It all started with my horrific re-experience of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) back in the early winter months of 2006. I had bought a good Swedish special digibox edition DVD of that film. I believe that I hadn’t seen the film since my first encounter with it in the early 1980’s as a “video nasty”. Not only did the movie itself inspire me – being something of a arthouse/grindhouse fusion – but in particular the little booklet attached to the DVD cover which gave a brief account of the making of the horror masterpiece, with such tidbits of information as that it was shot in chronological order of the scripted scenes. Especially the fact that it was shot guerilla style on 16 mm film with a budget approximating 300.000 $ (mostly spent on filmstock) with the help of Hooper’s friends was a mindblower for me; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the foremost archetype of independent guerilla film production. The idea stuck with me that I myself would possible be able to create a similar piece of feature film. My supportive wife bought me a book on basic home movie production shortly thereafter and that was a sign for me that I should follow up that original idea and finally realise my old childhood dream. The fact that I was in my early 40’s – the typical timing of a middle age chrisis – and hated my day job of course had a lot to do with this cinethusiastic quickening of my soul.
In search for likeminded souls I joined a Swedish forum called Voodoo Film for DIY filmmakers. This site also hosts a on-line filmschool which I printed out and studied in detail. I immediately started to interact extensively, especially on threads about cinematography. From the onset of my new film career video film was out of the question; shoot on 16 mm or bust! I simply loved (and still love) the look of 16 mm filmstock, and this passion stod in direct proportion to my dislike of the unnatural DV and HDV video look. But I of course new that 16 mm cameras, although not as much as their big brother from the 35 mm format, weren’t cheap. Especially not if considering cameras from Arriflex, Aaton, Eclair or Beaulieu. A re-watch of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994), who uses Super 8 filmstock in a few scenes, made me realize that the Super 8 format actually could be put into some use in a semi-professional or professional context. Doing some research I of course fell in love with the beautiful Beaulieu 2008 and 4008 cameras, but even those ones were out of reach considering my shoe string budget restrictions. Looking at eBay I noticed several resellers from former Eastern Bloc countries selling old Russian cameras. On different fora people praised the workability of the russian designs and the low cost/qality ratio. I soon learnt to memorise Russian brands such as Kinor and KMZ (Krasnogorskiy Mechanicheskiy Zavod) as I realised that I could bypass all of the restrictions imposed by Western produced equivalents.
Subsequently, I bought a total of three film cameras of Russian manufacture: One Zenit Quarz 1x8S-2 (Super 8), a Zenit Krasonogorsk-3 (16 mm) and a Zenit Kinor 16SX-2M (16 mm). They are all built like Russian T-72 tanks, robust, all metal bodies and minimalistic in functions. They all have removable lense mounts; the Quartz sports a C-mount, the Krasnogorsk a M42x1 mount, and the Kinor its own bayonet mount standard. Although the mount on the Zenit Quarz is of C-standard, it’s difficult to fit in any other lens to it because of a focus lens piece fixed to the body behind the detachable Meteor 8M1 f/1,8 9-38 mm zoom lens that comes with the camera. Reportedly, some cinematographers have attached anamorphic lenses to the Quartz with the help of some adapters. The aperture is situated behind the fixed focus lens and may be manually adjusted or set into auto exposure mode. There is also a knob which adjusts the auto exposure by two stops in either direction. The light meter is powered by twin 1.35V batteries and I found some that fit the camera online. The camera body hosts a Wratten filter switch for outdoors filming. Accessories include additional ND-4x and Dark Yellow-2x filters, as well as a pair of F=250 and 667 supplementary lenses, and a lens hood, all attachable to the Meteor 8M1 lens. The Quartz only accepts silent Super 8 cartridges which is powered by a spring-wound motor, set to 9, 12, 18, 24 and 32 fps, as well as single frame exposure; the motor last about 33 seconds at 18 fps. The camera may be cable released.
