I’ve often toyed with the idea of shooting a feature film on Super 8mm, and have broken down exactly what it would cost below.
As crazy as it sounds to shoot a movie on Super 8mm in this day and age, the format is very much alive and well.
Super 8mm is being used more than ever (even if in small doses) on major TV and film projects, and just about every notable film festival has recently shown films shot on it.
Part of the resurgence of Super 8mm can be attributed to our collective nostalgia for the analog look. But it’s also in large part due to major advancements in scanning technology, and low grain motion picture stocks in recent years.
A Super 8mm film shot today on a roll of 50D and data-scanned to 4K+ can look better than 16mm film from the analog days. By the same token, newly shot/processed/scanned 16mm looks a lot like older 35mm film. You can squeeze more data out of each frame today than ever before.
There are of course many challenges and drawbacks to shooting a feature on Super 8mm, though. Just one example: Two and half minutes of runtime per roll means you can say goodbye to long takes.
You have to be doing something pretty experimental in order to warrant shooting a feature on Super 8mm, despite the obvious perks. But if you’re like me and can’t help but still wonder what it would cost to go this route, read on.
Below is a full breakdown of all costs associated with shooting, processing, and scanning Super 8mm film for a feature.
Purchasing Super 8mm Film Stock
You have three options when it comes to purchasing Super 8mm film:
- Buy it from Kodak
- Buy it from eBay
- Buy it from a lab
I don’t recommend buying film from eBay, at least not in the type of quantity you would need for a feature. You might find a few rolls here or there, but it’s very unlikely you fill find the kind of volume you’re going to need for a full length movie.
That leaves you with either buying it directly from Kodak, or from a lab.
The going rate for Super 8mm color film stock is about $30 per 50′ roll. This applies no matter where you purchase the stock.
That said, some labs (like Pro8mm in Burbank) will sell you the film, processing and scanning all as one package.
So instead of paying $30 for a roll of film, you will pay anywhere from $58 – $258 per roll (depending on what resolution you scan to), but that will include everything. Not just the film stock, but also all the processing and scanning to digital.
Below I’ll further break down the cost of each option, and we’ll see which is more cost effective.
Feature Film Shooting Ratios
You must first determine your film’s shooting ratio in order to know how much raw stock you’ll need.
Most filmmakers today are used to shooting digital with extremely high ratios. 20:1 or even 100:1 are not uncommon. That means for every minute of runtime, 20x – 100x the amount of raw footage was captured on set.
When shooting with real film, you definitely don’t have the kind of luxury. Even on Super 8mm.
Depending on the style of your film and how much coverage you like to shoot, the absolute bare minimum you need is about 3:1 or 4:1. This will allow for 1 – 2 takes of each shot at most, with minimal coverage.
For the sake of this example though, let’s use a shooting ratio of 5:1. That’s enough to get your movie in the can while still keeping costs down.
Let’s also assume our feature film screenplay is 90 pages, and we are anticipating a 90 minute final runtime.
Each Super 8mm film roll is 50′ and will get you about 2.5 minutes of footage when shooting at 24fps.
At a ratio of 5:1, that means we will need 180 rolls of Super 8mm:
(90 min runtime / 2.5 min rolls x 5 = 180)
Multiply that by the $30 price per roll, and we’re looking at $5400 just for the raw film stock.
Processing & Scanning Super 8mm
Outside of purchasing the film stock, the only additional mandatory expenses are the processing and scanning. These services are typically done together at the same lab, but can be done separately too.
The lowest cost I’ve found for processing is about $24/roll. This factors in prep, cleaning the film, and lab time.
Once the film processed, it is then scanned at an hourly rate. This is usually $400 – $450/hour, so we will use $425/hour for this example.
Keep in mind though, these scanners don’t work in real time. An hour of scanning time doesn’t mean an hour’s worth of footage. Roughly speaking, you can scan 10 rolls of Super 8mm film (25 minutes worth), in a one hour session.
So to determine the standalone cost of processing and scanning, we would be looking at –
Processing: $24 x 180 = $4320
Scanning: $425 x 18 = $7650
Labs also offer additional services for film processing such as pushing & pulling, as well as color correction. I am going to omit those services from this breakdown though, as I typically do all color grading work myself.
Let’s now tally up the full à la carte cost of shooting Super 8mm for our 90min movie:
Raw Film Stock: $5400
Earlier, I mentioned that you can also purchase the film, processing, and scanning all together as a package through Pro 8mm. If we were to go this route, and choose their 2K “Production Scan” option, we would pay $98/roll all-in.
That gives us a grand total of $17,640 for the end to end package. Nearly an identical price to in à la carte film stock, processing, and scanning.
Either way – It’s a big chunk of change, especially if you’re an independent production looking to get this done on a budget.
It is possible to get that number down a bit by reducing your shooting ratio further, or by shaving some pages off your script. But you’re going to pay at least $12K – $13K, even if you start cutting corners.
Unless we see these prices drop in the future, I doubt we’ll see much use of Super 8mm as a feature format, even experimentally. It’s a shame though, because the technology is there and the images hold up.
Super 8mm Vs. Digital
There are a lot of ways you could spend $17,640 on your movie.
You could buy a used Arri Alexa, shoot the movie on it, and re-sell it for nearly the price you paid.
You could shoot the whole movie on an iPhone, and spend the $17K on better locations.
You could use the camera you already have, and allocate those funds to marketing.
Most of these options will be more appealing to the vast majority of filmmakers, as opposed to spending it all on what was once an amateur film stock. And for those who are willing to spend that kind of money on film alone, why not jump to Super 16mm? The cost wouldn’t be much more.
My hope is that in time new home processing/scanning options will emerge that make Super 8mm more affordable.
For now though, it’s still a fun idea to think about. Despite the big financial toll it may take on low-budget productions, some would still say it’s worth it.
Super 8mm has an unmistakable look, and is so much fun to shoot. It creates and entirely different process on set, and one that can inspire all sorts of creative ideas.
If you’ve never shot Super 8mm, I recommend trying it. Even just a single roll.
See what you think and leave a comment below!