While kids today can shoot HD-quality shorts using their cell phones, many prominent filmmakers are now reflecting upon the early days of using the Super 8 film format for their first movie experiments. That experience is key to the upcoming feature film Super 8 — a 1979-era monster tale, written and directed by J.J. Abrams, seen through the eyes of a group of kids playing around with a camera. But as hype for the film begins to build, the Super 8 film format itself is gaining some momentum.
Pro8mm, a Burbank, CA-based company specializing in Super 8 and 16mm production services, is one of the companies working to push the format forward. Not only did the company rent cameras and film to the Abrams production, but they’ve been independently evangelizing for Super 8’s unique look with contests, seminars and other promotions, like traveling to film festivals to let attendees experiment with the technology.
The Super 8 movement, according to Pro8mm event coordinator Jaclyn Vigeant, is nowhere near fading away, especially as a new generation discovers the fun of shooting with real film as opposed to digital. “A lot of young people in the digital world have this fascination with Super 8,” Vigeant said, and the format is still in active use for commercials, music videos and even wedding footage. Recent examples of those to use it include John Mellencamp and the Black-Eyed Peas.
Currently, Pro8mm is sponsoring a contest for anyone with a 8mm film rattling around in their attics: To enter the My Super 8 Movie Contest, all you need to do is put a digital version of your film on YouTube; the eight winners of the contest will receive a free HD scan of an original film or a film package from Pro8mm.
Interestingly, the idea for the contest came outside Pro8mm — specifically, from media consultant Nyay Bhushan, who was directly inspired by the upcoming Abrams film to find his first Super 8 film, a three-minute short called Chase.
Using a low-tech digitization technique — specifically, projecting the film against a wall and filming the projection with a digital camera — he was able to put it online, and began encouraging other people to do so on Facebook and other social media sites. He then reached out directly to Pro8mm with the idea for the contest, excited by the potential to connect with other people on a global level.
“Super 8 is a great way to make an aesthetic statement,” Bhushan told us in a phone interview. “It’s a format that is quite vintage, not quite nostalgia.”
For those looking to get a taste of the Super 8 experience without access to an actual camera, there’s an app for that: In conjunction with the film, Paramount has released a Super 8 iOS app that offers users the chance to shoot, edit and “develop” a Super 8-style film. The interface is simple and fun to use, the whirring film sounds and scratchy film quality immediately adding a nostalgic quality to something as simple as a video of your cat.
It doesn’t capture the physicality of playing with actual film, though, something Bhushan considers an advantage of actually shooting with Super 8. “It reminds you of the magic of movies,” he said. “The kids who made movies, they can’t see every frame until they look at it on a computer. With Super 8, you can just touch it.”
Just the look of a Super 8 film “provides something unique that will surpass other formats,” Vigeant said. “Super 8 is 30 years old, and with HD scanning it looks better than ever.”
For the new generation, Super 8 offers a new way to engage with the filmmaking process, adding a physicality lacking from digital production. Loyalists, Vigeant says, “call it the Super 8 lifestyle. They’ll use it no matter what other things come into play.”