Friday, June 04, 2010

Thirty Years of "Film-making"

My dad is a photographer - a real one. When I was little, I would join him in the basement darkroom and watch him develop pictures. There were gray plastic tubs of smelly chemicals and curly rolls of cellophane film held up with clips, all illuminated by a spooky red light. Pop had an enlarger, and developed both black-and-white and color film. His prize possession was (and probably still is) his Nikon FTN which his friend, a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, purchased for him while on leave in Japan. This is the camera NASA brought to the moon.

When I started working at the age of 15 (this would have been 1979, ten years after the first moon walks), my first real purchase with my own money was a camera of my own - a Nikon FM.
I didn't have a darkroom, and I am no photographer - to be sure. But I just like to take pictures.
When I was 16, I bought a used Super-8 movie camera. I don't even remember the brand. But it made my photographs come alive. I really didn't have any other friends who were into shooting movies. My camera didn't shoot sound. Not long after that, I was able to get a more sturdy movie camera that did have a plug in for a microphone. But given that I only shot very brief clips, I just never made any sound movies. I did, however, buy a used Chinon Sound 6100 projector that made use of a bulb that cost more than a day's salary and had an estimated life of 8 hours. I was even able to get free movies from the library. The VCR and video stores were not yet on the radar screen.

Back in those days, you could buy Super-8 film for about five bucks a roll. It cost (if I remember right) about 8 bucks to develop. And what you got (assuming it came out okay) was four minutes of silent, choppy film footage. But man, was it cool! It was a big deal to load up the projector and watch actual moving pictures.

I did mess around a bit with a video camera (that used the little tape cassettes) back in the early 1990s. In fact, I need to dig out some footage (with sound) that I shot of friends sitting at the Mayflower Restaurant in 1991 - footage that includes the future Mrs. Hollywood. But for the most part, I've been content to shoot still pictures with my Nikon FM or with a couple subsequent low-end digital cameras.

Fast forward to today.

My Nikon FM has been silent for decades. Film cameras are antiquated. I don't think you can even get Super-8 movie film any more. My video cam is now out of date. I take pictures with a digital Nikon CoolPix - a hand-me-down from my dad - who is still a real photographer, and who now has a Nikon digital SLR. I had not bought a new camera in nearly 20 years. However, just a couple weeks ago, I finally bought a new piece of photographic equipment: a Kodak ZxD handheld pocket digital camcorder.

What an amazing little camera!

It's cheap (less than $100), small enough to secret in one's pocket, rugged (even weatherproof), easy to use, does HD (up to 720p at 60 fps), and even takes decent still pictures. It is expandable with SD cards (I already had a 16 GB card ready to use) and takes standard or rechargeable AA batteries (two NiMH are included, along with a nice little charger). The camera's software is loaded on the camera and installs itself, and all the cables are included to link the camera to the computer or to the TV.

I'm impressed.

And so, thirty years after I shot my first grainy silent video footage on Super-8, I'm now shooting movies again, this time digitally and in high definition with sound. And with YouTube, there are no more expensive trips to the drugstore and long waits to watch after setting up a projector and screen. Anyone around the world with a laptop and internet can watch instantly.

So, I started uploading a few films to my youtube channel. And of course, like all "home movies" - they will be utterly boring to anybody but a handful of family and friends.

Maybe some day I can convert my old Super-8 home movies to digital - film that includes footage of my parents, grandparents, brother, friends, and even a couple seconds of my beloved great grandmother, who was herself born not all that long after Thomas Edison made the first movies. And while the video that we shoot today is rather dull and ordinary, it will be historic footage for our great-grandchildren and will chronicle a way of life that will seem as quaint and nostalgic as silent Super-8 movies made in the 1980s - or kinetoscope movies filmed in the 1890s - do today.


Scott Diekmann said...

It wasn't my first purchase, but I bought a Nikon FM with my on funds as well. Still got it, although like you, I don't use it anymore, although I'm not giving it up either. That thing took great photos. I've now got too many digital cameras, including a 35mm.
My Nikon Coolpix is dead. I dropped it and now it gives the famous Nikon error message "lens error." I'll probably send it in to get it fixed, although I actually like the Panasonic Lumix I replaced it with better.

Rev. Jack A. Kozak said...

Just to help clarify: the Nikon F cameras taken to the moon remained in the Command Module and and were not taken in the LM to the lunar surface. Cameras used in the vacuum of space were 70mm Hasselblads specifically modified for that purpose. There is a wealth of information on the internet that goes indepth on Apollo camera equpment.

Rev. Jack A. Kozak said...

Funny story. In 1989 my wife and I were expecting our first child. My dad very thoughtfully decided it was time to pass on the trusty Keystone 8mm movie camera to me. For some reason, he didn't have the Kleig Lights that nearly blinded anyone unfortunate enough to be inside when he was filming. Anyway, I thanked him and said: "Dad, you know this is obsolete." He protested: "What do you mean? It was new when I bought it!"

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Scott:

I know what you mean. It's such a remarkable piece of equipment. It's too remarkable for the trash bin and too antiquated for the use for which it was so-well designed.

I guess that's why we have museums. :-)

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Jack:

Good stuff! The rate of technological advance is dizzying. Gads, CDs are today basically what 45 rpm records were when I was a kid.

"It was new when I bought it."