Simulating Old Hand Cranked Newsreel

Published : 4th June 2005

I'm doing a short spoof documentary with a scene simulating old hand cranked newsreel footage. This is an in house joke project but still needs to look realistic, kind of a late April Fool.

I'm using an Arri S with a vari speed motor and I already have a 400 foot roll of Plus X Reversal.

I'm thinking the Plus X may look "too pretty" so would underexposing and push processing give me what I'm looking for or should I go for another stock? If with the plus X how many stops should I underexpose/push? I need the grain and contrast simulating stock from circa 1918-25.As for the hand crank look (damn! Just sold my Bolex Rex with a hand crank which would've been perfect)I'm thinking of having my AC vari the rheostat between 14 and 18 fps. The subject is a hunt in the Florida marshes for a mythical bird, so my light sources will vari from full undiffused sun to heavy overcast. I'm going for the naturalist filmmaker shooting with an Akeley.

Marty Hamrick
Photojournalist/cinematographer
WJXT TV Jax.,Fl


> I'm thinking the Plus X may look "too pretty"

Shoot w/ an intermediate film, or a print stock, rate at around ASA 6.

Have fun...
John Babl
Miami


Marty,

I've seen actual hand cranks for the Arri S on eBay (none on today, sadly).

I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult to just manufacture one or rig a crank at the back of the inching knob and crank it. As for the Plus-X... try shooting Tri-X, use ND and push or pull or otherwise abuse the stock.

One day I'd just love to make my own brass 'n wood box camera, get someone to grind me some optics and go wild.

Nathan Milford
"Proud owner of an Arri SB"
New York


Try a 23A (orange) filter. This will give you a bit of a soot and whitewash effect (try not to shoot on a nice day with fluffy cumulous clouds or it will look too pretty.

I do not think using a hand cranked camera should make any difference cos when I started at Movietone in 1941 almost all of my colleagues in the camera room were from that era and they could crank as steadily as any motor.

You could try running at 22 or even 20 fps to make it look a bit jerky, but as an old newsreel camera man myself (one of the last with nitrate film in my veins)I resent the implication that the look that those guys achieved had to look all that bad.

Or you could try 10 seconds in the blender before printing

Sincerely

David Samuelson


>when I started at Movietone in 1941 almost all of my colleagues in the >camera room were from that era and they could crank as steadily as >any motor.

Awesome!

Thanks for the suggestions.

I used to work for Russell Film Labs in Jacksonville.Fl and my boss, Gerden Russell was from that era as well. I wasn't talking about a serious jerkiness, just a slight variation in motion and exposure. Some cameramen were better than others and some cameras had better mechanisms than others. One other fellow from that era, Earl Jernigan of Gainesville,Fl told me of the "foot patting technique".16 fps = 2 foot taps per second or some such.

I like the filter suggestion too better than shooting on an intermediate film.

Thanks.

By the way, I'm one of two shooters in my shop who worked in TV news when we shot on Ektachrome film with Auricons and Bell and Howell 70 DR's. Most of the guys in my shop never even shot with a 3/4" deck and some have never edited tape to tape.

Is it just me or does the dinosaur syndrome spread quicker these days?

Marty Hamrick
Photojournalist/Cinematographer
Jax.,Fl


Marty Hamrick writes:

>Is it just me or does the dinosaur syndrome spread quicker these >days?

I think it's just you Marty. What's Ektachrome anyway?

Brian Heller
IA 600 DP


David Samuelson writes :

>as an old newsreel camera man myself (one of the last with nitrate film >in my veins)I resent the implication that the look that those guys >achieved had to look all that bad.

I was just watching a Harold Lloyd film print. The film was shot around 1913 (I believe) and it looked really good(the villain had a lot of make-up under his eyes lol...)

I guess the thing to keep in mind is that some handcranked stuff looked really good while others didn't I'm sure it depended on the operator, the camera design, processing, year, lighting, lens...

A Parvo had dual pin registration, but an Enermann didn't. And most of those cameras had a narrower shutter (and/or variable shutter)

John Babl


> some handcranked stuff looked really good while others didn't

People tend to forget that hand cranked footage was projected at the same tempo, so the footage looked great in real time.

We're usually watching silent films that have been transferred for viewing at 30fps NTSC format. It saddens me that the general population only sees older films cropped to 1:33 and given a jerkiness mandated by a different technology.

Kent Hughes
DoP
SoCal


David Samuelson wrote:

>I resent the implication that the look that those guys achieved had to >look all that bad.

I agree -- much old newsreel footage is really, really beautiful. I agree also that hand-cranking, when done well, doesn't add flicker -- most flicker associated with early films is due to processing variations, according to a friend who restores very early films.

Remember, they were often processed by winding the film on either flat racks or drums and immersing in large troughs of chemicals. Continuous processing didn't become really popular until the sound era made it necessary.

David Samuelson wrote:

>I resent the implication that the look that those guys achieved had to >look all that bad.

I agree -- much old newsreel footage is really, really beautiful. I agree also that hand-cranking, when done well, doesn't add flicker -- most flicker associated with early films is due to processing variations, according to a friend who restores very early films.

Remember, they were often processed by winding the film on either flat racks or drums and immersing in large troughs of chemicals. Continuous processing didn't become really popular until the sound era made it necessary.

