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Why I’m Shooting My Next Film On Super 16mm & How You Can Afford To Shoot On Film Too

I’m a big believer that camera choice should always reflect the creative direction of any given production. Whenever I embark on a new film, I ask myself which format and aesthetic matches the story most appropriately, and then choose my camera system accordingly. I’ll never choose a camera for a project simply because I own one, or because it’s easy to get my hands on one – it is always a conscious choice that is dictated by the needs of the film.

As such, I’ve shot on just about every current digital format available either on my personal projects, or commercial projects that I’ve directed/shot. One of the fun parts about choosing a digital cinema camera is that it’s similar in a way to choosing your film stock. For instance, the RED look is very clean, accurate and sharp, while the Alexa look is softer and more filmic, in my opinion at least.

That said, I think it’s safe to say that the “film look” will never be perfectly achieved with digital cameras, even though cameras like the Alexa are getting really close. The bottom line is film is film and digital is digital. There are things you can do to make your digital footage look like film – both in camera, and in post – but you are still working with digital source footage… It’s not better or worse, just different.

Digital really has come such a long way in such a short time, and there’s no question that many projects should be shot digitally for aesthetic or logistical reasons. But with that in mind, there is still something about film that keeps many directors and DP’s coming back for more. The latitude, character, depth, and color of motion picture film is very distinct, and film still offers a visual look that no digital format can perfectly emulate.

WHY SHOOT SUPER 16?

At the moment I’m in pre-production for a feature film that will go into production this summer. The feature will be shot (at least in part) on Super 16mm film, and as part of the development process I decided to shoot a little teaser for the film beforehand. The regular followers of this blog probably know that I like shooting mood films or teasers when developing bigger ideas, and in this case there is no exception.

The only difference this time around is that the teaser will not only serve as a show piece for our team as we attach cast and other key creative players, but it will also serve as a bit of a technical experiment. Having never shot on Super 16mm before, I really wanted to shoot something small and manageable on the S16 format. The goal is to test out different film stocks, lighting setups, and scanning options to ensure I get the best final product when the feature rolls around.

There are really two reasons why I am shooting this project on film: The visuals and the process.

Let’s start with the visuals –

The world in which this feature is set is very glossy and polished, which is very different from the more stark and raw environments that I’m often drawn to in my film work. The lead character is someone that on the surface is very pure looking, but under the skin has a much darker soul. Super 16mm was the obvious choice right away for this film as the grittiness, texture, and surrealistic look of the format can serve the purpose of offsetting the otherwise perfectly clean look of the environment and protagonist. The choice of S16 film will add a nice amount of metaphorical contrast so to speak, and I believe it will serve the story better than a digital alternative.

Films like this year’s Oscar nominated “Carol” and one of my personal favorites “Black Swan” have made use of the Super 16 format for similar reasons, and the results speak for themselves.

Carol Super 16mm

Black Swan Super 16mm

But with all that aside, the idea of shooting on S16 is also very appealing to me from the perspective of the creative process too…

One of the things I dislike about shooting digitally is that there is no time limit. That might sound funny, considering you could also make an argument that the drawback of film is that it’s finite and there are no do-overs… But I’ve always felt that the best creative work comes out of having limitations – whether it be budgetary limitations, time limits, or otherwise. While a limitation can feel like a burden initially, it can actually force you to be more creative and to think more instinctually at times.

On this feature we will likely have a 4:1 shooting ratio, meaning on average we will get 4 takes per scene, which really is all we should need. With digital, it’s not uncommon to shoot 7 or 8 takes (or far more) for any given scene, and then wind up with loads of footage that isn’t all that great, and ends up costing you a lot of time in the editing room.

Film on the other hand, forces you to commit to decisions. You need to get it right the first time. You need to capture the look you’re after in camera. It forces you to do your rehearsals beforehand (when you should do them) and not on camera while you’re “rolling the rehearsal”. It also gives the actors a sense of urgency as they understand there are only so many takes before they need to move on.

At first, the idea of shooting film can feel scary, especially if you’ve worked exclusively with digital cameras. But depending on how you like to work, the added pressure and challenge of shooting on film can really change the way that you work and force you to make some more instinctual decisions.

The teaser I’m working on right now is a perfect example of how format can affect process.

Originally we were supposed to shoot the project this weekend, but decided to push things off for a week or two to find a better location, re-tool the script a bit, and have more time to work with our cast. Had I been shooting digitally, there’s a good chance I would have pushed ahead and shot anyways, but knowing that would be shooting on film really forced me to take a step back and analyze what I’m shooting in more detail. In the end, whatever creative decisions are made with the extra time that we now have will inevitably better our final product.

