• Gerry

Something in the river

Alan writes ...

“How Things Have Changed” In the last Newspage, Gerry mentioned that one of our earlier drama films, “Something in the River”, was partly shot on film. In fact, it was all shot on Super- 8 cine film. The movie was conceived and directed by Suzie Prichard, a rather ebullient New Yorker, who came to the Club when we met at The Arts Centre. I was not personally involved with any of the filming but, once this was complete, was assigned the role of editor. The film had been shot with sound cameras (not all cine cameras could do this back then) and I was handed a stack of 50-foot reels, and asked to get on with it.

We don’t know how lucky we are today when it comes to both filming and editing our movies. For a start, the sound was usually recorded on a narrow strip of magnetic tape (“stripe”) along the edge of the film. Being narrow, and only moving relatively slowly, the sound quality was never that good – especially with the higher frequencies needed to understand speech. The major problem, though, was the way in which the pictures and sound were recorded on the film. Unlike video, they were separate from each other, and in different places along the ‘celluloid’. This was because the film had to move intermittently through the image gate, but the sound needed steady movement through the recording head. It was achieved by having an 18-frame loop of film, between the film ‘gate’ and the sound recording head, to allow for smoothing the motion. That’s usually a full one second! Consequently, cutting the film, based on the picture, meant that the last second of recorded sound was lost.

And, similarly, the first second of each clip had no corresponding sound. What to do? One method, that was often used with dramas and comedies, was to film the last one second of the previous piece of dialogue at the start of the each new ‘take’. This way, the sound of any speech, from one clip, would be a fairly good match with the moving lips from the next. As the mis-match only lasted for one second, it usually didn’t seem too bad. (I hope that this makes sense. Believe me, it did work!) Another method involved copying the sound off the original footage onto an external tape (before any editing) and then putting it back onto the stripe, in line with picture; this was called ‘level sync’. The film was then edited. It meant, of course that, if the edited film was played through a projector, the sound would now be out-of-sync with the picture by eighteen frames. So, it had to be taken off the stripe again, onto tape, shifted forwards by 18 frames and put back onto the film. All these transfers resulted in pretty awful sound quality, and few producers took this route.

The method used to edit “Something in the River” was different again. When at my old Club, in Rochdale, one of our members invested in a low-budget editing deck, that provided two locked-together sprocket drives – one for the film and the other for perforated recording tape (perforations were needed to avoid any ‘slippage’ between the two). It included a viewer for the images and a recording head for the sound. The sound could either be taken, in sync, from the film stripe or, better still, from a separate tape recorder. It was a very ‘fiddly’ system but allowed the film and tape to each be cut and spliced back together in perfect sync (well, usually perfect). Music and sound effects were recorded on a second track on the tape, and then mixed together with the dialogue.

Fortunately, we were able to borrow this gear to edit our movie. Otherwise, we would have had a stack of largely unusable reels of film. There! I said how lucky we are today; until, of course, our computer crashes. Having completed the editing, we had our one copy of the film – something that we learned to live with back in the days of Super-8. But, this was also the time when video was starting to become available to amateur movie makers, so we decided that the film justified having a professional transfer made to the new medium. It was done, as I recall - it was many years ago - by Central TV in Birmingham. They used a ‘flying spot’ telecine machine, in which a very narrow beam of light is scanned across the moving film. I can’t remember what it cost us (bound to be in the records somewhere) but the result was much better than could have been achieved by simply projecting the movie onto a screen and filming with a video camera. As for the artistic aspects of the film, you will have to be the judges; we hope to show it this evening.

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