Home of Professional Cinematography since 1996

1920's 'Look'

Published : 14th August 2011

Hi,
I've got a promo coming up (should be 35mm) and the Director is after the look of a silent film from the 1920's. We both want to do as much as possible in camera.

Now I know Panavision have a hand crank accessory for a 435 (never used it) which I think would be a good way to go - run for the most part at 18fps but let it drift where we want it to. Shoot with a set of old Cookes S1's (again I believe Panavision have some rehoused) with nets on the back element. Shoot on Kodak B + W 231 stock. Push the stock a couple of stops.

And I guess add the contrast in post to match the limited dynamic range of stocks from that period.

I'm sure this is something many people have done but just wondered if anyone had any other tips or horror stories?

Thanks in advance

Ollie Downey
DP – London


Allen Daviau shot the opening sequence of "Avalon" at 16fps and then step-printed to 24fps. The effect of the uneven number of frame translation (every third frame printed twice) very effectively created a "silent movie feel." He actually used 15fps for much of the material so that he could utilize HMIs. I believe there was an excellent article about his work on the film in American Cinematographer at the time, but I could be remembering much of the information from a lecture he presented in which a rather young Mitch Gross assisted.

Mitch "Avalon is like watching 'Roots' for this Baltimorean" Gross
Applications Specialist
Abel Cine Tech


Hi Ollie,

If you go with the hand crank, be sure to vary it aggressively. It's easier than you think to obtain nice looking images from the crank. Don't be shy to let it vary wildly if you want that flickery look.

Best,

Graham Futerfas
Director of Photography
Los Angeles, CA
www.GFuterfas.com


I'd skip the hand crank. The only time you notice it is when it's done improperly, and those who worked a lot during the silent era cranked so smoothly you'd never know a motor wasn't attached to the camera.

Art Adams | Director of Photography
4 1 5 . 7 6 0 . 5 1 6 7
San Francisco Bay Area

showreel -> www.artadams.net
trade writing -> art.provideocoalition.com

ICG, SOC, NWU


If you're talking about the 1920's, the photographic quality was incredibly good. Some of the restorations carried out by the likes of the BFI are stunning. But the audience wants to see scratches, unsteadiness (strange when the old Bell and Howell was and is the steadiest camera available)
flicker and high contrast. You could try using an old camera. Remember that 35mm perfs in the
1920's are exactly the same as now.

Brian Rose
Technical Consultant and old Git
UK


I agree with the other replies concerning this post. However, the look you want is what people imagine the look should be. I would therefore watch a lot of old films and explore the composition and camera movement, or lack of. I would test, if testing is possible, the use of filtration and make up and the colours of the background. I have found a light grey/blue make-up plus an 85 filter can, when, after bracketed tests, give a very nice 'silver screen' quality to actors faces, whilst giving brightness, and with control, more contrast, to the background.

Introduce some shadow play to accentuate body shapes. Am I right in remembering the origin of a 'charlie bar' being a thin flag used to under shadow a lead actresses breasts back in the days before silicone enhancement?

I have hand cranked before too (a long time ago), and I was very pleased with the results for the project concerned. It all depends on how you and your director see it. An exact replication of 1920s
cinematography might not appeal to you or your audience.

Have a chat with the lab, and have a chat with the colourist, I am sure between you, you will work something out.

Best of luck. If you use the make-up idea, give me a credit :-D

Best

Chris Maris

Director of Photography

www.chrismaris.com


Ollie Downey wrote:

>> hoot on Kodak B + W 231 stock. Push the stock a couple of stops. And I guess add the contrast in >>post to match the limited dynamic range of stocks from that period.

Good B&W from the 20s is beautiful and not grainy. Do NOT push! The stocks had beautiful dynamic range and lots more silver than we see today. Of course Kodak, in their infinite idiocy, has just discontinued 5231, so grab it up quickly.

Don't shoot colour for B&W. You could shoot orthochromatic sound recording stock processed as camera neg (very slow but the ortho look is accurate through the mid-20s).

A hand-cranked Mitchell with Baltars would be more appropriate than a 435, but that's just my bias.

Jeff "has Mitchell #33 from 1923" Kreines


Shoot on Agfa ortho sound stock, expose around 25 ASA and ask the folks at the lab to pull it down to a gamma of maybe .70.

If you have to shoot modern B&W stock, at least put a deep blue filter on it to simulate the commercial emulsion look. But be aware that the grain on modern B&W films is very different than the grain on the stocks of the teens and twenties.

The truth is that hand-cranking really won't change the look all that much.

Once you get used to it you can crank almost as accurately as a spring or a wild motor. It's worth doing, but it's not critical even if it adds a lot to the feel on set.

