Thursday, 27 September 2007

Don't shoot the chauffuer

When we started researching "The Lost World of Mr Hardy" various people told us about these great old Hardy films from the 30s. Story was of how Hardy's boss 'L.R.' commandeered his chauffeur to help shoot the movies. L.R. was the star and his driver the cameraman. The story goes that the chauffeur couldn't operate the camera properly so everything is all a bit jerky and speeded up. During our edit we had a rough copy of the archive films and this seemed to the case.

However as soon as we got into our telecine suite to transfer the films to digital format, Gerry the telecineist soon sank that theory. There was nothing wrong with the films, just that they had been projected at the wrong speed for the last 50 or so years. Thinking about it, it kind of makes sense. Hardy's used to take their angling films around the country to game fairs and angling clubs. They would show the more modern 'talkies' like "To cane a trout" and "Angler's Catch" which were sound films as well as the pre-war black and white silent films. Thing is the talkies were shot at a different speed than the older films. 24 frames per second as opposed to 18. But when they projected the films together at events they would always be shown at one speed, the sound speed of 24fps otherwise they would sound odd.

Shooting the old films at the slower speed was a hangover from silent cinema days. Filmmakers at the time probably saw no reason to change from the 18fps they were used to filming at, especially as they were still making films without sound. It was only years later when the two formats were shown together that it mattered. Projecting them at a faster speed made them appear speeded up and jerky. However as Gerry the telecineist showed me, when played at the correct speed they are perfectly normal. They look great too. You will not believe the size of some of the salmon L.R. Hardy pulls out of the river Eden.

Saturday, 15 September 2007

The 1st colour fishing film ever?

Our contact in Soho filmland manages to blag me some time on a bells and whistles telecine machine. Finally I can view the rest of the old film cans so we can work out what to actually transfer to video. The telecine operator sticks the films up on his machine, the 1st is an old film from ATV made in the 70s about salmon fishing on the Tweed. 70s colour was pretty rubbish and this film bears perfect testament to that. It is totally red and I mean 100%. No hint of another colour. But to my amazement Gerry, the man in the big chair swirls a few dials and switches and amazingly full colour bleeds its way back into this tired old film. Quite amazing.

Next up on the telecine bench is a very old Hardy's film I have never heard of but its from 1937. It starts black and white and it's LR Hardy salmon fishing on the River Eden in Cumbria. Suddenly it cuts to colour, all blues and browns and the camera tilts up from the river and up a huge viaduct. It must be the Carlisle -Settle railway. And gadzooks! A dirty old green steam train puffs on by over the viaduct up above. Amazing. Apparently colour came in in 1936 but Kodak could not find a way to make it stable until mid 1937 so this is quite possibly the oldest colour film of fishing in existence.

A shot or two of this will no doubt find it's way into the Lost World of Mr Hardy.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Are salmon that silver?

Huzzah! I manage to get onto a film viewing machine in London at a film laboratory. I'm surrounded by my pile of archive film cans eager to see what's in the tins. The trusty ol' Vidette machine however has other ideas and refuses to play in forward motion. Okay, so I'll have to view them backwards. Fair enough. Ah! Because 16mm film only has sprocket holes on one side it also means that when I rethread the machine to play in reverse I also have to watch the films upside down. And err because it is playing backwards the rack line is wrong which means you see the top half of the film frame at the bottom of the picture and the spillover comes back in at the top. So, it's a film played backwards, upside down and with half the picture spilling out of the frame. Not ideal viewing conditions. Still, these machines seem like gold dust so musn't grumble and just get on with it.

Ahhh, the first of the old colour films. It's 1937 probably, salmon fishing on the River Tay it's early Spring with the snow still on the hills. LR Hardy walks proudly into shot in quite amazing technicolor brown tweed 'plus fours'. I've never seen actual 'plus fours' in colour before. The past really does come so much closer. It's alive.He hooks, lands and gaffs a salmon, so silver and blimey there's blood all over the place. Interesting how much more real colour feels. And then the Vidette breaks, the lamp switch apparently. The switch is the size of a door handle, nothing subtle here and nothing easy to fix either. Mind you the machine probably is about 50 years old too. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Unable to open the treasure chest

I've been carting a huge stack of rusty, dusty old film cans around South East England most of week. That 70 year old dust really makes you sneeze. Problem is we can't find anywhere to look at the films and see what is in the tin.

When I trained as an assistant film editor 15 years ago, 16mm film editing and viewing machines were ten a penny. Every other door in Soho had at least one behind it. They seem however to have gone the way of the Yangzte dolphin and very quickly. Within a 100 mile striking distance of home I can only find two and no 16mm editing machines. So we have this big pile of film (and a couple of dolphins in the bath) and the frustration of knowing that the film can may contain something great but we can't view them. The films can not be put on a projector as it puts too much stress on the very old filmstock and would damage these the only copies.

We know that 2 of the films are pre-war and colour and there are not many of those around.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Buried Treasure

Reaction to the film so far has been great. This is the basic, unpolished version of the film I am talking about. We wanted a few okays before 'locking off' the edit and then going on to do all the nice stuff, the sprucing up of the visuals, adding an atmospheric soundtrack and music.

The only problem? - we also wanted to pick up the original Hardy film material. This is from the 1920s onwards and needs a little restoration so we can make it look really great in our film. Hey presto, a big pile of rusty, dusty old film tins arrive. The labels however bear little relationship to what we were expecting. A potential disaster. With these old 16mm film you can't just have a quick look to see what's in the tin, you need some kind of viewer which won't damage the old fragile material. I had a bit of a sleepless night that night thinking the original films we were hoping for must have been lost forever and so also leaving one very big hole in our own film.

Next day we head up to Alnwick and show our film at Hardy's. It gets a really great reception. However suddenly another large box of rusty, dusty old film cans turns up there. Nobody knows where they have been hiding but it turns out that these are the films we were originally expecting. Fine and great, our worries are over. However - what was in the earlier batch of film cans! We don't know. 16mm film is increasingly hard to view these days so I have booked a suite in London tomorrow to go and check them out. However it does look like they contain some pre-war colour film, probably salmon fishing on the river Tay as well as footage from inside Hardy Brother's Bondgate premises in the late 40's. Both are fantastically useful for us and our film. Only thing is we thought we were finished our edit. Hmmm, time to think again.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Heading North

Yesterday witnessed a manic struggle to finish the edit of the film before heading up North for some feedback. We want to take the camera too, just to get the odd extra little shot in as we will be up at Hardyland in Alnwick. We haven't even got Alnwick Castle in the film yet so we must make amends - if the castle was good enough for Harry Potter then surely we need it in our film too.

Eek, the camera and production insurance needs renewing - that means we started filming one year ago to the day. A nice symmetry as we head off to get some feedback on the virtually finished film.