Is film cost effective?

It's a pretty common and simple question, but the answer isn't that simple as it depends on a number of things, there are many factors to consider, such as how we get film equipment, how we get film stock, how we process and scan the film and most importantly how we work with film. There is no doubt that the raw film is expensive, processing it and scanning it can be expensive and complicated too, in general the more film we use the higher the costs. We can take a more conventional approach and look at how people in mainstream film and television usually work with Super 16 film, particularly in narrative drama. Most people like to think of film in a normalized sense of what a film is, or what it could be, creatively, aesthetically and formally; as such many rely on conventional practices and methods as to how we should work with it, these can be very restrictive.

If we take this 'normal' route then we need to have the best, recent and most serviced cameras, it is pretty easy and cheap to purchase or rent such a Super 16 camera, unlike digital equipment virtually all film cameras are cheap, though lenses can be more expensive. In this 'normal' route we can work at a 10:1 shooting ratio, this means we need ten times as much film stock, so if our final film is to be 10 minutes we need 100 minutes of raw film stock and if we are buying film at £100.00 per 400ft [each 400ft is 10 minutes] we need 7 x 400ft rolls and that's £700.00, processing and scanning all our 7 rolls [2800ft] will cost about £840.00, so our total film costs are about £1,540.00.

These days a lot more independent and low budget filmmakers are using film, particularly Super 16 and often they take other approaches; there is a new trend here in the UK where low budget filmmakers have a different approach and etiquette when shooting with film many try to keep a very low shooting like 3:1 and even lower, there is a growing philosophy that every shot matters where filmmakers like to waste very little. A 3:1 shooting ratio is a very tight ratio, but perfectly doable, especially if everything is meticulous planned. Many look at alternative methods for getting cameras and buying film stock, for instance it is easy to rent or borrow a camera, then buy some stock, there are many places to get deals on film stock, you can buy fresh stock from Kodak, but there are other options too such as re-cans or from other filmmakers who have just finished a shoot and then there is always buying online. It isn't unusual to spend less than £500.00 on all film costs for a 10 minute short film shot on Super 16.

Is Super 8 cheaper than 16mm?

This is a question I get asked a lot, in reality it all depends how much you shoot, if you're shooting a lot then 16mm works out cheaper, but if you plan to shoot the odd roll here and there then it's more expensive. With Super 8 you can shoot small amounts and try and keep costs down, film, processing and scanning costs for each Super 8 cartridge are around £55.00 and that's for 2.5 minutes. In 16mm you have more choices; you can get an older amateur camera that takes 100ft daylight spools or a professional S16 camera that takes 400ft rolls of film. Getting 16mm cameras is very easy and these days professional S16 cameras are very cheap to rent or buy, but remember lenses for these professional cameras are expensive, unlike Super 8 where the lens is a fixed in 16mm/S16 the lens comes separate.

A factory sealed 100ft of 16mm is around £45.00 and a 400ft roll is about £100.00, for processing it is around 15 pence per foot and scanning is another 15 pence per foot. In reality it is possible to get 16mm film cheaper, through re-cans or from other filmmakers who've just finished a shoot, I have often got fresh stock this way and paid around £50.00 for a 400ft roll. I use the a-cam and it takes 100ft daylight spools, it is quite easy to split the 400ft roll onto the small 100ft daylight spools. I have always managed to get fresh stock in 100ft daylight spools for £14.00, 100ft of 16mm gives you 2.5 minutes the same running time as one Super 8 cartridge. If you can get 16mm stock cheaply then 16mm definitely works out slightly cheaper as for each 100ft stock, processing and scanning can be around £45.00. The problem for some is that with 16mm the equipment is bigger more expensive lenses and minimum charges from labs for processing and scanning. 16mm is more complicated, I prefer to work with an assistant who keeps a tab on film and threads it in the camera.


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