Super 8 mm Success Stories

Paul Korver stumbled upon an old Super 8 mm camera while moving into an apartment in NYC and his passion for Super 8 mm filmmaking was reignited. The self-taught filmmaker eventually shot a wedding for a friend with his Super 8 mm camera and the result were so fantastic that Paul saw an opportunity to "reveal part of the reason the word "wedding video" had become synonymous with "cheese". Paul has revolutionized - or as he says "retro-lutionized" - wedding footage by using film, which we all agree, is more organic, human, and emotionally accessible than video. We appreciate the time Paul spent answering our questions about his life and craft.

Tell us about your background. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in the suburbs of Akron, Ohio to Gig, a dedicated father and organic chemist and Marilyn, a loving mother and physical therapist. We moved to suburban Washington State when I was 5 and to suburban SF Bay Area when I was 12.

Paul Korver
Paul Korver

How did you become interested in filmmaking?
On my suburban tour of the US I was never really exposed to the concept of a working artist. The arts were something you do as a hobby (i.e. I was encouraged to take piano lessons) but when you go to college you major in something that will allow you to get a "real job". However, my parents shot my basically entire childhood, including all my Boys Club football games on a Super 8 mm camera. They memorialized that 80-yard touchdown run at half-time in Husky Stadium forever proving I wasn't called "Crazy Legs Korver" for nothing. Having a mild obsession with all things mechanical I had fun shooting some Super 8 mm growing up but never thought of it as a possible profession. Similarly, I loved watching movies, but I never assumed that the actors in them or the people who made them were real and that they actually decided to do that with their lives.

My first movie experience was Herbie the Love Bug. A matinee at the mall with my parents. Star Wars changed my life. I also remember a big premiere of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes on a new channel called HBO. Scariest movie of my childhood? Disney's Watcher in the Woods, hands down.

Did you have any formal training in filmmaking? Did you have a mentor or has the work of other filmmakers inspired you? If so, who?
I'm a self-taught filmmaker. I dropped the Super 8 mm camera for most of my adolescence but started taking still photos in college while keeping up the "real job" façade as a pre-med major at UCLA. With a year of college to go I had a revelation that my right brain was more connected to who I was than my left and switched my major to, you guessed it, Anthropology. I guess at the heart of that decision was my interest in people and what motivates them. I'm inspired by films that explore the human condition and have a great score. Three movies that embody that for me are the French Film 37 Le Matin(score by Gabriel Yared), The Mission (Ennio Morricone), and Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe can really pick a song).

I got back into Super 8 mm when I moved to NY and I took over an apartment that had been abandoned by its previous owner. Part of the deal with the landlord was I had to clean out all the junk. Most of it was crap, but one thing I found in the rubble was a working Minolta Autopak-8. I put in some batteries and pulled the trigger and heard a sound I hadn't heard for 15 years. I was immediately transported to a more magical time of my life and my obsession with celluloid was rekindled.

You are the founder of Fifty Foot Films. What's the philosophy behind Fifty Foot Films and how/when did it begin?
A few years later a friend of mine was getting married and she knew I had some Super 8 mm cameras. She asked me to shoot her wedding on Super 8 mm. The results were phenomenal. So rich and organic, full of life, just like you'd want to remember the day. My wife and I got married about a year later and we looked to hire someone to shoot Super 8 mm at our wedding. To my great surprise I couldn't find anyone offering Super 8 mm for weddings anywhere. It was a sea of schlocky wedding video from one coast to the other. We saw an opportunity, not only an opportunity but a calling. Not only to start a business but also to expose the elephant in the room. To reveal part of the reason the word "wedding video" had become synonymous with "cheese". To reveal the secret ad agencies and movie studios had known for years - pssst - film looks better than video. Who pulled the digital wool over our eyes? Is it possible that in the 1980's we were such convenience whores that we traded in the beauty and magic of film for the quick fix of BetaMax? I'm afraid so. But I was only 9 so I get aesthetic immunity.

Wedding in Laguna, CA

In your web site you describe a "Retro-lution", What do you mean?
A literal definition would be "to move forward by going back". We believe that when it comes to documenting your life, film is more organic, human, and emotionally accessible than video. When we started Fifty Foot Films 5 years ago it felt like an idea that was totally foreign to the general public. We had to sit down and show people. As soon as they saw it they would go "Aaahhh" and understand. This was usually followed by "like The Wonder Years". It felt sort of subversive that no one seemed to realize these 20-year-old cameras you can buy on Ebay produce images that are so much more authentic than the latest, greatest $4000+ video camera at an electronics store. Thus, a "Retro-lution" was born.

