Why an article about 16mm and 8mm film when the age of digital long ago descended upon us?  Just because the use of film has slowed, it doesn’t mean it’s dead. In fact, 16mm and 8mm film have been undergoing a bit of a renaissance with the millennial generation’s obsession with nostalgia and the old school look that can’t be replicated. One of our favorite film organizations, Mono No Aware focuses entirely on promoting the creation of film and offers analogue filmmaking workshops.  We’re seeing a healthy stream of rentals of 35mm cameras, super 16mm cameras, 8mm cameras, and even 16mm Film Projectors on KitSplit.  So we were excited to sit down with KitSplitter Rhonda Vigeant of Pro8mm in Burbank, CA to learn how they are providing the film industry with the medium it was named after: film.

A look at the rise and fall of 35mm, 16mm, and 8mm

It’s not news that digital cinema cameras such as the Arri Alexa and RED Weapon have dramatically changed the way movies get made.  Now that these powerful digital cameras fully dominate the film industry, film lab giants such as Deluxe and Technicolor have closed their doors while Kodak and Fuji have discontinued film stocks. When old school cinematographers were reluctant to jump on board the digital revolution in 2010, DP Roger Deakins made waves by stating that in his opinion, “Arri Alexa images are of a quality comparable to film.” Since then, the industry has embraced digital and never looked back. While some are still drawn to the romanticism of shooting 35mm film, 16mm and 8mm the expensive processing and long post-production are obvious drawbacks when compared to the ease of digital cinema.

“We were surprised to learn that even TV shows such as This Is Us and Keeping Up With the Kardashians are utilizing 8mm film.”

Pro8mm and their dedication to 16mm and 8mm film

For those of you who don’t know Pro8mm, they are a one stop shop for filmmakers offering Super 8 cameras for rent on KitSplit, 8mm and 16mm film stock, processing and scanning all under one roof. The company is committed to educating filmmakers on the value of shooting on actual film in this digital age. They credit their success to their willingness to evolve with the industry when others were resistant. They see huge potential in 8mm and 16mm film and it’s ability to co-exist with digital. As Vigeant says, “Everything has a purpose.”

Leading technology development in the world of Super 8mm

Pro8mm doesn’t just sell and process 8mm film: they were part of the innovation on the format, inventing game changing technologies. Super 8mm was first introduced as a silent format.  But in 1971 Pro8mm created sync sound for 8mm by designing special audio tapes and recorders, mimicking the process of 35mm filmmaking. They were also the first to scan 8mm to HD by the request of directors like Spielberg who wanted to scan their home movies. Eventually they moved on to 2K scanners and now can scan all the way up to 5K. They also created a modification for Super8 cameras, converting the viewfinders from the standard 4:3 aspect ratio to 16:9, know as “Max 8.” The company even developed their own manufacturing process, cutting and reformatting 35mm film stock for use in Super8 cameras.

Who’s Actually Using 8mm and 16mm film cameras today?

Projects shooting on 8mm and 16mm film cameras range from TV shows to commercials to documentaries, and of course the hip music video or indie film looking for that nostalgic effect. For instance, some of the first high-profile projects to come through Pro8mm’s doors included music videos for Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You and Madonna’s Erotica. They’ve also done commercials for Lexus, Nike, Reebok, Victoria’s Secret and Armani as well as Neil Young’s documentary, Year of the Horse. We were surprised to learn that even TV shows such as This Is Us and Keeping Up With the Kardashians are utilizing 8mm film.

Trends in 8mm

A huge trend in 8mm lately is creating short clips for Instagram. Companies are able to achieve a stylized look using a technique called an overscan where they scan out to the perforations so they’re visible in the final product. This has been popular among clothing companies and other brands that advertise on social media. A lot of newbies who didn’t get the chance to work with 8mm in film school have also been frequenting Pro8mm to get their feet wet.

“Working with film gives you a unique understanding of lighting and exposure.”

Film in a digital age

So why should we care about film in a digital age? Film was the origin of our industry and, in Vigeant’s words, “it represents over 100 years of motion picture history.” It still embodies a benchmark for beauty that can’t be faked. Working with film gives you a unique understanding of lighting and exposure. It teaches trust and discipline- you can’t simply shoot the rehearsal when you’re paying for every frame of film. One could argue that working with film hones a higher level of skill development. In addition to this, film is the only archival media. Vigeant often educates clients on the importance of film as the master. “You can retransfer it on any scanner. If you lose the digital file you still have the physical film.”

While other film labs, stocks and cameras continue to disappear, we were happy to hear that Pro8mm shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, Vigeant says they’re busier than ever. Above all, she notes that it has been an honor and privilege to help keep the analog arts alive. If you’re looking to give Super 8 or 16mm filmmaking a try, check out one of Pro8mm’s free workshops, shooting events and bootcamps which you can find on their website.
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Itching to get your hands on some film? Rent Pro8mm’s Super8 cameras on KitSplit! You can feel confident that each camera is meticulously tested and backed by a team of dedicated professionals.