Attack of the G.I. Joes

Our very first film, ‘Attack of the G.I. Joes’!

Chris was 12, Shawn was 14, circa 1979. There was no greater thrill than projecting our movie on the wall and seeing the G.I. Joes come to life!

The movie was shot with a Kodak Brownie regular 8mm film camera, similar to this one:

Retro movie camera for 8mm film isolated on white background

The camera had to be wound up, and the framing of the shots had to be done with the parallax viewfinder on top of the camera! When you were done with one side of film, you had to go to a dark place, take the spool of film out and flip it over to shoot the other side (because the film is actually 16mm wide, and gets split during processing)! Removing the film caused a lot of light leaks in the image, which in retrospect is part of the charm of filming in 8mm.

A Little History:

The funny thing is, we weren’t even aware back then that the family had a movie camera. We had an old movie projector and would pick up 8mm films from the swapmeet to project on the wall, and then invite the neighborhood kids over for movie night . One day we discovered that mom had some ‘home movies’, so we projected them. We were amazed at seeing our mom walking and waving to the camera, and asked her how she was put in the movie. She dug out the Brownie movie camera, and we knew we had to make a movie of our own!

Mom starring her own home movie:

Before then, Chris and I were telling stories by posing G.I. Joes and taking pictures with mom’s still camera. Below is our first series of stills where a group of Joes encounters a German soldier with a potato masher grenade.

joes_blow_retro_a

joes_blow_retro_b

joes_blow_retro_c

Pre Production:

We didn’t exactly know what to film, but at the time, we were influenced by “The Twilight Zone”, “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad”, and anything stop motion. So we used what we had – which was a lot of G.I. Joes. We definitely wanted to try our hand at stop motion, so we just sort of winged it and made the story up as we went.

Production:

We filmed on location in the back yard. Dad had years of junk laying around back, so we thought it made an interesting backdrop.

The stop motion was done by pressing the camera’s trigger for a few frames at a time. I don’t recall how we knew to do that, but I suspect we were told how by our older brother’s friend, James Long, who was also making his own stop motion movies.

We didn’t own a tripod, so we propped it up on whatever we had. Below is Shawn filming the leg chopping scene:

retro_shawn

We tried what we thought were some creative and even innovative things for back then:

Toys coming to life. Remember, this was 15 years before Pixar’s Toy Story!

The p.o.v. of the G.I. Joe as it was crawling (Sam Rami’s ‘The Evil Dead’ wouldn’t come out for another two years).

Creating a dummy leg to receive the machete slash, and using “Scar Wax” for the wound.

The practical explosion effects (done with a funnel full of fireplace ashes and a bike pump).

The long pull-out death shot at the end.

We were forbidden to harm any Joes, so for the weed puller shot we simply stretched the torso apart and inserted the tool around the elastic.

Post Production:

Most of the editing on the original film was done in-camera (it would be years before anyone owned home computers). Where we needed ‘critical’ timing, we used a razor blade and glue. You can see splices where the timing was too tight to fix years later in post.

Flash forward to 2016.

The movie was scanned using Roger Evan’s invention, the MovieStuff Retro-8 Pro Film Scanner. http://moviestuff.tv/

We mounted a Neil Research Labs Film-O-Clean inline for a ‘wet gate’ transfer. http://www.film-supply.com/

We used FilmGuard as the cleaner, which removed almost all of the base side black scratches. FANTASTIC! http://www.film-tech.com/products/filmguard.php

The blue scratches that are still visible are dreaded emulsion side scratches, and would have to be digitally cleaned up.

We learned most of these cleanup techniques from the super helpful people at http://8mmforum.film-tech.com/.

The Retro-8 film scanner with the inline Film-O-Clean:

retroscan

Closeup of the Film-O-Clean:

filmoclean

The movie you see today was cleaned up in Premiere CC by removing as much of the visible splicing as I could without altering critical timing (like the explosions).

Since the animation was done by pressing the trigger for a few frames at a time, it caused the timing to be all over the place. I was able to fix it some using Adobe Premiere CC’s ‘Time Remapping’ tool.

Another problem inherent to 8mm and Super8 film is that there is no pressure plate in the camera, which causes jumpiness and weave in the film. Premiere CC’s ‘Warp Stabilizer’ did wonders there!

To try and re-create the feeling of projecting the film on a wall, we added a projector soundtrack, and even spliced in audio clicks where the splices happen. We never had titles on it, so I used the Canon 5D Mark II (way overkill) and a rough hand to pen some in (pretending I was 14 again). I think I did a pretty good job of integrating them, don’t you?

Conclusion:

The film presented is indeed a different version of the one we initially shot and projected, but I know if we had the tools and knowledge of today back then, we would have used them. Some day I’ll post up the original footage before cleanup, stabilization, and re-timing! It has its own charm.

We hope you enjoy our film as much as we did, and hope you can feel the excitement we felt when we watched our first movie projected!