Oh... and don't forget the lighting. Watch some old silent movies and look at how they are lit, it's a very different approach than the Hollywood talkies or any modern colour stuff. If you have fast enough film stock you can actually get a similar look just with a few peppers if you don't have to light very much area.

Scott Dorsey
Kludge Audio
Williamsburg, VA.


I have done this a long time ago , if you really look at a good print  of a film from that period you will find its quite low contrast , so I  wouldn’t push it .

John Holland

Lighting Cameraman . London


All great ideas and assessments. Here's my two cents... some things that have worked for me in the past:

1) Shoot @ 16fps and xfer @ 16fps. This can be half the battle.

2) Hand crank, if possible and try to find a camera that doesn't have perfect registration. I once shot with an early Williams handcrank that was so perfect in every way the footage looked very modern. Also, most Mitchell fries cameras are rock solid... However I often use an old Bell and Howell from the late 1920s and it's looks amazing. The registration is just a bit off... I've found the same to be true of two different antique B&H 16mm cameras I've used.

3) Use the oldest glass you can find- my favourite are cook speed pancros. TCS in New York has a set as does Willimgton Camera. I think that one of the most distinguishing things about modern cinematography is derived from the perfect coatings on our lenses. Older coatings, which produce softer images and allow more of a washing of highlights, evoke the aesthetic of vintage cinematography.

4) Consider lighting with a harder source, preferably lensless- a bare 1k bulb is great, for example... and put the diffusion in front of / behind the lens.

5) Consider shooting reversal film. You can cross process it and dial it back into a very minty world indeed.

These things have always worked for me.

Will you be able to do a camera test?

Best,

Christopher L. Walters
www.waltersdp.com
NYC / LA / Toronto


Chris,

In reference to the gray/blue makeup & 85 filter, are you using B&W or Color film?

Love this look and have pursued it before but with video.

Glass made a big difference. I constructed a ginormous DOF adapter out of an old 8x10 glass plate camera with a hand-made lens from  the late 1800s and then attached an EX1 to the back of it.

The flaring, bokeh distortion, focus roll-off and vignetting added a lot of personality to the image.

I realize this is CML-Film, so I'll shut up now.

Randy Wedick
Technical Consultant
Band Pro Film & Digital


Ollie Downey:

>> I'm sure this is something many people have done but just wondered if anyone had any other tips >>or horror stories?

See this post over on reduser, by Dan Hudgins, for some insights.
http://reduser.net/forum/showthread.php?p=579978#post579978

Wolfgang Woehl
Filmmuseum Munich


B&W film

Best

Chris Maris
Director of Photography


Hey Ollie,

For reference watching I point you in the direction of a Russian film that I saw recently called "A Room and a Half".

There was some archive footage combined with some fake archival. The fake archival stuff was very well done. There was only about 2 shots out of many where I could notice a slight imperfection. I add as well that there was little grain in the real archival but more 'movement' of the celluloid and scratches

The film is rolling around in LDN at the moment.
Here is the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1395059/

Good luck

Cheers
Serge Teulon
DoP
LDN
www.sergeteulon.com


Thank you all very much - all really useful posts. Have been arranging some tests for this Friday - make-up, stock (incl. orthochromatic sound stock), hand cranking, lens, filtration, etc. Thought everything was running too smoothly.

Just found out that the client is concerned about committing to Black and White and a 'colorized' look is now being talked about to "look more like some old type of early 3 strip Technicolor or colour stock and give it a more vintage feel"!

Any thoughts? Again we really do want to do as much in camera and the director is still sold on the 16fps/18 fps with hand cranking. Old glass with nets also still in play. Concerned we're moving away from something with a strong visual identity towards a patchwork 'retro' look....

Ollie Downey
DOP – London


Hi All

Did nobody see my shoot on BBC Coast Series 4 Prog 1?
Neil directed me to shoot a short extract from the Mayor of Casterbridge where, the mayor in his younger days he sells his wife to a sailor in a beer tent.

I shot the whole sequence with my Williamson Paragon Cinematograph. We did film and makeup tests etc beforehand. I used Orthochromatic ORWO 35mm Film at ASA 5 and shot at 18FPS in overcast daylight. Brian Tufano, who gave many excellent suggestions recommended a makeup person to me who was wonderful. She/we tested several shades of blue for the eyes and lips and lots of white powder.

Orwo PF2 is the stock but it has to be acetate base not poly. I know a man who imports it. It is B&W Print stock which I tracked down after consultation with several of the Lab chaps, notably Len Runcle.
Deluxe labs processed and printed it overnight for me, it needs a special bath, and I actually projected it the next  night on Brighton Beach with an old hand crank projector. I threw it up onto my 12X12 butterfly. It looked excellent. I transferred it to HD for insert into the prog.

