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George Ebersole

Super-16 question; cost effectiveness

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I recently got my set of "Sharpe's Rifles" on bluray, and the detail is incredible. When I first saw this series back in the 1990s on PBS the series looked like it was shot on standard 16mm and transferred to 3/4" tape for broadcast. The series is still good, but again the image looked like your standard BBC "shoot exteriors on 16mm film" production from the 1980s and before.

 

Checking the IMDB website the technical specs say the show was shot on super-16. I checked because the image quality was outstanding, so much that I thought it had actually been shot on 35.

 

So, given what I've recently seen, I'm curious why more shows weren't shot on super-16 as a cost saving measure.

 

Does anyone have any insight?

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No, but just to correct IMDB, you are right that the original Sharpes were standard ratio. There was no widescreen TV in 1993.

However the repeats here are being screened in cropped widescreen which is very annoying. The revivals in 2006 and 8 were widescreen so presumably shot super-16.

Incidentally it wasn't made by the BBC, who did make their flagship shows on standard 16mm, studio and location- Bergerac, Shoestring, you probably know them already.

Is the bluray widescreen or standard? If it's widescreen you're losing quite a bit, and it's a deplorable practice, but it suits the battle scenes somewhat.

I'm almost ashamed that I saw GWTW in widescreen on the 1990 re-release. Clark Gable was cut off at the eyebrows.

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I did not know that about "Gone with the Wind". Yeah, that film was shot standard ratio. I wonder why they changed it.

 

The Sharpe series is indeed widescreen. When I saw it way back when the first two or three films in the series had very minor letterboxing. Then after that, the rest were standard 4:3 TV ratio, as well as subsequent reairings, including the first three films. To me that was just strange.

 

But the image quality is really superb. I'm just baffled why more shows didn't shoot super-16 as a cost saving measure.

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Yeah, it looks like there's more image than when I first saw it, and from my old BFS DVDs.

 

Truly, this series looks stunning in bluray. You can actually see the fabric textures, leaves and blades of grass and so forth. Detail on skin, strands of hair, it looks "sharp" (pun intended), and the colors are really vibrant, where with the old BFS set they look flat and the red bleeds.

 

I seem to recall Lucas shot his Young Indiana Jones' Chronicles on Super-16. I wonder if that'll get reissued in bluray.

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I mean lower ISO (fine grain) stock is pretty darn crisp on S16. Modern S35mm lenses also help to create a very crisp image.

 

If you're looking for good S16 references; "Jackie" and "Carol" are the two I'd watch.

 

Remember a lot of older shows, even if restored, have elements that can't be restored so a lot of times in post, they'll soften the other cleaner elements to make them match.

 

It's much better to study new shows because you can't shoot on old film stocks...

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I guess my real question is, is anybody shooting on S-16? I mean are there any major productions using it?

 

Mark; there appears to be more image from the original DVD and broadcast versions as per Brian's anecdote. It really looks great.

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All of Alex Ross Perry's films, Suffragette, Doc Martin, Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Mediterrania, as well as Jackie and Carol as Tyler mentioned are all recent S16 productions. It's obviously not as common as 35mm but yes people are still shooting S16.

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Dom, American Horror Story was mostly 35mm, and I believe this most recent season was digital. Not to say they didn’t use any S16 – I just cross-checked the AC story on the show and it says 35mm. “Crashing” is the first (American) cable TV drama to shoot 35mm since AHS switched.

Edited by Kenny N Suleimanagich

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I guess my real question is, is anybody shooting on S-16? I mean are there any major productions using it?

Outside of The Walking Dead, no there isn't anyone else using 16mm on Television.

 

Super 16 has made a comeback in the last few years, starting with Moonrise Kingdom.

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All of Alex Ross Perry's films, Suffragette, Doc Martin, Walking Dead, American Horror Story, Mediterrania, as well as Jackie and Carol as Tyler mentioned are all recent S16 productions. It's obviously not as common as 35mm but yes people are still shooting S16.

 

Wow, Suffragette was S16mm? I had no idea. Perhaps it was the widescreen ratio that threw me. I saw it in 2k digital projection, but never would have guessed it was the smaller format.