The Zenit Quartz 1x8S-2 came to me factory sealed and has worked flawlessly for me. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about my Zenit Krasnogorsk-3 16 mm film camera. In many respects the Zenit Krasnogorsk may be regarded as the big brother of the Zenit Quartz. Both models were manufactured for amateur shooting. The Krasnogorsk-3 is perhaps the most popular cinema camera in the West and there are a lot of nice footage to be found on YouTube and Vimeo shot with it. The zoom lens which comes with the camera is the Meteor 5-1 f/1.9 17-69 mm. Like its kid brother the Krasnogorsk is fitted with a spring-wound motor with a 8, 12, 16, 24, 32 and 48 fps speed interval (with the motor lasting about 25 seconds at 24 fps) and single frame, as well as having its own light meter powered by a 1.45V battery which is sensitive to the ISO/ASA and frame rate setting. It is also possible to set the frame rate as low as 6 and as high as 50 fps so it is quite usable as a camera for slow motion takes. Cable release is also an option. Like the Zenit Quarts it comes with a pistol grip to which may be fitted a telescopic shoulder brace as an extension which comes quite handy for stabilisation of hand held shooting. The film is manually loaded (like an old Bolex) opening the side of the camera body, which is quite tricky to do in complete darkness. I have only tried this once (16 mm film isn’t cheap) and I must have done something wrong as the film wasn’t exposed correctly and ruined the entire film roll. I might have received a faulty copy (there have been reports of such in the past as quality control wasn’t the highest in the KZM factory), either that or I didn’t load the film right.
However, the Meteor 5-1 lens is the true price of the Krasnogorsk-3. It’s not the sharpest of lenses out there but it does give a warm, soft and pleasent picture quality to any film stock. It is quite fast, especially compared to equivalent Russian zoom lenses manufactured for the Kinor 16 (see below). With an adapter (these are quite easy to come by thanks to the popularity of the camera) it can be fitted to various 16 mm camera bodies, also to digital cameras with a Super 16 sensor (such as the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, Ikonoskop A-Cam dII or the Digital Bolex) which gives them a filmic look to the recorded footage. It has a quite smooth focus ring suitable for a focus pull arrangement and the zoom (ranging from F= 17 to 69 mm) is adjusted or pulled with a lever attached to the side of the lens, with a detachable extension rod screwed into the lever for smooth zooming; it also gives the ability to pull really fast zooms for visual effect. Like the fucus ring, the aperture ring adjusts f-stops continuously stepless from f/1.9 to 22. There is a range of 77 mm filters that comes with the Meteor 5-1 lens; my camera came fitted with a Ultra Violet (haze) UV-1x, one Neutral Density N-4x, one Light Yellow Y-1,4x, and two Dark Yellow Y-2x filters (with the same 77mm diameter but somewhat different sizes). Both the lens and the camera body, and all of the accessories, were in mint (virutally new) condition when I received them.
The biggest issue with the Zenit Krasnogorsk-3 is that it is a MOS camera, i.e. only shoots silent film. I soon realized that I needed to buy a electric motor camera in 16 mm which synced to a sound recorder. My budget and (to be honest) my faschination for Russian cameras (there is something with the design philosophy of Soviet-Russian manufacture which I simply adore) turned my attention to the foremost professional Russian 16 mm camera, the Kinor 16. As with the Zenit Quartz and K-3 cameras, I again turned my attention to eBay; my Kinor 16SX-2M more than quadropled my expenses but I knew that I needed a sound camera and this was the cheapest way to do aquire it. What attracted me to the Kinor 16 was the purported high build quality and the use of a registration pin, a feature that fixes the film to the (7.42 x 10.05 mm sized) gate during exposure to create a sharper image (at a variable of approx. 0.015 mm) and which usually comes with expensive Arriflex cameras, as well as the large range of prime and zoom lenses from the Russian maufacturer LOMO. To be honest, I don’t know if the camera motor (29EPSS) works. It is supposed to be pre-set to 25 fps adapted to European (and Soviet) television broadcast, synced to a tape recorder with a analoge pilot tone. Although cables were attached to the shipment I never received the required 12V battery to test the camera; my original idea was to modify the camera to modern standards with a crystal sync configuration, such as offered by the Ukrainian technician Olex Kalynychenko which adjusts the motor speed to a wide range of 8-60 fps. I have yet to have the camera modified.