The lenses are on a turret of 3 and the camera dates at 1920. At that stage it was one of the best available cameras anywhere and the world's film industry was started right here on the South
Coast of England because of the amount of continual sunshine..... yes ... even before Hollywood got going. The lenses are Cooke Cinema lenses and they have a beautiful look.

At that time it was the best registration but it weaved just enough to be worthwhile to lend that 'old film' look. The better registration came later when they shot, say, Laurel and Hardy with the Mitchell.

I also did some sequences for Edwardian Country House several years ago when I used the same camera but Ilford HP5, now available but not the same name from ORWO. That is 400ASA but again the look is given by the loose registration and the look of the lenses. The  shape of the gate which has rounded corners is also an added benefit. The effect is subtle but very effective. I've also used
it with colour stock for several music promos.

Call me if you wish to avail yourselves of this wonderful machine but first have a look at that episode of BBC Coast.

OR

Have a look at this film I shot with Martin Pickles

http://www.gmfilm.co.uk/timetravellers.html

John Adderley DOP UK
www.adderley.net


John is a master of this type of stuff. If you haven't seen his "period" work, do check it out.

I was impressed and informed by both pieces you mention.

Christopher Walters
NYC/Toronto/LA


>>Orwo PF2 is the stock but it has to be acetate base not poly.

Why? I thought the polyester base added a little bit of light piping that makes it look more like the kind of halation you get with nitrate films? I rather like the way it looks.

Of course, you can't conform the negative without an ultrasonic splicer and the lab will hate you...

What "special bath" did the Orwo stock need? Looking at it, it looks like it should be able to run fine in D-76 although it'll have to run all by itself since the time could be a little short.

Scott Dorsey
Kludge Audio
Williamsburg, VA.


If I remember well it is D96 NOT D76 that is the standard formula for B&W negative.

Take into account that both these developers are made to deal with panchromatic film.

So when dealing with orthochromatic film, lots of things are different. Certainly a special formula will be required. Usually it is not too exotic. At least not for people who are used to lab procedures, however a different developer will be required. So the tanks will have to be drained and refilled.....

Best

Argyris Theos
DoP
Athens Greece


Hi Scott

the polyester base is so strong that if you have a jam or pileup then it will do great damage to the camera. Sorry I did not make this point when I mentioned it in the original post. The acetate will politely break and you will not have to cry for as long as you would if you used poly. It'll rip out your claw!

The acetate, also, has no black anti-halation backing and, as you rightly point out, this is another subtle parameter to enhance  the antique look in the way that you describe.

Deluxe at Denham processed it in their B&W print neg film bath.  They did tell me the details but I forgot and anyway I trust those chaps to look after my lab stuff ... they're good and I hate to peek behind the curtain.

I hope I did not lead you astray on the material on the web,  "The Time Travellers". That was shot on the old Ilford HP5 and  it was the BBC Coast Series 4 Ep1 Whitstable to The Isle of Wight that was shot on the Ortho print stock.

BTW ... Tah Chris for the support there.

John Adderley DOP London UK
www.adderley.net


Argyris Theos wrote :

>>If I remember well it is D96 NOT D76 that is the standard formula for BW

In those "ancient" times the D76 was the main "workhorse" recommended by Kodak for negative and dupe-negative films, and DK 20 for dupe-negative films.

Also in those "ancient" times Kodak faced competition from Geavert, Ilford, Agfa/Orwo, Dupont, etc... and all of them had their own developers which were often variations of the same metol- hydrochinon formula of D-76 which is/was the most commonly used Black

& White film developer .

Yuri Neyman, ASC


The difference between D76 and D96 is trivial, especially in small batch processing.

Mike Lehman

Digital to Film Post
Former photo-chemist


Mike Lehman wrote :

>>The difference between D76 and D96 is trivial, especially in small batch processing.

D-96 is optimized version of D-76 for machine processing. The metol, hydrochinone and sulphite were reduced, borax increased, and potassium bromide was added..

Yuri Neyman, ASC
Founder of Gamma and Density Co.


Sorry Yuri, you are wrong.

The standard developer is D-96 not D-76.

http://motion.kodak.com/US/en/motion/Products/Production/Black_And_White_Films/

5222/tech5222.htm

D96 is very close to D76, still it is a different formula

http://silvergrain.org/Photo-Tech/d-76.html

and of course there is a D-96R replenisher for movie labs. There could be a D76R but I am not aware of it. Ilford ID-11 was exactly the same as D-76.

