Thursday, June 30, 2011

Roll 'Em

I can remember the smell. The way it rushed out of the plastic lining of the foil packet. It was petroleum, chemical, magical. It was Super 8 movie film. If I opened one, I opened a hundred. I started out as a grip on my older brother's projects. Then a featured player. I let him stick rabbit fur that he shaved off a pelt to my face with Elmer's glue to become the werewolf henchman of my friend's vampire. He was lucky. His makeup effect was created by pouring flour on his wet face. He did have to wear red lipstick, however, which kept me ahead of things in the macho department. We worked fast in those days. We edited in the camera. We shot in the daytime and hustled the footage down to K-Mart to be processed by the end of the week.
It was my father's camera, and it was purchased for the primary use of recording our family's vacation to Mexico. The Super 8 replaced the clunky Regular 8 that had been witness to so many Christmases and birthdays. No more clunky reels to load. This one was Instamatic, just pop that cartridge in and start filming. It had a zoom lens that was impossible to ignore. It had an optional trigger handle that could be removed for getting those shots in tight places. It was the machine that made my movies.
Like my brother before me, I rounded up my friends and we generated our scripts on the run. A pitch meeting went something like this:
"Hey, we haven't burned any tanks, have we?"
And while everyone else was rounding up the plastic guns and model tanks and lighter fluid, I would hightail it down to K-Mart for new stock. When I showed up with the film, we started cranking. To say that we improvised would be kind. To say that we made things up as we went along would be more precise. Luckily there was a meter on the side of the camera that told us we only had five feet of film to wrap things up. Nothing was more unsatisfying than the coup de grace being delivered at the precise moment that the screen flashed white. There were no reshoots.
That's how we made them, back in the olden days. No sound. No lights. Special effects were Elmer's Glue and lighter fluid. It was fast. It was cheap. It was fun.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't if you've heard the news; gay marriage isn't merely *allowed* in New York now - it's mandatory. I have until the end of the year to swear off females and pick a man to be my husband. I wish I'd listened to Glen Beck...