 THE FORM FACTOR

Everything that I’ve said so far can really be applicable to any film format, from 8mm to 70mm. But the reason I chose Super 16mm for this project (above and beyond what I’ve already stated) has a lot to do with the form factor of the camera. The film I’m shooting calls for a lot of handheld work and will be shot in somewhat of a cinema vérité style, so naturally S16mm was the perfect choice for this. Super 16 cameras are relatively light and have a small footprint, meaning I can shoot much in the same way that I would shoot with smaller digital cameras.

Not to mention, I love the physical size of the Super 16mm frame. While it may be very “cropped” by full frame DSLR standards, I actually welcome the smaller frame size as it makes focus pulling easier and creates a very unique look. I’ve never had an issue getting shallow depth of field on small formats either – in fact even when shooting on my old DVX 100B back in the day, I was able to get nice shallow DOF under the right conditions… So achieving wide or narrow DOF with Super 16mm is absolutely possible with the right lenses and blocking.

 THE COST OF SHOOTING FILM

There’s no question that shooting on film can be far more expensive than digital. At the same time it has never been cheaper to shoot on film, and there are some undeniable cost benefits when compared to digital.

Film cameras are in such low demand right now that you can rent them at most rental houses for less than the price you would pay for a DSLR rental. For that matter if you choose to, you can purchase a used one off of eBay for a couple thousand dollars or less, depending on the camera of course.

Arrflex 416 Super 16mm Camera

So the real cost of shooting film isn’t the camera, it’s the film stock and processing. And while you may anticipate the processing will cost you an arm and a leg, it’s not as bad as you might think – especially when you factor in the cost savings in other areas of your production.

Kodak is very reasonable with their pricing of film stocks, and seem to be giving out discounts to just about anyone that’s willing to shoot film right now. A 400′ roll of brand new 16mm film (not re-cans) will run you about $100 – $125, and will give you 11 minutes of footage. The processing/scanning will come out to be around the same, so for every 11 minutes you shoot, you’re looking at about $250 all in.

That’s certainly not cheap by any standards, but it is manageable for many productions – even some ultra low budget projects.

Let’s assume you’re shooting a short film that’s 10 pages long, or approximately 10 minutes in length. With a 3:1 shooting ratio you’re going to need 3 x 400′ rolls, which will cost you about $750. Add in the price of an extra roll or a camera rental and you’re looking at about $1000.

That’s certainly more than “free” which is what you’ll get with your DSLR, but it’s less than you’ll spend on renting an Alexa package for the day, and a stack of hard drives to back your footage up on.

Storage is a huge consideration when shooting digitally as you’ll always need multiple backups of your raw files. Film on the other hand is the archival medium. You’ll always have your film negative as a backup (which by the way is far more reliable than your hard drive), and you can choose to back up (or not) your digital scans to as many drives as you see fit.

There are many other ways shooting on film can help keep your production/post costs down in other ways too. For instance, on set your days will likely run that much more quickly since you won’t be able to do 20 takes of every scene. That means less overtime, fewer meal penalties, and more money in the bank.

Not to mention in the editing room there will be far less footage to go through, which inevitably will save you time and/or money, depending on who’s editing your film… And you will probably need to do less color grading since the colors will look that much better right out of the can. That’s not to say you don’t need a colorist or some time in DaVinci yourself, but rather that you will be able to spend less time in that phase, which is one of the most costly parts of the post process.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Although I’ve made my case for choosing film in a digital world, it’s certainly not always the right choice. As I mentioned earlier, digital has come such a long way and it is still the best option for the vast majority of today’s productions. The fact of the matter is 99% of us are not shooting our own narrative projects every day. We are shooting commercials, music videos, and other projects for clients that don’t have the time or patience or need for film…

But when you do have a passion project that could benefit from the aesthetic of film, and the change in process that comes along with it – film is still an option. It’s not going to be the cheapest option or the easiest for that matter, but the challenges it creates can pay off with some very unique creative results.

That’s about it for now! Thanks for checking out this post and I look forward to sharing some footage with all of you as the project comes together.

UPDATE; I just released my custom Film Grain Packs – now available in both Clean & Dirty variations  – that allow you to add real Super 35mm, Super 16mm, and Super 8mm grain to your digital footage. Check them out here!