Best

Argyris (used to develop BW) Theos
DoP
Athens Greece
+30 6944725315


Yes, that what I meant by small batch processing. Didn't want to get too technical. Fuji came up with FD22, their version of D96, except it is a PQ instead of MQ developer.

Mike Lehman


D-96 is optimized version of D-76 for machine processing. The metol, hydrochinone and sulphite were reduced, borax increased, and potassium bromide was added..

Well you answered to yourself before me! In my view this makes a new formula, hence the designation D-96.

Argyris Theos
DoP
Athens Greece
+30 6944725315


Oops my mistake. FD22 is a MQ clone of D96, FD26is the PQ clone.

Mike Lehman


Argyris Theos wrote:

>> There could be a D76R but I am not aware of it.

There is indeed :

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/26998REG/Kodak_1464833_D_76R_Replenisher.html

Eric Schmiedl
Student / DP / I can stop shooting stills anytime I want to
Boston


Argyris Theos wrote:

>>Ilford ID-11 was exactly the same as D-76.

Our discussion is rather esoteric for many people, but still just for fun of it Kodak pamphlet and you both said: Ilford ID-11 is identical to D-76, but I remember distinctively from my photographic chemistry class in VGIK that Ilford ID-11 was somehow different from D-76 - in borox or in metol...

It could be a Soviet propaganda too! , yet Memorial Day weekend in LA is a perfect opportunity to dig in into this exiting subject...

Yuri Neyman, ASC


ID-11 is not quite the same as D-76 but it's close enough... it either has a little more or a little less silver solvent in it.

The reason why D-76 was mostly replaced by modern developers is tank life...it has only a fairly short lifetime before it oxidizes. But the stuff replacing it is mostly the same... MQ-PQ with a borax solvent and some kind of pH buffer.

Scott Dorsey
Kludge Audio
Williamsburg VA



Well this discussion might be esoteric but it certainly is fun. Quite different from what we live these days with the technical forums being too technical or the 3D forum where everyone is like a sphinx - do not tell them your secrets please.

Well, the bad thing is I cannot locate my "Photo Lab Index", a more than 1000 pages reference for photographers dating from the early 80s.


It contained all the BW formulas ever, at least till its time (not that I expect them to have changed) as well as details on what every possible ingredient does, as well as... as well as... as well as.

So I need to stay silent...

PAUSE...

Well I just checked in the web... it looks like there are some differences, however people do not seem to agree on what the differences are. To add to the confusion it looks like that both companies have made some changes to the formula, one guy even said that Ilford is/was selling two versions of ID11, one with Borax, one with a substitute.

This comes from a Kodak publication I found :

http://web.grcc.cc.mi.us/Pr/msds/visualarts-photography/KODAK%20Developer%20D-76.pdf

2. COMPOSITION/INFORMATION ON INGREDIENTS
Weight % - Component - (CAS Registry No.)
Concentrate:
85-90 Sodium sulphite (007757-83-7)
1-5 Hydroquinone (000123-31-9)
1-5 Sodium tetraborate, pentahydrate (012179-04-3)
1-5 4-(methylamino)phenol sulfate (000055-55-0)
. 1 Boric anhydride (001303-86-2)

Working solution:
85-90 Water (007732-18-5)
5-10 Sodium sulphite (007757-83-7)
1-5 Sodium tetraborate, pentahydrate (012179-04-3)

Now I also found

http://www.lostlabours.co.uk/photography/formulae/developers/devID11.htm

ID-11/D76 Standard Fine Grain Film Developer
Metol 2g Sodium Sulphite (anh)
100g Hydroquinone 5g Borax
2g Water to 1 litre To use: Dilute FS, 1+1, 1+
3Agfa 19, Defender 6, Foma FV3, Forte FD20, Foton N12 are the same formula.

Two Ilford Patents show ID-11 with the Borax increased to 3 g and including 3.5 g Sodium Tripolyphosphate
Also in
http://www.lostlabours.co.uk/photography/formulae/developers/devD76_variants.htm it states 38 variants of the formula.

If I am to feel a bit proud, the D96 is not among them :-)

Also it seems that both developers have standard MQ but also PQ version.