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Look at "I Am Not A Serial Killer", an indie horror film with Christopher Lloyd, and an all grown-up Max Records, it came out last year and it looks bangin'. I made cost comparisons between super 16 & 2 perf 35mm for this project of mine, and honestly, there's barely one, I thought super 16 would be much cheaper, it is not, so imo the choice is a no-brainer between the two formats. I like super 16, I don't love it nearly as much though. Unless the project calls for it for some reason (period like Jackie & Carol, grittiness ala The Wrestler, or sorta period for Steve Jobs), I feel the look is so specific, incredibly grainy, that it just makes more sense to go 35mm.

 

Even 2 perf 35mm looks so much denser, grain is obviously infinitely more refined, definition, resolution, etc, take a look lately at The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, On The Road, etc, let's not even talk about 3 perf (Nocturnal Animals is a great example recently).

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I believe HurtLocker is the only s16 mm shot film to win Oscar Best Picture.. Barry Ackroyd still has his Aaton and likes to use it when possible..

Edited by Robin R Probyn

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With new stock, the cost difference between Super 16 and 2 perf 35mm is double. You are shooting double the amount of film for the same amount of time AND the stock costs double per foot. So stock, processing and transfer is double. Plus transfer houses charge more per foot for 35mm then 16mm straight off the bat.

 

There are also two other issues with 2 perf. One... it has a hard matte top and bottom. So if there is any dirt collection, it will be noticed on the edges of the frame. Most 2 perf movies have edge cleanup in at least one roll of film. Two... there are only a dozen or so 2 perf cameras in the world. So companies who own them, aren't renting them for cheap. For instance, if you go to Panavision to rent a 35mm camera, they will give you a 3 perf or 4 perf body for practically free, if you rent spherical lenses. They won't do that deal with 2 perf bodies. So now all of a sudden you're paying for a camera body you normally wouldn't be paying much for. Plus... MOST 35mm cameras you have to thread the camera. So your down time on 35mm is 3 times that on 16mm, which is a coaxial based magazine system. This is why so many people like the Aaton 35mm cameras because they're coaxial, but they're hard to find rental wise and people charge a lot for them. So 35mm no matter what, is substantially more costly to shoot then 16mm, not just technically, but also in down time.

 

Personally, I think for 1.75:1 (HD) aspect ratio productions, Super 16 does a very good job. I think a lot of cinematographers try to push 16mm into places it shouldn't go (cropped 1.85;1 and 2.35:1 with underlit 500ISO stock), which is why you see so many noisy/grainy movies. Honestly a well-lit, dense, 200 or 250 iso S16mm negative @ 1.75:1 aspect ratio (or even 1.67:1 native), looks fantastic. Plus, S16mm cameras are A LOT lighter, smaller, loads last longer (less down time) and the cost to shoot is rock bottom for professional level film. Kodak will help anyone get the pricing that fits their budget AND labs will generally do the same thing. So S16 does have A LOT of strong points and considering there have been quite a few S16 movies released recently, people appear to be very accepting of the added grain. I thought Jackie looked outstanding, very low-noise.

 

One final note... the beautiful 4 perf 35mm field of view that people like, is the defining difference between 16mm and 35mm in my opinion. With 2 perf 35mm, that field of view is totally different, it's no longer the huge benefit it once was. Sure, it's better then S16, but it's nowhere near that of 4 perf which is what people are USE to seeing, as most 2.40:1 35mm movies are anamorphic 4 perf.

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Not buying the film brand new. Some great prices out there with shortends or recans. I've had very very low prices for a 2 perf Gold GII at Panavision, that much is for sure. I'd be really surprised if they really "give" you a 3 or 4 perf body for practically nothing, if that's the case, might as well go 3 perf. I hear you on the rest, 16mm faster, camera bodies smaller too, but 16mm also feels lower budget to me, it's interesting that it really hasn't been used on big budget films (or for select scenes).

 

I'm not a fan of the 1:66, or 1:78 or 1:85 aspect ratio, anamorphic super 16 can look excellent (instead of wasting the negative with cropping in 2:35) but still, super 16 is imo too soft on wides, I'd say it can look very very good in extreme close-ups.

 

Sure, 2 perf ain't 4 perf, but it can still look great, just check out the examples I've given, 2 perf is no slouch, and the 50 % savings on transfer, processing and film stock is pretty substantial. Now of course, anamorphic 35mm is my favorite format by far, but it can't be cheap. Now, if you can really get great deals on 3 perf camera bodies, then 3 perf 35mm becomes a really good option, and it does look way denser than 2 perf.