You must encounter some challenges when asking clients to spend more money to preserve their memories on film versus video, How have you handled these situations?
I don't suggest preserving all memories on film. That would be too costly. Video has its place and it's great for day-to-day documentation when the cost and inconveniences of working with film outweigh the content of what you are documenting. Especially if you want an easy way to record sound. But for important, moments like a wedding, a birth, a family vacation, I do think it's wise to invest in motion picture film. Not only will it be way more beautiful, but it will also easily outlast anything shot on video in terms of it's archival durability.

I've seen wedding footage from the 1930s that's been in a box in someone's attic after transfer and it looks gorgeous. Conversely my neighbor had his 20th wedding anniversary and pulled out the video shot in 1987. There was barely any image left on the tape. Much of it had turned clear. And that was after just 20 years.

Most of our clients who've seen themselves on film because we've shot their wedding or they used our director's pack, want to do it again and again. And a lot of these people are fairly wealthy and could have any video camera they want, but they've witnessed the beauty of film firsthand and are serious about preserving their family memories. To meet that demand we've started the Fifty Foot Films Club, which makes it easy for people to shoot film whenever they want. They get a fine-tuned Super 8 mm camera to keep and as much film as they need for each project. Then when each project is shot they send the film to us and we do all the post, delivering the final edited product both on DVD and also the reels of film in indexed, archival boxes for historical preservation. It's not cheap of course but still, people are lining up to join. After all, how much are these moments worth?

You've been featured in Brides and InStyle Magazines and the New York Times recently. What does it mean to you to have your work recognized?
It feels great. Like finally people outside the film community are starting to get what I've been blabbing about for 5 years.

Why do you choose to shoot your projects on Super 8 mm film? How does that decision fit in with your overall visual approach? 
In the beginning we shot everything on Super 8 mm (hence our name). But now Fifty Foot Films offers all film formats. We regularly shoot events on Super 8 mm, 16mm, Super 16 mm and even 35 mm. I'm still waiting for that 70mm IMAX wedding.

In terms of our visual approach, the beauty of film is that each format has it's own personality. We offer all film formats so our clients can choose what "look" resonates with them the most, so they get to take part in the creative process.

As far as Super 8 mm goes, we've just launched a more accessibly priced sister company called Paper Tape Films that is offering a 100% Super 8 mm product in 13 (and counting) local markets across the US and soon some in Europe. The web site is like a Super 8 mm tour of the US.

Tell us about Paper Tape Films and the concept behind it.
We have a great reputation with Fifty Foot Films but because I personally direct all the Fifty Foot jobs, and because we're often shooting on a lot of the pro film formats, the prices fall outside the realm of most wedding budgets.

The idea with Paper Tape is to go back to our roots to make quality Super 8 mm films accessible to more people, while affording local filmmakers more opportunities to get paid good money to shoot film.

Last year a quick Google of Fifty Foot Films revealed blogs where brides were lamenting that they "loved this company Fifty Foot Films" but couldn't afford to fly them in to shoot their wedding. As an alternative, they were pointing their local videographers to our site to see if they could shoot some Super 8 mm or try to make video look like Super 8 mm using filters in post. We thought it was unfortunate that due to financial constraints these brides had to trust someone with a video background to shoot motion picture film under the stress and "one-take" pressure of a wedding. So there was clearly a need in the wedding market for experienced film shooters.

I was also willing to bet there were a lot of talented filmmakers out there that went to film school and were experienced with the manual art form of shooting motion picture cameras but who hadn't yet found many paying opportunities to work with the medium they loved. Instead they were shooting Beta for some EPK crew to raise money for their short. Or, bartending while writing their screenplay.

Our idea was that if we could train the local filmmakers to shoot weddings and pair them with brides who want Super 8 mm, then send the film back to Fifty Foot Films editing facility for post production, and do all this at a price that was competitive with high-end video, that everyone would win. And that's Paper Tape Films in a nutshell.

