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16mm makes a comeback in British TV industry

Prashantt Rai

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Since this campaign was led by Directors UK I am sure there are many people who are interested in shooting film and that option was being denied to them.


coming to shooting ratios for TV program would mean shooting film would be expensive. look at this way that shooting digital creates 5 times for more footage and one editor is just not able to do justice by watching the rushes. he has to hire more people in the editorial team. and naturally, manpower is more expensive in west.


So it balances out.



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I suspect the productions that Super 16 will be used on are dramas, which tend not to have those huge excesses, BBC traditionally had about a 18 to 1 shooting ratio on their film dramas. However,TV producers and execs want a lot more coverage these days and give less control to the director and I can't see that changing except for name directors.

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6 years can't be right can it?

about three years ago I was looking to retrain as a colorist and was sitting in on lots of telecine sessions in order to learn Da Vinci; there was tons of super 16 from various TV dramas.


I don't like it but I can sort of see where the BBC was coming from when they banned 16mm. The faster more grainy stocks do look pretty nasty when heavily compressed to mpeg4; and while there are plenty of really affective tools for reducing said grain; I'm guessing the fast turn around for much of the TV work didn't allow time for these to be put to use.


I remember an operator complaining whenever there was a take with a hair in the gate, apparently these could be very easily salvaged through a number of different methods but they would just move on to the next hair-less take because of tight time constraints

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It is about 6 years, maybe more, I was working a the BBC until 2007 and remember that BBC HD had just launched [or was about to launch], There was a big BBC event for cinematographers and producers showcasing the BBC HD channel, I think it was in 2005, Everyone was told then that BBC HD would not accept material originated on Super 16. But programs were still shot on Super 16, though by 2012 there has been a growing trend towards digital capture, I was recently pleasantly surprised that some current mainstream television shows are still shot on Super 16.



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  • 2 weeks later...
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I'm afraid I don't really understand the excitement about this. Film was very rarely used on British television even when 16mm was "permitted", and even when it was, the budgets were often so low, and the ambitions of the producers so limited, that the shows didn't end up looking all that good anyway.


British TV drama often looks absolutely awful, sure, but the reason for that is not a lack of 16mm, it's a lack of time, money and taste.

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  • 2 weeks later...

There has been an update to this story today,


It seem that the BBC's intention is to allow S16mm for acquisition and then only transmit it in Standard Definition, and not HD.


In the article there are specific examples of material that has been shot on S16mm since the ban that has been aired year after year but only in SD. It's a shame that a format that when shot well can produce such amazing images is treated in this way, while the technical reasons for digital artifacts can be understood.


The artical can be found here, TVBEurope Super16mm: An SD delivery for HD http://ow.ly/qKLvv

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Film was very rarely used on British television even when 16mm was "permitted", and even when it was, the budgets were often so low, and the ambitions of the producers so limited, that the shows didn't end up looking all that good anyway.

I disagree. Prime Suspect, London's Burning and Spooks are just a few examples of TV drama shot on S16mm.

And some of it looked great :-p

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Spooks I've mentioned recently on this very forum as a counterexample; it often looked great. Prime Suspect was OK though frankly pretty average, and London's Burning looked like a soap opera, only shot on film. That's exactly what I mean when I say limited. It was shot on film but it was still a bit available-light, or bounce a blonde into the ceiling and meter for exposure. The BBC should stop people shooting film on stuff like that, because it's never going to look anything anyway and there's no point in the expense, not that London's Burning was a BBC show anyway.



But my point remains, I think: Prime Suspect ceased production in 2006 and London's Burning hasn't been made for over a decade. And those are the only examples we can come up with? Please.


The ban is irrelevant. We weren't shooting any film anyway, and when we did, it was feeble.



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I disagree, quite a lot of stuff was shot on 16mm, The fact is that here in British broadcasting I believe film has always been disliked, film has been has always been seen as a tool reserved by the wealthier classes. Probably because those associated with film usually came from more privileged backgrounds. I have quickly put together a small list of TV programmes that I have recently seen that have been shot on film, I am sure there are many more.


Poirot [original series regular 16mm, 1989- 2001, Super 6 2001-2008, 3 perf 35mm 2009- 2012]

Agatha Christie Marple [super 16, 2004-2007, 3 perf 35mm 2007-2013]

Merlin [super 16 until 2011 then 3 perf 35mm

New Tricks [super 16 until 2012]

Accused [2010]

Jonathon Creek [super 16 1997-2010]

Doc Martin [suiper 16 2004-2013]

Hustle [super 16 2004-2006

Spooks [super 16 2002-2011]

Ashes to Ashes [2008 -2009]

Mistresses [super 16 2008-2009]

Five Days [super 16 2007-2010]

The Jury [super 16 2002]



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I guess that one's opinion on the respective qualities of digital recording as opposed to true "filming" are best described as "subjective", since there is no "standard" by which the two can be judged. Having watched the final four Poirot stories, which it has been pointed out, were were recorded digitally, unlike the those which preceded them, I have to say that as a viewer I think the imagery of the final four lacked something. In my view the earlier filmed stories were visually much better. What this demonstrates, I suggest, is, apart from the subjective nature of the consideration of the imagery, that as things stand at the present time digital recording of imagery as opposed recording on film is very much a case of both having their respective place.


It is because I think this that I record both digital and film imagery, and do so because I believe that both have their place.


I can't say that I have seen all of the productions mentioned by Mr Deep, but those that seen I have have registered with me as being excellent. I am therefore delighted that the BBC have finally been persuaded of the error of their ways.

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  • 1 month later...

It was obviously a success: http://www.directors.uk.com/about-us/news/uk-broadcasters-accept-super16mm-film-hd-channels


It can only be a good thing, if BBC producers/directors (and DPs) can have a creative freedom of choice of media. In the US, commercial feature film director Christopher Nolan still always favors Super35mm over digital capture (ALEXA or RED).

Here in Sweden, the 'Merlin' series has been aired for several years now, and it has always looked very, very good. The cinematography is also nice and tight, moving in close on actors during dialogue. Grading is first-rate. 'Poirot', during later years, has also been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, not only from narrative merit but also from a cinematography point of view.

Long live Super16,
Bengt in Stockholm

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I second the vote for Merlin.


I never really understood the look on Misfits because I felt a bit like the nasty look they were going for could have looked a bit nastier if it was shot on video cameras but then I suppose it gave a different look especially when combined with the lens baby stuff.


Overall I think Phil is right that there wasn't many productions shooting on Super16 but a big part of that was the fact that there weren't many dramas shot in the UK as the industry here was mostly going wild for reality TV and cheap and nasty documentaries and whatever else the BBC thinks it can pass off as being "factual".


On the other hand, there has been a bit of a resurgence of interest in drama as the TV companies come to terms with the fact that they have to actually compete for audiences attention these days.


I seem to remember there were also some costume dramas shot on Super16 that looked quite nice when properly transferred and there are of course a lot of the UK's movies that are basically made for TV movies and some of those look way better shot on Super16.


I think it's great that Super16 is allowed again. Yes there is an issue that the BBC's own productions are not going to look much better if shot on film. (I've been on a BBC set and was amazed at the stuff I saw going on there!) However I think it's great for independents like Shine (Merlin, Spooks etc) who want to use film to try and produce more quality productions for the international market.


More choice is a good thing.



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