TECH KILLZ! R.I.P. Super-8

Super-8 Was “IT” Way Back When…

Kodak Super-8

Kodak Sper-8 Movie Film

Once upon a time there was Super-8 film. It was a miracle when it was first introduced. Now it’s pretty much gone due to the Tech Explosion. In fact, my entire career was launched due to Super-8 film and a camera handed to me by my best friend’s dad. “Mr. Nick”, we all called him. He was the father of my best friend, Vincent Vennitti. Mr. Nick has since passed on, along with my father. The fact that he handed us an 8-millimeter camera all those years ago completely altered the outcome of the lives of several of the boys in our group of friends. There was Steven, Vincent, Robert, Matthew, Jim, Patrick, Tom, myself and a probably a few others involved. I myself was forever taken by the “bug” of shooting movies, film and pictures. Today, I am a highly experienced Director of Photography, shooting for numerous well-known television shows, network newscasts and corporations as well. My friend Vincent went on to become a Director of Photography for commercials and our friend Tom Snowden is an editor working for NBC.

Mr. Nick Gave us a camera like this one.

Mr. Nick Gave us a camera very similar to this one. A wind-up “regular-8mm” camera.

The truth is, that one eventful day, Mr. Vennitti actually handed us an old, wind-up, “regular-8” movie camera. This was really the first true “home” movie camera. For its time, it was definitely an advance in technology. Prior to 8mm cameras, individuals had to shoot with bulky 16mm cameras that were meant more for semi-professional filmmakers.

Many families that raised kids in the 1950’s through the 1970’s probably have some old reels of 8mm movies tucked away in a closet or attic! In 1965, Super-8 film was created and many people quickly added those better cameras to their home movie making capabilities. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, a lot of families were still using super-8 cameras. Throughout several decades, there were a number of different versions of 8mm film, and their corresponding cameras and projectors, each with slight advances in new features or ease of use. Super-8 film added the capability of sound recorded right on the filmstrip, for a much more advanced experience.

Before Home Video…There Was Super-8

Commercial Courtesy Kodak

 

I fell in love immediately with Super-8 moviemaking. As soon as I could afford it, I had to buy my own camera. I was 12 years old and already making my own money with, of all jobs, a paper route! Talk about Tech Killz! – Question: What’s a paper route? Answer: Another of the many things killed by technology. As I mentioned previously in our piece titled “No Faces Needed”, I have fond memories of making money as a paperboy. Moviemaking definitely wasn’t cheap. The money I earned went quickly to buy a camera, projector, the film, the processing costs, lights, microphones, props, fake blood, beer bottles made of sugar that you could smash over someone’s head…all that good stuff!

I also bought every book I could find about how to properly make movies and I quickly taught myself many of the techniques. I still have those old books that I first learned moviemaking from. It’s funny looking back at that time and comparing it to today. The technology then was at once high tech, yet so antiquated compared to what we have today. Now, kids can make a video using a cheap camera, or right on their iPhone, then quickly edit the footage using iMovie, and then in one simple step, they can publish it to YouTube and share it with the world.

Even as I write this, my own daughter Victoria, age 15, is creating a movie with my son Henry, age 10. Victoria also created a PSA and entered it in a contest just two days ago. Our daughter Ashley, age 17, is now talking about creating her own YouTube channel. That’s not to mention our son, John H., who is an app-writing genius who started at age 12. Today he has his own highly successful business, TapMedia, LLC., at the age of 19! It’s great to see our kids interested in using the latest technology to express themselves, just as I did many years ago.