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

47 Comments

  • John C
    January 31, 2016 at 2:44 am

    Black Swan is one of my favorite movies, as well. So how much do you think it would reasonably cost to shoot a 100 minute feature with Super 16, with a very low budget ?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      February 1, 2016 at 1:36 am

      It’s the best! Hard to say exactly what the cost would be, since you would likely get discounts on your camera rental, film, processing, etc. for a long form project. That said, I would guess somewhere in the $7K – $8K range, providing you are getting some price breaks along the way.

      Reply
  • Xiong
    February 1, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    As a person that loves the look of film, I cant wait to see what your footage will look like. Its going to be fun!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      February 8, 2016 at 7:20 pm

      Thanks man! Can’t wait to share it…

      Reply
    • Rishi
      October 2, 2016 at 4:17 am

      Hey Noam.
      Loved this blog and will discover it more now. I am a budding film director from India and I have only made 2 questionable short films. I want to simply jump into features and will shoot my first on 16mm. I just love the look and feel of film. I will make sure I get everything right in pre production and get a great crew who are on the same page,
      But apart from this 8k figure what about the digital intermediate and all that…they have a post production packages in most places right, how much would that cost….getting my final product on a HD to send to theaters?
      Thanks and cheers
      Rishi

      Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        October 5, 2016 at 12:42 am

        Hey Rishi! Congrats on embarking on your first feature. The price for a DI/color session will be very dependent on where you go. If you need to save money however, you could always color the film yourself, or sit in at the lab as the film is getting processed to have them color time it while it’s being processed/scanned.

        Most theaters these days can play a quicktime file, which will cost you nothing to produce. On the other hand if the theater asks for a DCP, that will likely cost you between $500 – $2000 depending on where you take it. Hope this helps!

        Reply
  • Eric Staples
    February 11, 2016 at 10:28 pm

    Great post. With Black Swan and Carol both being shot on S16, I’ve been extremely drawn to the aesthetic. Are you able to recommend specific stocks or even from where you’re planning on renting? Do you have any tips in regard to lighting? I too look forward to see your footage!

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      February 16, 2016 at 7:10 pm

      I will need to get back to you with stock / lighting recommendations as I am doing some testing at the moment myself. Stay tuned though, and I will be sure to post updated on the site when I can!

      Reply
  • Aidan Gray
    February 12, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Glad to hear you’re shooting something on film! I had a long internal battle about whether or not I wanted to shoot a project in April on film and it came down to several things that you didn’t mention in your article.

    Film processing is not all that bad (everything S16 is surprising inexpensive) but getting it DI-ed or scanned is generally the most expensive part. Film is phenomenal for all its analog traits but once that is translated to bits, you’re limited by the quality of said transfer. Thats why I’ve always put scanning at the top of the priority list (meaning highest resolution and least compression possible).

    The other main issue with S16 in particular, is shadow detail (and how unforgiving it is on underexposure). This was a huge problem that Matty ran into on Black Swan – it was pretty low budget so he had no real way of consistently raising ambient light levels (as they were shooting mostly on location). This lead to a very gritty looking film (that I think looks amazing) that didn’t reflect his original intention.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      February 16, 2016 at 7:11 pm

      Thanks for the note Aidan! There are definitely some major pros and cons to consider when shooting film, and these points are certainly valid. It all comes down to your needs as a filmmaker and for the project.

      Reply
    • Drew
      October 13, 2016 at 5:41 am

      In that case, Noam, do you have access to a 16mm Steenbeck. Some (very few) film schools still have them. For instance, I know Art Institute of Chicago has one. Maybe it would cut costs if you cut a work print and then conformed the o-neg, just to scan the 2 hour editing negative.

      Maybe you could barter with the school your talents, and be a guest speaker at a screening, perhaps even your own movie.

      Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        October 17, 2016 at 9:08 pm

        I’ve never cut on a linear/analog system (and don’t think I want to!), although that would be a fun challenge. Personally, I think it would be ideal to scan all of your footage for editing digitally, even if it means it drives your budget up. In the end, it would save you a lot of time and a lot of head aches! On the other hand, as an experiment – it might be kind of cool to edit the old fashioned way too…

        Reply
  • […] many of you already know, I’m a huge fan of Super 16mm film and will be shooting my next short on either the Arriflex Sr3 or Arriflex 416, depending on […]

    Reply
  • Justine
    March 19, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Interesting thanks for all the info.

    Reply
  • Jeremy Culver
    April 7, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Hi Noam,

    Regarding your quoted prices of film stock and processing, would you mind sharing where you’re getting these prices? I haven’t called Kodak yet, but their listed price is around $178. It would be great if they do indeed discount that much. As far as the processing houses, listed prices are still much higher, although Cinelab will offer student pricing for features. Been prepping a film and just now discussing with the producers shooting in S16mm.

