Capturing the gritty, moody and sometimes disturbing details with Super 8 mm film.

As many of you already know, Super 8 mm film is a very versatile format. If you want it to look grungy, it does that, if you want it to look totally gorgeous, it does that and if you want it to look terrifying, it can do that too.

When Eric Falardeau was choosing a format to create his experimental horror films he chose Super 8 mm because he wanted to get “the most of the films materiality (grain, imperfections, colors, dusts, etc.) to enhance the mood”.

Enjoy this interview with Eric where he offers inspiration and a peak at his creative vision.

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 Scene from Coming Home by M. J. Lamontagne

Where were you born and raised? How did you become interested in cinematography? And, did you have any formal cinematographer training?

I was born in Val D’Or, a small town in Northern Quebec. I spent my childhood in a nearby town, Senneterre. There wasn’t a lot to do there, but we had a great public TV channel and my father used to make me watch a lot of films. I discovered a lot of the American and European classics by watching TV. I remember clearly the first time I saw Parker’s Angel’s Heart, De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise and Herzog’s Nosferatu. Of course, the video store provided all the b-stuff a young boy wanted to see: mostly horror and action movies. This is probably why I have a great art-house sensibility combined with a strong love of genre cinema. I was also reading a lot of books and magazines (French magazines and English ones like Fangoria). I started writing little comic books and stuff. Then, one day, a bunch of friends and I decided to shoot a film with my dad’s vhs camcorder. The result was awful but I fell in love with cinema.

After some studies in psychology, I took courses in cinema at the Univesité de Montréal and I directed, with my long-time partner Benoît Lemire, several short films as a member of the world-renowned Kino movement. I also did my Master’s degree. My thesis was on horror film and that lead me to my first solo directing effort: La petite mort (mini-DV, 2005, 3 min.).

Purgatory and Coming Home are just two of your recent projects. Please describe what they are about and the genre that you specialize in.

Purgatory (2006, 16 min.) is my second film. It was a long-run work that needed a full year from pre-production to the release of the final print in 2006. Moreover, the whole project needed 9 days of shooting, 1500 feet of film stock (for an hour and a half of rushes), a crew of more than 15 people and more than 10 actors. It is a dark, gritty, and disturbing experimental horror film about a man faced to his own inner purgatory. The Winnipeg Film Group distributes the film.

Coming Home (2008) is a nineteen-minute “Coenesque” drama about vengeance, pain and loss. It took 1400 feet of Super 8 mm film. The whole story centers around two men who have been waiting many years to see each other again.  Their destinies are linked to a mysterious Super 8 mm film roll and when they meet again a one-way journey into their past begins I wanted to explore emptiness in a different way than my previous film Purgatory. Here, it’s the emptiness of losing and killing (what’s left after vengeance except pain?). I also wanted to shoot a film in the full Canadian winter’s glory because it was a great opportunity to capture great snowy and empty landscapes on film. At the same time, these landscapes would echo the central character’s inner self. It is a very contemplative film.

Cam Shot (2008, 4 min.) is a black and white erotic and fetishist film. I wanted to pay a tribute to the amazingly gorgeous women in expressionist film. Therefore, it is a visual essay about lighting, contrast, texture, and make-up. It was filmed in front of a black velvet backdrop with a single spot on the actress (a Lowell 500W). She has dark and white make-up over her whole body so the contrasts are really visible. I think the ratio is almost 16 to1!!!

What film format did you use and why?

I almost exclusively shoot my projects on Super 8 mm film for two reasons. First, it gives a ‘’professional’’ look to the film simply because the viewer’s eyes are used to watching real film in theatre and they associate video with TV and documentary. When a film is shot on video, people tend to associate it with low production values. Depth of field, latitude and sharpness are other aspects that are better in film than video. Video is too clean and cold. I like to compare the looks of film and video to the sounds of vinyl and CD. Film and vinyl is warmer, more profound, there is more texture. You feel the materiality of the image or the music. All these factors make a difference when the film is viewed in a theatre. It is almost archaic but cinema is – at least for me - a material affair.

The other reason why I choose Super 8 mm is because it is cheaper than 16 mm and 35 mm and it still gives you the same picture quality. It is so easy now to find a good Super 8 mm camera at a low cost. There is one in each family’s attic. You’re saving on equipment rental, transfer, and prints. With the technology it is now easy to transfer your negative or reversal prints on mini-DV and go all the way through a digital workflow. At the end, if you need a film print you just print it back on Super 8 or 16 mm film.

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Scene from Coming Home by M. Corriveau 

Why did you choose to shoot your projects on Super 8 mm film? Which film stock or stocks (brand and number) did you use, and why? Please give specifics about your films.

I used Kodak Ektachrome 64T color reversal film stock 7280 for both Purgatory and Coming Home. What’s great with this stock is that you don’t need to have a negative then a positive. You save money on both transfer and lab processes without losing picture quality. You have a lot of latitude and details in both dark and white areas. I needed that range since I had to shoot in overexposed conditions (empty fields full of snow in Coming Home) and underexposed ones (the dark and gritty setting of Purgatory). It was also easier to switch from daylight to tungsten and the other way round.

For both Purgatory and Coming Home, I wanted to get the most of the film materiality (grain, imperfections, colors, dusts, etc.) to enhance the mood. I was trying to recreate that grainy and dusty independent 70’s horror flick look like in Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Last House on the Left. That look instantly provides a disturbing and unique viewing experience for the viewer. The materiality of the film also summons directly the viewer’s own senses and character’s flesh. The film settings also win a lot with these creepy, dusty and unsettling pictures that brings to mind snuff films and horror classics. It gives a depth to the image impossible to recreate with video. Moreover, it evokes another era of filmmaking because Super 8 mm was an affordable, family and underground used product.