The Sankyo XL 600S with the Dreaded 200ft. Film Magazine

The Sankyo XL 600S with the Dreaded 200ft. Film Magazine

The very first Super-8 camera I bought was the Sankyo XL 600S. This was a Super-8 Sound camera that had a special feature, allowing it to accept larger, 200ft. reels of Super-8 film. This added feature would soon haunt us however. The camera had an unforeseen flaw in it, whereby the film counter would appear to advance, even if the film was jammed. So, my friends and I spent the better part of an entire summer carefully shooting a movie that was a spoof of Star Wars. Unfortunately, due to that flaw in the Sankyo XL 600S, that entire movie exists only in our minds! With the exception of the first few minutes of film that we shot, the entire movie was not recorded because the giant 200ft. reel of film had jammed. There was no way of knowing this because the camera seemed to make its usual noise, with the motor clicking away. The film counter, for some reason, continued to advance. So, it wasn’t until we got the film developed at the end of that long summer that we realized that all of our hard work was for nothing!

Sankyo XL600

Original Sankyo without 200ft. magazine.

That was a very painful moment in time for myself and my friends. I can still remember going to pick up the film after it was processed. The store owner was a gentle older French man named Jacques. He owned and operated a genuine Kodak store, where you would buy your film, bring it to be developed and get advice, tips and repairs on cameras, projectors and anything relating to photography. The Kodak store had a certain smell to it too. It was a combination of film, chemicals and just an overall musty, “old” smell. I remember Jacques telling me that Kodak called him personally and told him that there was very little footage on the movie reel. It broke our hearts. I think Kodak only charged me for the small amount of actual film processing and not for the entire 200ft. reel. But that was little consolation for all of our lost efforts. The fact was, when we shot our movie, we took great pains to “edit in the camera” to avoid having to do extensive editing. With film, if you need to edit a scene, you had to physically cut the actual film, take out the section you wanted to delete, and then splice the film back together with small pieces of special tape called, appropriately, “film splices”. This was high tech at the time!

We definitely had a number of successes with our moviemaking adventures. At the time, we referred to our efforts as being done by “Relco Incorporated”. That was the name of our “production company”. One summer, we decided to create a spoof of the very popular TV newsmagazine “20/20” on ABC. We even had our own version of Geraldo Rivera, aptly re-named “Geraldo Whoever”. Since our spoof show wasn’t quite 20/20, we called it “10/10”!

“10/10” – The Channel 8 NewsMagazine:

Circa 1980, One of our longest Super-8 films. Courtesy: Relco, Incorporated

As you can see, back then, when I was 15 or so, we were pretty outrageous with our storylines! There was plenty of sexual innuendo, racial discrimination, explosions, blood, killing, mutilation, insanity…you name it. It certainly went way beyond being “PC” or politically correct. We didn’t even know what that meant back then. We were just out to have some fun and poke fun at life, in our adolescent best. I certainly wouldn’t attempt to shoot something today with a guy named “DJ Boonyer” in made up in blackface. How quickly things have changed, both in technology and societal norms.

The Sankyo XL 620S

The Sankyo XL 620S

We had great times making all of those movies, and as my Mom would say, it kept us off the streets! I have many more reels of film at home, but they are not yet transferred to video. After the disaster of our “film that never happened”, I quickly sold that first camera and bought the model that came out next by the same company. This was the Sankyo XL 620S. Not only did this camera not have the offending 200ft. cartridge / defective film counter combination, it had a host of other new features that were pretty cool. The 620 had the ability to do single frame shooting, time-lapse, automatic fade-ins and fade-outs and was an all-around well built camera.

By the time I was 17 years old, I began working weekends at a catering hall called Burburan’s Towne House. The money I made here lead me to make films with a number of the crazy employees working there, who quickly became very close friends. Unfortunately I lost touch with my childhood friends for many years, but since have reunited with them, beginning in 2008, due to the Tech Explosion technology of Facebook! So, there are two major periods in my life where I made whacky Super-8 movies with two different groups of friends. Lots of great memories. The Super-8 era continued for me up until about 1983. We even made a movie with a title that I won’t print here. The movie left everything to the imagination, but let’s just say it was a bit extreme in nature.

