Flashback: Editing with 16mm tape

Long term subscriber to Australian Videocamera and now FV^VR, Rob McCubbin, shares a memory of the “good old days” …. and how good we had it !

Hi again David,

Just read your trip to Exmouth, one that I have done a few times. Hope the end result is worth the battle of shooting it.

Re Editing… You may recall I was trained in 16mm film editing. We had a trolley with a large cloth bag (like a double sleeping bag) under a wooden rack with  pins in it numbered 1-100. We watched the rushes on a Steenbeck editing machine, white pencilled the head and tail of the rough shots and hung them on the next pin, jotting down what each was in a book.

The Editing Room had to be kept dust-free and that was the job given to all new-comers, as the tiny hairs would show up on the screen at rough-edit time and they quickly got the message.

I thought on my first day that I was wasting a lot of time with the remote vacuum hose and whisk brush, but next morning at the screening, there was an errant hair in the gate!

Film was VERY expensive both to buy and to process, so wastage had to be kept to a minimum. If we loaded a magazine for a shoot, it was presumed that we would see between 20 to 35 % of that in the final production, depending on subject matter. I recall at the Zoo on project I used 100ft of film to get about 4 ft of useable film, but that was of birds in flight and expected to land on a stump and rip into a slab of meat. (The keeper was behind me in the enclosure, armed with a large yard-broom.) However when our Exec Producer saw the final shot he said it was worth all the “wasted film”.

My point is, editing is so different now, when you can just let the cameras run and have a use-ratio of 1000 to 1 if required. I’m sure Attenborough’s marvellous animal docos do not use a 5 to 1 ratio!

I know people specialise, but a film crew is a team! Everyone needs to do their own job as best they can to ensure the final result. Lighting Gaffers, Best Boys, Scripters, Continuity, Researchers, Transport crew, all have a vital role to play.

But for anyone contemplating being a Cameraperson, Sound Recordist, Director, Actor  or Producer, there is no better place to start learning the craft than in the Editing Room.

There you realise just how important various angles and cutaways are, how sound must be crisp, How lighting must stay constant over the shooting time,how continuity is vital to keep the illusion of reality, How crossing-the-line will destroy a scene, how an actor must have the ability to remember everything about a shot so it can be reproduced exactly, all to make the unbelievable, believable!

I wonder if Film Schools remember this in their courses?


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