    If I can make the cost argument, then we’ll get the go ahead.

    Thanks for your insightful article and assistance.

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      April 17, 2016 at 4:27 pm

      Hi Jeremy – If you go ahead and call Kodak they should be able to give you a deal. I think the prices listed on the site are quite flexible, as they seem to just want to sell off as much stock as they can at the moment. Good luck with it!

      Reply
  • Jean Pierre E. Agosto
    April 15, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    I was wondering about the Super 16 cameras. Would a camera like the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera which uses a super 16mm sensor, would it produce that filmic effect that analog cameras produce ???

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      April 17, 2016 at 4:45 pm

      The Pocket Camera is very cinematic looking in my opinion… But no digital camera will ever give filmmakers the immediacy that film does, as the medium itself is finite. That said, for a S16mm look when shooting digital, the Pocket Camera is up there with the best of them.

      Reply
  • Omie
    August 12, 2016 at 9:40 am

    Do you have a link to your film teaser?Im excited to see it. I shoot all my commercials on a red and Alexa , but I just purchased a bolex h16 and some stock . I really want to start using film when I can.Im glad there film makers out there fighting to keep it alive.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 23, 2016 at 10:27 pm

      Hey Omie! The film hasn’t been shot yet but I’ll be sure to post some footage with it as soon as I can. Glad to hear you’re also in the S16mm game – feel free to share some of your stuff here if you can.

      Reply
  • Drew
    October 13, 2016 at 5:37 am

    I appreciate that you articulate a concise reason for picking the format. Big props for that! It seems like so many people on the internet just talk about how “rich” it looks. “Oh Lord, the richness!” You’d think they were picking a cheesecake.
    You actually apply the characteristics of the format to your character and their situation, and I’m fascinated by your justification. It seems like a novel idea.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      October 17, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      Thanks Drew! Glad you enjoyed the article, and I appreciate the kind words.

      Reply
  • Joseph Venzor
    April 4, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    I don’t know a thing about cinematography , is there a place to hire people that know how to shoot on film for hire?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      April 6, 2017 at 11:23 pm

      Yes – I would try posting an ad on a site like Mandy.com and you will definitely get some responses!

      Reply
  • P C Neumann
    June 1, 2017 at 2:59 am

    Thanks for an interesting read on 16 mm film technology. It happens that years ago I used this medium for presentations in a number of public forums. So I bought a state-of-the-art “analytical” 16 mm film projector which is very portable in its designed-in carrying case. It is an L-W Athena analytic projector. It can project 16 mm motion picture film at various frames per second seamlessly. Speeds include 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, and 24 f.p.s. (In either forward or reverse). It will also “single-frame” the film forward or reverse, one frame at a time. Will also allow the movie to stop indefinitely on a single frame without damaging the film. I have maintained this projector very carefully and it runs as well today as new. I have no need now for this marvelous machine and would consider selling it for best offer over $2,500. (I paid about $20,000 new if measured by 2017 dollars).

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      June 1, 2017 at 5:32 pm

      Sounds like a fantastic projector! I will certainly pass along the word if I hear of anyone needing something like this.

      Reply
  • Martin Lober
    June 12, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    I’m Martin, and i found this pleasant discussion by accident. I know all that, own a 416Arri, Mitchell S35R for in camera effects, ARRI BL two pref and 4 perf, and a lot of lenses.
    I want to encourage you all guys, try film, and may be for your second project you will do it again.
    If you want to see double 8mm grain an more, and 16mm Kodachrome, and 35mm two perf, and like Noam talked about the BMPCC, (thats my only digital camera I own) go to VIMEO and watch my movies for a moment, some of the movies are 50 years old. Still in a can, usable. All that was digitized in 2K by Screenshot Berlin.
    Don’t forget: ” Film ist the sensor, the recorder and the storage medium all in one.”

    Think about the future; are you interested in your stuff let’s suppose in 30 years?
    I have an unbelievable pleasure to recut the movies a little bit and give some movies a music.
    I’m waiting for a litte project to support someone with my experience and my equipment.
    I’m a 66 year old cinematographer and photographer. I wish you guys all the sense of delight,
    the rejoice in making movies on film.
    It is worth in every intents and purposes, of live and experience.

    My website is in progress, meanwhile I can offer
    FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100014343390721

    VIMEO: https://vimeo.com/user63968314

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      June 15, 2017 at 10:14 pm

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Martin. I look forward to checking out your work soon!