Sony Betamovie

The Sony Betamovie

Soon enough, however, the home video revolution came about, leading many people to abandon their Super-8 film cameras in exchange for the ease of home video, including me. Sony introduced the first home camcorder, called the Sony BetaMovie. The fact that with video, you could literally record for hours, was a total game-changer. Super-8 film cartridges were limited to only 3 1/2 minutes of footage! Each cartridge cost about $10 bucks and then another $10 bucks to process it. With video, you could buy one high quality videotape for $20.00 and record for at least an hour. This meant what to Super-8? The death knell of the entire industry, due to technology. One hour of recording video for $20.00 versus one hour of Super-8 film for $680.00, including the processing! That meant that one hour of Super-8 was 34 times more expensive as one hour of video. That is what we refer to today as a DISRUPTIVE technology. People quickly sent their Super-8 cameras to the back of their closets, to the attic, or worse, directly to the nearest landfill! That type of disruption is what will quickly happen as soon as Tesla and other electric cars become mainstream. The cost differential of operating an electric car will be so great, that people will quickly have their gas-powered vehicles crushed and melted down. It will happen. It’s coming soon.

In my case, I did not vote for the Betacam format. In the great VHS-Beta war, I went with VHS. At the time, Sony had the proprietary technology of Betamax for home VCRs. A group of other companies, including RCA, JVC and others collaborated and agreed to market the competing technology of VHS. In the end, VHS became the dominant video format and Sony eventually abandoned the Betamax format, since the sales of Betamax VCRs continued to drop.

RCA Ad

The ad that sold me.

My desire to make a movie with my catering buddies lead me to buy a really advanced VHS camera and VCR combination. This consisted of a video camera with a color viewfinder, which was unheard of at the time. The first video cameras had only black-and-white viewfinders. The camera connected with a cable to a “convertible” VCR. This RCA VCR looked just like a full-sized home VCR, but the actual recording deck could be separated from the tuner portion in order to make the recorder portable and use it with the camera. This was way ahead of its time and it had a price tag to match. I think the camera and recorder combination cost about $2,500.00, and this was money that I just didn’t have at the time. But I certainly didn’t want to have to continue with the high cost of making movies with Super-8 film. It just made sense to invest a bunch of money in this new technology of home video in order to avoid the expense and added hassle of purchasing and processing Super-8 film. The problem was, I didn’t have $2,500 bucks!

RCA 900-2

RCA VJP-900

Three very interesting things coincided at the time: The high cost of the camera/VCR combo that I wanted to buy, my pathetic lack of funds, and the fact that my father received a pre-approved Mastercard credit card application in the mail with a credit line of $5,000.00. So, what did I do? I sent back the credit card application, and in about two weeks, a shiny new Mastercard came in the mail with “my” name on it. My name is John Meyer and so was my Dad’s! So I used his credit card with “my” name on it, essentially using my Dad’s credit to buy my new video camera. It took my dad quite a while to realize I had done this. It was many months later when he checked his credit report and found that he had a Mastercard in his name with a pretty big line of credit, but only half of it was available! I paid the credit card bill over time, with the money I earned from the catering job. Eventually my dad forgave me and was he was even able to joke about it.

Sony BVW-D600 Camera $65,000.00 without the lens!

Sony BVW-D600 Camera cost $65,000.00 without a lens! Body only.

So, as you can see, the continuing advance of technology has caused me to continually update the cameras I’m using, and it has never stopped. After that RCA camera became outdated, I upgraded to Hi-8 video, then Mini-DV, then more expensive Mini-DV cameras and on and on. Once I decided to make television production my career, I eventually bought two professional cameras that cost $65,000.00 just for the camera bodies! Then more cameras came, and then more cameras, lighting equipment, audio equipment and tons of other accessories.

Today, with the rapid and exponential increase in tech advances with the Tech Explosion, there is an inverse economic equation happening with camera technology. Today, camera technology is advancing more rapidly than ever. However, the cost of cameras keeps dropping with the addition of new and highly advanced features. It’s a very interesting time and it’s frankly hard to keep up with.

That’s the case with much of the Tech Explosion.

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