Super 8 mm Film Production: “God of Hell”

Shooting a Music Video On Super 8mm Film

This project started simply with the desire to learn more about using celluloid film as a capture medium. The original plan was to do a one-take of Chris Shepard singing his song God of Hell. After listening to the song, I started getting other ideas. As is the case with music, everyone gets something different out of it…different feelings, different meanings from the lyrics…it brings up old memories unique to the listener.

That’s what happened with me the more I listened.

“I wonder what Chris was thinking when he wrote the song?” I didn’t really want to know. I had my own idea of what it meant to me…visions and shit, that came to mind. So I finished my ideas then called him one day and told him what I had in mind. I didn’t want to get too far into it if Chris didn’t like the direction I was going. To my surprise he liked it and said “it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than where it actually came from.” As an artist, when you can say “here’s what I did, now the rest is up to you” and pass it on to the listener, viewer, reader, audience member, let them get from it what it means to them, and step away and not tell them what it means, that’s an amazing thing to do. Chris did that and let me take it where it went for me.

Canon Auto Zoom 814 Super 8 camera.
Canon Auto Zoom 814 Super 8 camera.

The Super 8 film format was a consumer format launched in 1965 by Eastman Kodak at the 1964-65 Worlds Fair. Although a huge improvement over regular 8mm film, it still had limitations for professional use. Cartridges limited to 50′ of film for about 2:30 run time at 24 fps, no crystal sync motor sync for sound, fixed lens cameras (for the most part), reversal stock, no video tap for monitoring the image to name a few. Today, even though no super 8 cameras are in production, there are a few sources for rebuilt cameras that address these problems and improve on the format. The same color negative film stocks used in 35mm and 70mm Hollywood films are available in Super 8mm today. The stock used in “God of Hell’ was Vision 3 50D and 250D color negative packaged and sold by Pro8mm in Burbank CA. For this shoot I purchased 7 cartridges for about 17:30 run time to produce a 4:30 film. The shoot was scheduled as one 12 hour day and we got it done in that time thanks to my crew of dedicated professionals.

This shoot was also an exercise in working within hard limitations. My goal was to do the entire shoot on film, but a digital camera was on hand as a back up if we ran short on film or in case the 40 year old Canon 814 AZ failed. We managed to get the entire shoot done without having to go digital. I chose to budget one take for each shot with a little buffer for possibly two takes and pre-roll/post-roll for each take. There were 3 shots that we did in two takes. It was also an exercise in blocking shots, lighting, rehearsing, then shoot the take. If we got it, we got it, if not…oh well. I used 2 cartridges of film to cover the entire song in a master shot, so regardless of the outcome, I knew I had at least what I needed to execute the original idea.

Another hurdle was that there is no video tap for video assist on Super 8 cameras, so no-one but I could see what was being shot and there was no playback. For shots where I could not not keep my eye against the eyepiece to prevent light from coming in and “fogging” the film, I had to close the eyepiece, shoot blind, and sight down the length of the camera to aim it.

Dave on set of God of Hell shooting with the Canon Auto Zoom 814 Super 8 camera with wide angle adapter.
Dave on set of God of Hell shooting with the Canon Auto Zoom 814 Super 8 camera with wide angle adapter.

Canon is known for making some of the finest lenses around, even in their consumer products. This holds true for vintage cameras as well. The limitation here was having a small 8mm image plane with a fixed mount zoom lens with a focal length of 7.5mm-60mm. That translates to roughly 48mm-384mm in a 35mm lens equivalent. I wanted a wider field of view so I bought a wide angle adapter. The problem was that the Canon 814 AZ lens does not have a macro setting, which is needed for a wide angle adapter. With the adapter screwed on, the image through the eyepiece looked pretty good as long as I did not zoom through. This is where my “fuck it, I’m gonna try it anyway” attitude turns into a “live and learn” opportunity (it’s happened in many areas of my life actually…not just filmmaking). The shots using the wide adapter came out a little soft. It also appears that there was a very short range in which I could get a decent image, even if it appeared focused in the eyepiece.

On the whole, the shoot and resulting video turned out great. A crucial part of that was the talented and professional cast and crew that put forth their best efforts and skills. Most of us had worked together before. Those that hadn’t, displayed a level of professionalism that made it seem like we had.

Watch the video.
Visit Chris Shepard’s Reverb Nation page to hear more of his music.
Visit “God of Hell” on IMDB.