far less resolution than the cinema format video I can shoot now.

But, the real point of this rant is this: somewhere between the late 80s and now, humankind was given control over the electron, and it has revolutionized our world. Way back then, making a movie involved physically cutting and splicing bits of celluloid, and in the filming process, it was impossible to tell if everything worked out right. Under or over exposed? Tough shit, kid -- you'd have no idea until the film came back from the lab. Not to mention that editing on the original was a totally destructive process. Make the cut a frame too late or too early? Oops. Lost the frame you cut on. Sorry.

And I thank the powers that be that I'm an adult in the digital world, that I have a high-end camera that didn't cost an arm and a leg, that I can edit in the non-linear world, in a non-destructive manner, that I can correct and adjust and fix and do effects that would have been insane to even consider in Super-8 land. That I can add a soundtrack and sync it exactly, that I don't have to care whether I'm using up footage because an hour and a half of Mini-DV tape costs next to nothing. And... that I can create a project and burn the whole thing to a surround-sound DVD, with multiple menus, and do it all from the comfort of my own home office.

Gives me flashbacks to the days that I was a boy, hunched over my home-made egg-carton film filing system, hacking together pieces of celluloid meticulously, taking hours to do what I can do in seconds now. And realizing that my parents did have a VCR then, but it was huge and clunky and expensive, and getting a video camera at the time to do the same would have cost me half my college fund and given me a right shoulder to make Arnold Schwarzenegger jealous.

Who says science doesn't march on? I just wish I were a freshman in film school now, because it would have been so much easier and cheaper. A big part of the reason I switched from a Directing to a Writing emphasis in my major was that I saved a good thirty or forty grand in not having to make a movie on 16-mm. But, today, I could go out in the streets with good friends who are actors, and shoot something even better for less than a grand. If that much.

The downside of it all? Sean Klitzner. Or maybe not. Sometimes he's good, sometimes he's not. Then again, there's this guy. So, I guess the net makes its own arguments against cheap video... or makes its own arguments for it.

But... trust me... it's so much easier to do this stuff with a few clicks and drags than it was to do it with bits of film and tape. And I love living in the digital age...

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