The Kinor 16 has a bladed mirror shutter with a 170 degree angle (giving a 1/53 s shutter speed at 25 fps) and the motor has a handle attached with a electrical start and stop button. The operating noise coming from the camera is specified to 42 db but good maintanience and lubicants are said to lower that figure. My camera came with four 30 m /100 feet film all metal cassettes which are quickly released and attached to the camera body (Kodak Daylight Spools fit to the cassette); there are also 120 m / 400 feet cassettes produced for the camera. There is a wide range of LOMO lenses produced for the Kinor 16 which attaches to the body through a unique bayonet mount. The prime lenses are: 16 OKS 1-6-1 f/1.8 6 mm, 16 OKS 3-10-1 f/2.1 10 mm (the one which came with the camera), 16 OKS 3-15-1 f/2 15 mm, 16 OKS 2-20-1 f/1.9 20 mm, 16 OKS 1-25-1 f/2.5 25 mm, 16 OKS 8-35-1 f/2 35 mm, 16 OKS 1-50-6 f/2 50 mm, 16 OKS 1-75-1 f/2 75 mm, 16 OKS 1-100-1 f/2 100 mm, 16 OKS 1-150-1 f/2.8 150 mm, 16 OKS 7-200-1 f/2.8 200 mm, and 16 OKS 6-300-1 f/3.5 300 mm. The zoom lenses are: 16 OPF 12-1 f/2.5 10-100 mm (basically a Russian copy of a Zeiss), 16 OPF 1-2M-01 f/2.4 12-120mm (basically the Russian copy of the Angenieux), and a wide angle adapter which attaches to both lenses which lends a 7.5-75 mm range to the 16 OPF 12-1 and a 9-90 mm range to the 16 OPF 1-2M-01. My camera came with the basic set of 62 mm filters for LOMO prime lenses: Neutral Density N-2x and N-4x, plus colour temperature fiters K4500 (yellow), K6000 (orange) and K8000 (red).
The Kinor 16 has a adjustable optical reflex viewfinder (with a 9.5x magnification) which can be tilted upwards for easier watching in low angle positions (however, the entire image tilts to the left correspondingly, which makes panning ankward). The viewfinder ground glass covers an 11.1 x 7.7 mm area (i.e. in excess of the actual film gate) and has cross hairs and two sets of markings, the innermost of 8.4 x 6.3 mm size referred to as “important area of image”, used as a reference for 1970’s and 80’s Soviet style telechine scanning, and the other of 10.1 x 7.45 mm referred to as “Academy 16”; a 1.78:1 ratio would cover 10.1 x 5.67 mm in the ground glass, meaning that the innermost marking would serve as a rough reference for cropping an image into 16:9 in post (see attached image on right). These three Russian beauties (the Quarz, K-3 and Kinor, which I will have opportunity to review more thoroughly in future posts) made me pivot from directing movies towards the art of cinematography itself. Although I soon developed a kind of fetish towards film cameras, their use required additional equipment. During 2006 I aquired a number of additional accessory film equipment of various kinds, mostly through eBay and the Swedish equivalent Tradera. I bought two tripods, one of a contemporary model made of metal and the other one a vintage type made of wood and aluminium. The all metal version was heavier and more appropriate for my Krasnogorsk; however there was a fitting problem with the K-3 and I had to do a DIY solution and modify the mount (with superglue!) that ruined it. The vintage tripod has a shaky mount and doesn’t do well with panning and tilting (it’s a still photographers tripod), but is good enough for fixed camera positions with the Zenit Quarts 1x8S-2. I also bought a dolly attachable to a tripod, a cheap lightweight model all made out of plastic; it is only usable for MOS work as its plastic wheels are to noisy. My filmmaking friend Jonas has actually borrowed it from me lately and attached it to his DIY dolly track system made out of plastic tubing, and because each wheel is made of two pairs with a small space in between it fits somewhat on the track and actially rolls quite smooth and silently when applied to the tracks. When not in use it folds itself and is carried with an internal handle, and requires very little storage space.
