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!
We shot the movie with a Kodak Brownie regular 8mm film camera, similar to this one:
The camera had to be wound up, and we framed the shots with the parallax viewfinder on top of the camera! After exposing the roll, we had to find a dark place, remove the spool, and flip it over to film on the other half (because the stock is 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 8mm, I suppose.
A Little History:
We weren’t even aware back then that the family had a movie camera. We had an old projector and would pick up 8mm films from the swapmeet to project on the wall, to show the neighborhood kids. One day we discovered that mom had some home movies, so we projected them. We were blown away at seeing our mom walking and waving to the camera. She dug out the Brownie 8mm movie camera, and we knew we had to make a film of our own!
Mom starring in her home movie:
Before then, Chris and I were telling stories by using 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.
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 wanted to try our hand at stop motion, so we just winged it and made the story up as we went.
We filmed on location in the back yard. Dad had years of junk laying around back, so we thought it made an interesting backdrop.
By pressing the camera’s trigger for a few frames at a time, we were able to create the stop motion. 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 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:
We tried what we thought were some creative and even innovative things for back then:
- Toy revenge. Remember, this was 15 years before Pixar’s Toy Story!
- 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 edited most of the original film in the camera (as 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.
Flash Forward to 2017:
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 in line 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:
Closeup of the Film-O-Clean:
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 we created the animation 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 on the camera, which causes jumpiness and weaves in the movie. 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?
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 little film as much as we did!