16 @ 86 - The unstoppable sweet 16

How long will the format you are shooting now last?

16mm is 86 years old and getting better every time you shoot it! Who would have believed that a format invented and introduced by KODAK in 1923 would still be such an active format today?

How could the 16mm format have lasted this long? It’s simple really - it packs punch in quality and shooting speed. Some producers who’ve tasted digital are starting to understand that it is slower to shoot than 16mm film and that the promised cost differences are not quite what they may seem when all is considered. Digital’s biggest problem is that it promotes ‘directorial dithering’ through excessive shooting ratios - because of the unfounded belief that shooting more doesn’t cost anything. Strangely film helps focus the shoot on what’s important, because its perceived as costly - but the biggest cost is actually time on set.

16 has grown through nearly a century - through the eras where electronic formats were lucky to survive 10 years!

Where’s 2” Quad videotape now? Where’s 1”Helical - A B and C format? Where’s UMatic? BVU? Betamax, Standard Betacam, SP Betacam M1, M2,D1, D2, D3 - I could go on and bore you over the 100 videotape formats that promised the death of film - and now all been forgotten along with their ardent advocates!

16 continues to be so accessible - so easy to archive - but all the plethora of videotape formats leave as a legacy is an archiving nightmare!!

Its easy to fool yourself that in the digital age the archiving issue of magnetic media isn’t a problem. It is - and if you want/need your product to live on - in this digital age you must not only archive your media, but the machines and software it was created on - and hope like hell that at some later date you can un-scamble the egg and retrieve your images!

After nearly 40 years of shooting it, film continues to amaze me. Recently I was asked to shoot some period plates in HD for a TV series set in the late ‘70’s and early 80’s. It was a bit of a tough one because most of the locations of today, look nothing like they did back then. Cars have changed dramatically, trees have grown where they never existed, lots of people smoked and no one had mobile phones! Digital electronic signage didn’t exist, unless it was a tranny with a light inside, or a neon, and there were no woks on roofs to get satellite TV.

So I suggested to the Producer that I trawl through our film library at Lemac and find some stock shots of the period - and to my surprise they said “don’t bother - we’re shooting HD - it will never match our quality!!! I begged to differ in that concept! In fact the comment was really like waving a red rag to a bull! I set out to prove them wrong, and it wasn’t that hard. So after quite a bit of searching I took a pile of rusty old cans down to Dee on the SPIRIT HD telecine at DIGITAL PICTURES in Melbourne, then later with Simon on the SPIRIT at the POST LOUNGE in Queensland, and transferred history on film into HD. The result - the Producers loved it and wanted more!

The message is simple - film originals often contain a lot more information than what we’ve ever got out of it in the past. Film originals, via telecine or printing, is really only a ‘representation’ of what is really on that camera negative - as seen through the scanning technology of that time.

A film negative can hold an incredible amount of information that can go unseen. The only caveat being is that the original has to be exposed reasonably and shot in focus with good glass too!

The lesson? Hang onto that film - digital imaging still has a lot of catching up to do - especially when it comes to speed on set. Have a read of the SUPER SCAN ME article!

And finally SUPER 16 would not keep progressing if it wasn’t for the continual development of the ‘media.’ KODAK keeps introducing more fabulous stocks (500T and now the new 250D) - so here’s to the next 86 years on SUPER 16!

John Bowring ACS (Cinematographer and Managing Director, Lemac)

What’s Shot Super 16?

  • H2O - S16-TV Series - DP - Butch Sawko
  • East of Everything - S16-TV Series - DP B Lavelle
  • Elephant Princess - S16-TV series - Darrell Martin
  • Wilfred - S16 TV Series - Germain McMicking
  • Blessed - S16 Feature - Geoff Burton
  • My Year Without Sex - S16 - Feature
  • Scrubs - S16-HDTV-OS Series
  • Lock, Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels - S16 OS/F
  • March of the Penguins - S16 OS Feature
  • Jackass The Movie - S16 OS Feature
  • Kidnapped - S16- NZTV - Series - Geoff Hall
  • Orange Roughies - AMinima S16-NZ TV Series
  • Chasing Amy - S16 OS Feature
  • City of God - S16 OS Feature
  • The OC - S16 OS TV Series
  • Sex and the City - S16 OS TV Series
  • The Shield - S16 TV Series
  • Nightstalker - TV Series
  • Lake Mungo - S16 - Feature - DP J Brawley