For reviewing developed 16 mm and Super 8 filmstock I aquired a pair of editor viewers, one for each film format. For 16 mm film viewing I bought a Russian Kupava-16 which (of course) is made all in metal and quite heavy, and for Super 8 I procured a Sanmer Model PE-444 DX. Both work well to this very day and are easy to use; both models utilise a knob for focus. Whereas the Sanmer has a light switch the Kupava turns on the light while lowering a plate over the filmstrip; both have to jerk into a sprocket with ther perforations and while the Sanmer projects a smooth image with minimal flickering the Kupava does create lots of flickering in the image, however the image of the latter is both brighter and larger. Also, while the Sanmer has a metal frame much of its body is made from plastic and hasn’t as solid a built quality feeling like its Russian counterpart. I just recently had to open the interiors of the Kupava-16 to glue back its large mirror which thankfully hadn’t cracked. I also picked up a film splicer a decade ago on a snoopers market, all in metal with the brand LPL, that cuts and splices filmstrips of regular 8 mm, 16 mm and Super 8 formats. In recently reviewing my exposed and developed Super 8 and 16 mm filmstock with the viewers, the 16 mm roll loosened in its spliced joints so I had to recut and splice them, using my 10 year old Kodak Proffessional Film Cement with success (the splicer has a instructions card attached to its bottom for easy referencing). When I procured by Zenit Quarz 1x8S-2 the package also contained a pair of Russian refill Super 8 cartidges (with the logo “Kasseta” on them) with I have never put to any use as I have always ordered Super 8 filmstock from Wittner Kinotechnik in Germany. Last but not least did I aquire a analog film meter, a classical Japanese Sekonic Model L-398 with a full assortment of 11 reading slides which adjusts the meter to filmspeed (ISO/ASA) and shutter speed; as I have never come to master the film meter fully I have yet to return with a full review of its functions in a later post.
Even before I had received most of my equipment I threw myself into a state of frenetic scriptwriting, based upon some guidelines on Voodoo Film. I hade a great surge of creativity, sitting day and night hammering down my ideas on my laptop keyboard. The first script developed into a feature film which I wrote in a virtual state of mania during a couple of tree weeks, resulting in a post-apocalyptic zombie-horror story with the cool title “Force Majeure“. I got the idea and title for the film from a LARP which my wife partook in that same year, which is set in a bunker after the apocalypse, a chamber story where the walls keeping the survivors safe from the hazards on the outside cannot protect them from the enemy within. I wrote to the authors of the LARP for the rights to use the title and the basic outline of their story, setting it into a zombie milieu as a backdrop for the catastrophe (changing the fear of radioactivity into a fear of enraged and dehumanised beings) and they loved it and consequently approved; I set the chamber story into a discarded old military bunker which I drew upon from memories of my own military service in Sweden. My original idea was to shoot all of the exteriors on colour 16 mm film and the interiors on black & white Super 8. The first version of the script was written out on March 20, 2006; the final draft (third version) was completed on August 17. Through a contact on the Voodoo Film forum (following a thread on the draft that I published there) I even managed to have my script reviewed by a proffessional script writer; we met over a cup of coffey to discuss my script. However I never liked his suggestions to “enhance” the plot as they gravitated the story into a more mainstream and commersial type of film; I wanted it to be as gritty as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. However, my original script does in fact have a lots of flaws (which my wife has pointed out to me), especially in its format as it is hampered with to many camera directions making reading painful. Although I still want to shoot Force Majeure as a full lenght feature I will have to rework and rewrite the entire script from scratch, lifting out all of the camera references into a storyboard, keeping the main plot intact but probably amend some of the scenes and develop the characters a little bit more; after all it was my first try at writing a script, but it has a lot of potential and as it stands right now Sweden produces zombie movies to far in between.