Wedding from Philadelphia, PA

What postproduction path do you follow: What facility do you use for the transfer? Do you scan at HD or other resolution for the digital editing portion of your projects? On what system do you edit the films?
Our small format film gets processed all over the place. Spectra, Yale, Pro8mm or Dwayne's it depends on the needs of the job. Our Super 16 mm and 35 mm neg. generally goes to FotoKem.

For Super 8 mm telecine we used to go with film-chain for reversal and get on a Rank for the neg. But after a while the hotspot from the film-chain started to bother me and I really wished we could afford to transfer everything on a Rank because it looks the best and with a DaVinci color corrector you can do so much with it creatively. The problem is Super 8 mm gates for a Rank are rare and very expensive so any place you go around Los Angeles charges more for Super 8 mm Rank transfer than what they charge for 16mm and even 35 mm transfer on the same machine. It's unfortunate because in the end it's the Super 8 mm filmmakers that lose out.

We'd love to create a co-op where small format filmmakers could have access to high-quality, Rank telecine at prices that were more accessible to students and people that are doing the more experimental films to which the Super 8 mm format lends itself so effortlessly. It's a big undertaking but once I set my mind to something, well we'll see what happens.

In terms of the higher resolution filmstocks like Super 16 mm and 35 mm, we have all that transferred at HD resolution (1080 23.98 psf) on a Spirit with Jonny McPheeters at Rushes here in Los Angeles. It's very expensive but Jonny is really talented and the image quality on a Spirit is ridiculous.

What is the process for choosing and using music in your edited projects? Are there licensing issues that you or the clients work through?
I have a strong opinion about song choices for the movies. We send the client our version of the movie with our choices and 99% of the time the client loves the music and then adds the song choices to their own personal music library. Every now and then a client will request a song up front and we'll buy the CD or the iTunes version and add that song to our library. If I am working with a client on a commercial basis, where our product will be used beyond a personal viewing capacity, I will still make the initial song choices and they will obtain the rights on their own. This recently happened when I co-directed a campaign for Josie Maran's new line of cosmetics with the accomplished fashion photographer, Warwick Saint. She loved the music choice, got in touch with the unsigned artist, and worked out the rights on her end. We like to find great new independent artists and we do a great job of turning out fans for those artists.

How has your work evolved over the course of your career? Have advancements in technology - for example, film stocks, lenses, camera mounts, etc. - changed the way you direct or shoot a project?
My work is constantly evolving. I'm so grateful that Kodak still continues to support Super 8 mm as that format is very dear to my heart. In the beginning when I was just shooting Super 8 mm reversal a huge advancement was in 2003 when Kodak released the Vision 2 7218 500 ASA filmstock for Super 8 mm. It totally changed my ability to shoot a low-light wedding or reception.

I'm into off-beat, low-tech cameras. One of my fave's is the Estes Cineroc because I used to launch Big Bertha rockets as a kid. It's basically a tiny, plastic Super 8 mm camera that runs off an AA battery and a rubber band mounted inside a Big Bertha rocket. We'll sometimes launch one at a wedding right when the bride and groom are pronounced married. They're coming back down the aisle and we get a great shot pulling away from the earth up to 500 ft. in the air. Very cool!

Lately I've really been liking Super 16 mm with an HD transfer. I can have all the resolution and 16 x 9 image but because it's 16mm I can still shoot the reversal filmstocks I love so much, which still leave a bit of grain and texture in the image, an organic quality I love. It's a great look for weddings (we just shot a huge wedding in France on a couple of Arri 416s) but I also like it for my more commercial endeavors. For instance, I just got a big break and got to shoot and direct a music video with Christina Aguilera. For the performance stuff we shot some over-cranked Super 16 mm Tri-X and it turned out really beautiful.

How do you market yourself and your films - Internet, MySpace, snail mail, etc?
In the beginning I beat the streets really hard trying to get people to understand the value of film over video, which generally meant in-person "screenings" for anyone who would watch, especially key people in the wedding business in LA and NY. I think now we're more established and a lot of our business comes by word-of-mouth. We've also been fortunate to get some good exposure in the media so I'm sure some business comes from that. If I get more serious about directing commercial/music video stuff then I should probably look for some sort of representation in that area. But for now I'm just grateful to have found a way to make a living shooting film, and I want to continue to focus on doing a great job with what's right in front of me.