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Here in Hollywood, Panavision really helps filmmakers who want to shoot 35mm. I've budgeted a few short films with them and they literally gave us a 3 perf body for free, only charging for the accessories and lenses. It's the best deal in Hollywood for shooting 35mm.

 

Of course, the problem is that Gold II packages weigh a lot, they aren't very portable and it takes a long time to rethread, far more then any modern Arri or Aaton. So if you're shooting 400ft loads (which is pretty common for short ends), you're changing film quite a lot and your cast and crew will be sitting around whilst this happens.

 

35mm short ends save a lot of money, around half the price of retail stock or less. Still though, you'd be paying close to 16mm prices, but using twice the stock... so the savings in the stock, doesn't cancel out shooting twice as much. I get stock for peanuts and even 3 perf 35mm is too expensive for me to shoot any appreciable project with. This is why I shoot 16mm almost exclusively, the cost is SO much less.

 

There is absolutely a 16mm aesthetic, most of that is field of view though in my opinion. If you use longer lenses and shoot wide open, you can help compensate for the depth of field issues. It's for sure a flatter feel no matter what you do.

 

No doubt 2 perf looks awesome and the larger negative is a huge benefit!

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So it's the lack of actual cameras that prevent more producers from going Super-16? Is that right, or am I misinterpreting the replies here?

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So it's the lack of actual cameras that prevent more producers from going Super-16? Is that right, or am I misinterpreting the replies here?

No, no, super 16 cameras are a dime a dozen. You could buy cameras on ebay for less money then it would cost to rent them for a 30+ day shoot.

 

The reason people don't shoot super 16 is because a lot of distributors are scared of the quality. Plus, the cost difference for a big show between S16 and 3 perf 35mm (the standard today) is negligible on a multi-million dollar movie. So any movie you see in the theater shot on 16, they didn't use it to save money, they used it as an aesthetic choice.

 

What I mentioned earlier was 2 perf 35mm cameras being rare. Kenny says 100, I say there are only two dozen available world wide for rental. I know of 6 modern Arri's that are 2 perf in the US.

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The main market for super 16 was in broadcast TV, once that went HD and Super 16 was not accepted as HD, the need for so many cameras fell away.

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The main market for super 16 was in broadcast TV, once that went HD and Super 16 was not accepted as HD, the need for so many cameras fell away.

 

 

Rapidly followed by the job called camera assistant ,in most broad cast TV..

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With new stock, the cost difference between Super 16 and 2 perf 35mm is double. You are shooting double the amount of film for the same amount of time AND the stock costs double per foot. So stock, processing and transfer is double. Plus transfer houses charge more per foot for 35mm then 16mm straight off the bat.

 

There are also two other issues with 2 perf. One... it has a hard matte top and bottom. So if there is any dirt collection, it will be noticed on the edges of the frame. Most 2 perf movies have edge cleanup in at least one roll of film. Two... there are only a dozen or so 2 perf cameras in the world. So companies who own them, aren't renting them for cheap. For instance, if you go to Panavision to rent a 35mm camera, they will give you a 3 perf or 4 perf body for practically free, if you rent spherical lenses. They won't do that deal with 2 perf bodies. So now all of a sudden you're paying for a camera body you normally wouldn't be paying much for.

No its not More expensive. Stock cost for 2 perf are higher, that is all. In 2 perf you get 8:55 for 400 feet in S16 you get 11:22 for 400 feet. so not double or half, but nearly the same. It is double in width not length. You pay more per foot for 35mm stock period, after that the per foot price is almost always CHEAPER THAN 16MM. Processing and transfer per foot are cheaper for 35, despite pull down. So other than the initial cost of the stock, it is cheaper by at least the published rate of most labs. With a feature film or any project, the discounts could be even greater. There are many examples often published here of young "film first timers" shooting 2 perf and loving it. 5219 even pushed two stops in 2 perf has very manageable grain. Depending upon it presentation, (TV, web) it can appear grain free.

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Yes Tyler - probably only a handful for rental. Arri CSC has two (total), Clairmont has some and then Panavision has the GII. The Penelope is no longer available to rent from Abel. There were only 40-50ish made... and then probably a few dozen in private hands... so it's sort of a non-starter. One recent production in NYC shot 2-Perf for 1.85 center extract because producers forbade S16.

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