Simultaneously with rewriting Force Majeure in August 2006 another idea for a feature brewed inside of me, a rape revenge story which descends into psychosis with the working title “Trauma“. Based upon personal experiences in the late 1980’s the story takes off with a Polish girl working in Sweden as a home maid after she has quitted her first employer after being sexually harrassed; she takes a new employment in good faith after finding an ad attached to the local Catholic church billboard but finds herself being kidnapped and raped for several days until she manages to escape. Traumatised she is comitted to a psychiatric ward by the police after entering a psychotic catatonic state and in the final act we return to the perpurtraitor’s apartment to partake in her gruesome act of revenge; in the final scene we see her sitting on the hospital bed and we are left with no clue in either direction if the gory torture of her victim that we just witnessed was all in her fantasy or for real. This project never left the treatment stage but the story itself is quite personal to me; although the character and the way that she finds herself in Sweden is fiction, as well as the subsequent psychosis and revenge, the actual assault against a Polish woman, her abuse and rape all the way from the church to the perpertrator’s apartment, as well as the subsequent escape, is all based on facts and retolled by me as a second hand witness. This is a story that probably should be commited to a script and produced, perhaps as a follow-up to Force Majeure which is a good start as the projected budget is very low and almost non-existent, contained as it is to a confined space with few exterior shots; Trauma requires more resources and locations. I published my original treatment on the Voodo Film forum and it received some interest from other parties; a film student and would-be producer contacted me as he was interested in producing my idea into a finished film with myself as the possible director. But the project never materialised and we never actually met in person; however, this was proof enough for me that the story has potential. I might pick it up again in the future. Or not…
Although making a feature is the final goal for me filmwise, the road to full lenght movies is a lengthy one which must be paved with shorter projects; I needed to make short films to benefit my filmmaking practice and consequently wrote another script for a short a couple of weeks after I had finished writing the first draft of Force Majeure, entitled “Själens mörka natt” (“Dark Night of the Soul”) which was finished in its final version on April 6, 2006. This short film may best be described as a psycho-drama slasher where arthouse meets grindhouse – a man full of anxiety sits down on a bench in a forest to rest and tries to listen to hardcore music through his ear plugs to combat his anxiety, at the same moment a shadow is lurking in the woods closing in on the anxious man from behind… With the help of my friend and his martial arts partner we shot the film MOS on Super 8 with my Zenit Quarz 1x8S-2 set on 24 fps attached to a tripod and some hand held work during two days in Septermber and November 2006 in the local park, with myself as a one man film crew; producer, director, cinematographer and special effects technician in one person. I shot additional footage by myself and the aide of my wife with my Krasnogorsk-3 in July that same year in which my 16 mm film was faultily exposed with a lots of jitter. However, this footage is usable (according to my wife, and I agree with her) as it gives a surreal flavour to the POV of the outwordly lurking “shadow”. All of the Super 8 material was beautifully exposed, with a couple of ruined shots only; it is usable with no need for re-shooting. I sent all of my footage for development in Germany (the images in the viewers as seen in the photographs above are taken from the short) but I haven’t done any post-production with it. I lost my motivation to make film towards the end of 2006 as my interests went towards other projects. All of my equipment and recorded material has collected dust since on the shelfs. Now, exactly a decade later I have rediscovered my old movie projects and new ideas are brooding; it’s time to take-off from where I left it all… (To be continued.)