The Reemergence of Super 16mm ­- Aesthetics and Practicality

Cinematography in indie filmmaking is a constant negotiation between financial reality and creative vision. With that in mind, should indie cinematographers consider Super 16mm more seriously? There are some sound arguments for it.

Financially, film may not be as expensive of a choice as most would think. Arri CSC still rents out Arri 416 and Arri SR3 packages to students, and indie filmmakers. Rental houses will often work to make packages that are appropriate for their budget and the project. If you opt for Arri SR2, the option becomes even cheaper. In the Vancouver area, for example, Cineworks offers SR2 packages for $400 a week. With the trend moving towards digital, the cost of rentals for film cameras is expected to go down even further.

Of course, one should take the cost of stock and processing into account. The good news is Kodak is very friendly towards low-­budget, indie filmmakers. You can negotiate the price to get a discount or if you play your cards right, even get them to donate a percentage of the stock. You can always consider recans and shortends as well. Technicolor is also quite helpful in figuring out a realistic budget and will provide discounts to filmmakers when possible. And if you’re lucky enough they might have a pricing agreement with your local film association or collective. (In Vancouver, ByDeluxe offers film processing and Telecine).

The aesthetic side of the argument is a bit more obvious. Super 16mm will give you that old, nostalgic, grainy, raw look that is quite hard to replicate in post. Sure, you can add grains and highlight blooms in post when you shoot digital, but whether fake grains and blooms are as good as the real, organic ones is up for debate.

Still from Beasts of the Southern Wild

Still from Beasts of the Southern Wild

Ben Richardson, the cinematographer of the Oscar­ nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild, has talked about his choice to shoot on Super 16mm quite extensively. He praises film’s superior ability to capture beautiful pictures in challenging lighting situations, as compared to a digital medium. He also states that shooting on film actually turned out to be a better financial and creative choice for the movie.

Of course, shooting on film isn’t an easy task. The price will take more negotiating and networking to get a good deal, and perhaps most importantly, you need to find a DOP who is experienced and competent in shooting on film. However, with some of the solid arguments for using Super 16mm, it is once again becoming a viable option for indie filmmakers.

Recent films shot on Super 16mm or 16mm (partially or entirely)

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Black Swan
  • Fruitvale Station
  • Hurt Locker
  • Half Nelson
  • I’m Not There
  • The Wrestler
  • The Runaways
  • The Walking Dead (AMC Television Series)

Resource links

  • Raw­stock
  • 1-800­-821­-3456 (Kodak)
  • 1-888­-424-­3854 (Fuji)

Written by Freddie Kim

This post was originally published on February 4, 2014 and was updated on December 13, 2016.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply