Charles’ F3, the one that I redeemed myself on, went pretty well last Sunday and Monday. The house we shot at was amazing, all ten cast members arrived on time and were great, and even Goodwood went off without a hitch. Of course a show can’t be perfect, which is why we had a little snag at the end of the day.
Just to give a little background on film, we shoot Super 16. It comes in rolls of 400 feet which must be loaded into a magazine in a light tight tent that your hands fit into. If you took a photography class in the pre-digital days it’s quite similar. The roll is threaded through the mag, loaded on the take up side and snapped onto the camera. Once shot the mag is taken back into the bag with a film can and downloaded, or moved from the mag into the light tight can. While we have, or should have, a workshop covering this with dummy rolls (small short ends or rolls that were flashed), nothing compares to loading a fresh, full roll. Or downloading it.
Downloading is obviously much more important and nerve wracking, as you are handling everyone’s time and hard work. It’s also slightly trickier. While a new roll has a core that snaps on, an exposed role must be removed without a core. If you’re not careful, the film can spool out, meaning the inside begins to unwind, which is exactly what happened.
Camera was wrapped, I was cleaning up, getting ready to move out when Justin, the First Assistant Camera, comes to me. “I think we might have a problem downloading.” I go inside to find the Second AC with hands in the tent, fortunately only downloading a 100ft roll. Charles and I try to diagnose the problem. He says the inside has come undone, which means it spooled. Typically the fix for this is to slowly wind the inside back in the center. It doesn’t have to be tight, just flat for transport.
The AC couldn’t do it. So I offered to go in the bag. We went into a bathroom, where it was fairly darker, and switched places. I felt around and got my bearings. I tried to wind the center up, but so much had spooled out I couldn’t wind it tight enough and get everything in.
My only solution was to take the other end and load the film backwards, winding it back on the mag and using that to keep it tight. I started doing this and it worked for a while, until the film started to wrap around itself and become one giant, tangled mess. Of course I couldn’t see it, but I’m pretty sure it creased a few times, which could put some light spectacles on the film. And just handling the film so much is not good.
Eventually the film tangled so much it could not go into the mag. It was late, we were still at the location, keeping the owner up, and the darkroom at school was locked. So I had to tear the film, untangle the mess, and start a second roll.
At 1 AM, two and a half hours after going into the tent, the tangle was undone and the entire roll was safely in two cans. I wrote a nice, long essay to the lab and I’m hoping they can splice the two halves together after they’ve been processed. The bigger issue might be creases and over handling. We’ll find out Wednesday.
During this ordeal, Charles and I were talking about how this wouldn’t happen with digital and it’s insane that our original footage is subjected to this with no backup. I love film, but it’s experiences like these that make me want this.