When shooting Cam Shot, I decided to use Kodak Tri-X black and white reversal film 7266. I wanted high contrasts: deep black and high white. This film stock enabled us to shoot with low lights while getting all the sharpness, fine grain and details needed to achieve the look wanted.

What was the “look” or mood you wanted to achieve? Can you describe your method of photographing a particular scene that illustrates that “look”, including what lights, gels, camera movement, exposure, and lens that you used?

During my studies at the Univesité de Montréal I was DOP on a 16 mm black and white short film entitled Trelà (Philippe Larivière, 2003, 10 min). It is there that I discovered the joy – and pain – of cinematography. We tried to do a day-for-night using red filters, under exposure and post-production timing to get a bluish look. We went to Kodak in Montréal and I fell in love with Kodak products right away for two reasons: the latitude and freedom the film’s stocks give and the amazing customer service. We shot the film on 16 mm Kodak Double-X black and white negative film stock 7222.

In Purgatory we wanted to have a snuff-like look. We wanted the film to be grainy and dirty. To do so, we used the daylight/tungsten filter inside the Bell and Howell camera to get a reddish look to the film (of course we enhance and adjust that in post-production). We didn’t clean the lenses and we underexposed to film to get a bigger grain.

When shooting Coming Home we had to keep the aperture close at 22 almost all the time since we were shooting daylight in snowy field. There was a lot of reflectance and I knew that the film stock will enable us to have details in white areas even if the snow seems to blast! In fact, we put a Wratten 85 filter and everything was perfect! The results are amazing and we almost did nothing except bounce the light here and there (essentially in the car’s scene).

Did you use any unusual techniques such as push or pull processing, or abnormal exposure, to achieve certain effects?

For Cam Shot, I asked the laboratory - Exclusive Film Lab in Toronto - to push the film one-stop to heighten the contrasts between black and white. It was easier and more effective than using a red filter. It really darkened the black and blast the white, thus giving the film is high contrast, expressionist and fetishistic visual. It gives the leather costume and body make-up more texture, reflectance and visual impact. We also shot the film at 18fps to give the shot an inner little slow motion effect. It adds to the film’s sensual and erotic aspects.

You have had a lot of success at many film festivals within the last few years. Can you tell us about your films that have screened at the festivals and what festivals you have been in?

My films have been screened in several festivals around the world and have been reviewed in magazines and on websites. La petite mort and Purgatory have played in Germany, France, Slovakia, South Africa, USA, Australia, Brazil, and Canada. I’m really amazed at how people react positively to my work and I think that shooting on film really made a difference. People always tell me so. In 2006, we had the privilege to be in Berlin at a special screening of La petite mort during the Tromanale (the German’s Tromadance). The film also won the jury award for best film at the Spasm Film Festival in Montreal.

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 Scene from Coming Home by M. J. Lamontagne

How have advancements in technology – for example, film stocks, lenses, camera mounts, etc. – changed the way you direct or shoot a project?

It had and still has an impact on every aspect of filmmaking. We have to rethink the entire workflow each time we start a new project. The biggest and better change regarding Super 8 mm film is that once the transfer is done on digital tape you can finish the film without going back to the film negative. It saves a lot of time and cost. It is now possible to do film on Super 8 mm and I don’t think that would have been easier just 10 years ago when you would have needed old school editing materials!

These advancements also allow us to improve the production value of our projects for a fraction of the price. They enable us to do special effects, color timing, multiple versions when editing, etc. But one must understand something: these are only tools and it doesn’t give talent or a good story if someone as neither of them. Each time new technology hits the market – colors film for example – there are still good and bad films. And this is especially true in the all too easy to access and overcrowded short films market. It all depends on the director, the DOP, and the film’s team.

Where do you look for inspiration? Which other director or cinematographers’ work do you admire and why?

Inspiration is everywhere! First thing of all, I think that one must read a lot to find inspiration. Books are a good guideline for plots’ structure and storytelling’s devices when one writes his script. As a DOP I tried to look closely at how light is worked in paintings and photos. Of course, as a director I want to see as much films as possible! A writer reads books to write better and a filmmaker watches films to make better ones. The bad ones are sometime the best to learn from to see what not to do or just find good, badly or unused ideas.

This said, I must admit I worship the work of Dario Argento. He works like a painter. He uses lighting and blood spurts like a painter uses colors and movements. For the opposite reasons I have a profound fondness for the films of Japanese master Ozu Yasujiro. In his films everything is so precise, calculated, but so true. I’m sad each time I watch Tokyo Story. It is by far one of my favorite films.

Where can we see the film next? Theatres, TV, DVD, internet, another festival?

Cam Shot will be part of a screening during the New England International Erotic Art Festival (Provincetown, Maine) in June. I’ll be there to introduce the film and respond to questions. Meanwhile, Purgatory and Coming Home will be screened in a couple of festivals (for legal reasons and festivals’ press releases I can’t say which ones right now). For those who want to see trailers for my films, they can easily be found on Myspace and Youtube. Finally, Purgatory is distributed by the Winnipeg Film Group and will be released on a special European DVD, April 18th (a compilation from the Weekend de la peur 2007 French film festival).

What is your next project going to be?

We are editing my new short, Le Cycle (The Cycle). We plan a July or August release so we’ll be able to screen it in several horror festivals in October.

I’m also raising funds for my next short film entitled Crépuscule (Dawn). It will be shot with 24p HD for a subsequent 35 mm blow-up. I’m also writing my first feature film, which I want to shoot in 16 mm or Super 16 mm. Both are art-house horror films. The first one is more fantastic and mythological while the second has a realistic plot and setting. When will they be done? It all depends on funding!!!! If there’s anyone out there interested…