Jeff "still likes cranking, though" Kreines


I have been mulling this over for quite awhile. I have access to a collection of old hand crank cameras and want to shoot some "period" film.

I finally decided that is isn't the handcranking that gave the image the "look," (as David S. mentioned), but the poor processing some of the film had, or the deterioration of the film because it wasn't correctly washed. This lead to the variable density that I associate with period film. I'm not sure how you would achieve that, but I have been pondering that as well.

BTW, my grandfather owned one of the first labs in Hollywood and the workers processed the film as quickly as they could and didn't always wash the film as long as they should've since it took more time and therefore cost more money. I don't think he, or the workers, realized how the film would deteriorate, but during that period of time, I'm sure his clients were not the studios and the film was strictly a commodity.

Mark Woods Director of Photography
http://www.markwoods.com/
Stills That Move
Pasadena, CA


Mark Woods wrote:

>BTW, my grandfather owned one of the first labs in Hollywood

So he was one of the first to suffer the "blame the lab" syndrome!

Jeff "sometimes they're blameless" Kreines


> Is Earl still around?

Sadly no and neither is Gerden Russell. I'm not sure what happened to both of their collections of old cameras and other cine equipment ,which is very sad because both gentlemen had collections to die for.

Marty Hamrick
former Editorial/Creative Services Manager
Russell Film Labs
Jacksonville,Fl.
1976-80


> I agree -- much old newsreel footage is really, really beautiful. I agree >also that hand-cranking, when done well, doesn't add flicker --

I know this for a fact myself. I used to shoot sports analysis films with a Bolex Rex V.I had a governor spring crap out on me halfway through the game. I disengaged the motor and hand cranked the rest of the film. If you weren't looking for it, you wouldn't notice a difference between what was from the Bolex's spring wound motor and what I hand cranked through.

That was the first and only time I have ever hand cranked film, except for doing in camera effects like multi pass work, maybe I'm a reincarnated old shooter from the hand crank days, lol. (by the way Jason Kollias, that was NOT the camera I sold you, the camera you now have is a Rex IV.

> I think it's just you Marty. What's Ektachrome anyway?

ROFLMAO! That's like me telling my teenage daughter we had to memorize states and capitals when I was in school and her replying with "Yes, but back then there were only thirteen of them to remember".

Marty Hamrick
Covered WW I in my past life
Jax.,Fl.


Vaughn Hamrick wrote:

> because both gentlemen had collections to die for.

Um, perhaps not the best way of phrasing it, Marty...

Jeff Kreines


> > because both gentlemen had collections to die for.

> Um, perhaps not the best way of phrasing it,

Perhaps better to say collections to live for and make enough money to own such a collection. Earl had everything from a Dupris (msp? Handcranked 35mm boxy thing) to a 35mm Auricon SOF as well as old Vitaphone projection system.

I think he also had pretty much every home movie camera and projector model made including an autoload 16mm from the 1930's. He was still looking for a 17.5mm camera/projector system the last time I saw him which was over 20 years ago. He was also the only person I know that had an Optasound ESTEC system, which I've been hard pressed to find super 8 cultists who still even remember what that was/is.

Marty Hamrick
Photojournalist/cinematographer
WJXT TV
Jax.,Fl.


Shooting with a deep blue filter will simulate the blue-sensitive camera negative films of that era. (Orthochromatic film was introduced by Kodak in 1917, and Panchromatic film in the early 1920's).

Your lab may be able to deliberately under-agitate or change the speed of the processing machine to simulate the non-uniform mottle found in the days before modern processing machines.

John Pytlak
EI Customer Technical Services
Eastman Kodak Company
http://www.kodak.com/go/motion


Nathan Ryan Milford writes :

>I've seen actual hand cranks for the Arri S on eBay (none on today, >sadly). I'm sure it wouldn't be difficult to just manufacture one or rig a >crank at the back of the inching knob and crank it.

A crank on the inching knob would be easy, as long as you don't mind cranking like a sonofabitch! Like there was no tomorrow! Like your pants were on fire! Or unless you were satisfied with about 6 fps at best.

Ideally you'd want a gearbox that plugged into the camera in place of the motor, with a low-speed crank on the side and a flywheel on the high-speed shaft. (Nice having that tacho there to gauge your cranking speed.. but watching it might take all the sport out of it!)

Jeff Kreines writes:

>Ricky Leacock says that they hummed marching tunes, which worked >nicely with two rotations per second.

The special FX guys must have used waltzes, polkas, and so forth

Dan "And acid rock for 59.94fps acquisition" Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA


Kent Hughes writes:

>It saddens me that the general population only sees older films >cropped to 1:33

And with another 10% cut off (usually lopsidedly) on the tube.

Dan "flatscreens still cut a bit off... but how much?" Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA


Mark Woods writes:

>I finally decided that is isn't the handcranking that gave the image the >"look,"

Well, there are a whole lotta variables :

Dramatic context, acting style, staging, costumes, sets, cars, architecture,
etc.
Film speed (authentic or not, a bit of speedup *does* date a film).
Stock
Aspect ratio
Camera mobility (or lack thereof)
Smoothness (or not) of panning
Processing consistency
Printing light consistency
Exposure and contrast
Lens sharpness (centre/edge)
Slight vignetting (?)
At least a bit of scratching and dust (but scaled to 35mm)

The sound of a rickety old projector...

Anything else...?

Dan Drasin
Producer/DP
Marin County, CA


 

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