      Reply
  • Thom
    July 8, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    Lemme know if I can help anyone in their pursuit of transferring film! I am film scanner and work with pin registered Arriscanners.
    As Martin says, your film is everything in one. Also…buy short ends from Reel Good in Hollywood, CA They’re reasonable to our plight! Thom

    Reply
  • Uli
    September 9, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    Did you get to shoot your project on Super 16mm? I’d love to see some footage. Just started experimenting with the format using an Arriflex SR3 and Zeiss Super Speeds.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 10, 2017 at 1:39 am

      Oddly enough, it’s taken me until now to FINALLY shoot with the 16mm film. The project I intended to shoot on S16 ended up morphing in scope and was shot digitally. But as I said I do have a S16 project in the works, as well as some other film projects, so stay tuned…

      Reply
  • Greg
    September 29, 2017 at 1:49 am

    Have you shot any 16mm yet? Any online samples?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      September 29, 2017 at 5:38 pm

      Working on it as we speak… Stay tuned!

      Reply
  • Al
    October 15, 2017 at 1:14 am

    Good sensible article. Suoer 16 and the beautiful Kodak stock is fabulous. I have tried a couple of times to work with super 8 and German optics. One needs to own your own scanner to get the quality you want.Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  • Diego
    October 31, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Which s16mm camera will you recommend for like 1000 USD?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 1, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      If you could get your hands on a used Arri SRII, that would be amazing!

      Reply
  • sergio marroquin
    February 12, 2018 at 1:27 am

    hey noam! great blog, and i would like to ask you if you have the contact with someone in kodak so i can get in touch, i`m evaluating to shoot my first film as director in super16 and would be nice to get in touch with kodak and see if they can help with a discount, i actually produced a film in super8 enterely and it`s amazing the grain and the texture, thank´s for your blog and hope you can help me with some contact in kodak. regards

    ps : this is the movie i produced:

    1974
    https://youtu.be/Y-iQud5_GKU

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      February 27, 2018 at 11:37 pm

      Thanks Sergio! I don’t have any special contacts at Kodak, but I would recommend calling them at their head office directly and letting them know about your situation. They are super helpful, and I’m sure will work with you to make it affordable.

      Reply
  • Sean Gentry
    May 12, 2018 at 7:07 am

    I was very excited to read that film cameras can be rented for less than DSLRs but unfortunately I’m finding that this really isn’t the case where I live. The only rental house I can find in my whole state that rents out 16mm cameras is 4 hours away from me and charges $350/day, not including a lens.

    I guess it has to be due to location; this article is barely two years old so surely things can’t have changed that dramatically.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      June 13, 2018 at 3:20 am

      Are there any film schools in your area? You might be able to get your hands on one for less $$ that way!

      Reply
  • joe joby
    May 17, 2018 at 7:52 am

    Film Lives!!! Be it 8mm,16mm,35mm or even 70mm. The power of digital media be it 2,4,8 or 16K will not beat the Latitude, Color or Dynamic Range of film in a million years regardless of how superfast technology sweeps through us all. So always do your best and heartfelt work on film and the rest on digital media.

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      June 13, 2018 at 3:25 am

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. If I could shoot everything on film, I would!

      Reply
  • paulina
    June 10, 2018 at 11:49 pm

    Hi!

    I’m looking at shooting my first short film on super 16. All the research I’m finding is showing film stock costs being about $250 for a 400′ roll, so double what you have here in your blog. Did prices go up or is the research I’m finding not accurate?

    Is the difference between shooting 16mm vs. super 16 just the camera you shoot it on and the processing?

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      June 13, 2018 at 3:54 am

      Congrats on shooting S16, Paulina! I would try calling Kodak directly. Their full price is about $180 right now, but if you plead your case (or are a student) you can probably get a deal.

      Reply
  • […] have long been a huge fan of the Super 16 look, and there were only really ever two cameras that could scratch that itch: The Digital Bolex and […]

    Reply
  • Cj Williams
    February 3, 2020 at 9:49 pm

    How much would you say a super 16 camera would cost? I’m looking into used super 8s and they range from 200-500

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      March 3, 2020 at 2:04 am

      It depends on the model and condition, but the range could be anywhere from $500 – $5000 on the lower end, and then it goes up from there!

      Reply
  • […] filmmakers are well versed on the iconic Super 16mm film format, but few have even heard of its younger cousin – Ultra 16mm. Both formats share a lot […]

    Reply
  • […] have long been a huge fan of the Super 16 look, and there were only really ever two cameras that could scratch that itch: The Digital Bolex and […]

    Reply

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