From what I read MQ is a Metol Hydroquinone developer, in the PQ version Metol is replaced by Phenidone. PQ versions appear to be cheaper but they tend to produce more fog (Dmin).

http://books.google.gr/books?id=MblHnLN2N2kC&pg=PA279&lpg=PA279&dq=MQ+PQ+

developer&source=bl&ots=eY2wgEflzX&sig=nMdfpmMfVcDZ7DtSfVCGNp1S4Ro&hl=el&ei=

85gBTOrLBaXOIaUgNcE&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBQQ6AEw

AA#v=onepage&q=MQ%20PQ%20developer&f=false

and

http://books.google.gr/books?id=3ZN5sEjAWDEC&pg=PA42&lpg=PA42&dq=MQ+PQ+

developer&source=bl&ots=yzEdB2CXIv&sig=CEgQwjYzekl25LLCEee3FZvhQM4&hl=el&ei=85g

BTOrLBaXOIaUgNcE&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAw#v=

onepage&q=MQ%20PQ%20developer&f=false

Well there seems to be lots of info online as usual so I think I will stop
now. After all it is 2 o'clock in the morning here.

BTW Yuri, did you manage to contact your friend in the Greek islands? Photos was very happy to hear from you.

Have fun

Argyris Theos
DoP
Athens Greece
+30 6944725315


>> MQ-PQ with a borax solvent and some kind of pH buffer

The borax for stripping the Ramjet anti-halation layer, I presume.

Tim Sassoon
SFD
Santa Monica, CA


Actually the borax is to control the phi The 100 + g per litre of sodium sulfite is the silver solvent, plus it helps with the pH as well.

Typically you want to remove the rem-jet before the developer, to prevent migration of the rem-jet to the emulsion.

A phenidone-hydroquinone (PQ) developer can produce more fog because the phenidone is not restrained by bromide, either that in the developer formulation or that released by the developing silver halide emulsion during development. To restrain phenidone you need an organic anti-foggant, such as benzotriazole or Kodak Anti-fog #1.

Mike Lehman


Ah, pure lab geekery!

I did some initial tests that were promising, processing XX with XTOL (I was pushing it). Then for some insane reason I got diverted onto other projects... what the hell was I thinking?

Jeff "it's a weekend for dumpstering -- DaVinci and Avid and Sony boards, processing machine parts, and worse" Kreines


Argyris Theos wrote :

>>"Well this discussion might be esoteric but it certainly is fun. "

No doubt about it ... I feel that we have to find another no less exiting and obscure subject for discussion - like why sensitometric systems like ASA(USA), DIN (Germany), GOST (USSR aka Russia)), RN (Poland), cZN (czech Republic), AFNOR (France) and NSG (Japan) had different film speed numbers for the same stock!

To finish old discussion - D76 , etc.. I still would like to stick to my original POV that D-76 invented by Capstaff in 1926 was the main work horse, and D-96 was/ is just a version of it (same as AGFA 17,
Fujifilm FD-122 and few more) . An addition of potassium bromide provides just more consistency. Today D-96 would be called D-76 v.2.3.

The originality of the D-76 formula described in the article " Seventy-six years of D-76" , "provided consistent development with excellent granularity and overall image quality."

Manufacturers "adopted" D-76 and an example is Ilford ID-11 but all components (metol, etc) are exactly half of D-76 - according to my photo chemistry old book. D96 is between

metol 2g/L [D76] 1g/L [ID-11] 1.5 [D96]
hydroquinone 5g/L 2.5g/L 1.5
sodium sulfite 100g/L 50g/L 75
borax 2.0g/L 1.0g/L 4.5 g
potassium bromide 0.4g

Obviously it was a lot of additions later....

As per my old friend Photos - thank you again for finding his phone number... we are in touch now...

Best,

Yuri Neyman, ASC


Mike Lehman writes:

>> Actually the borax is to control the pH

I was wondering, because I've done the messy developer thing.

" A phenidone-hydroquinone (PQ) developer can produce more fog"

My quickie formula for the 1920's look was always "Boil it in Dektol", because it was easy to get, and an MQ developer, which is kind of the precursor  to PQ?

Tim Sassoon
SFD
Santa Monica, CA


Well, Dektol, which is quite similar to D-72, is an MQ developer designed for print paper, but unlike a D-96/D-76 MQ or PQ formulation, the hydroquinone (the 'Q') in Dektol/D-72 is the main developing agent, because the pH is above 9. In D-76/D-96, the pH is around 8 or so, so the hydroquinone is not really acting as a developing agent; it is acting with superadditivity, sort of boosting or replenishing the metol or phenidone, which is the main developing agent. Phenidone was discovered by Ilford, so it wasn't used in Kodak formulations. Dektol, since it is a highly active paper developer, would impart an old-fashioned '20's look, with higher contrast and grain. The higher contrast might also impart an orthochromatic sensitive look as well, as panchromatic film didn't come into great use before the '30's, as I recall.

Mike Lehman


Mike Lehman writes:

>> Dektol, since it is a highly active paper developer, would impart an old-fashioned '20's look, with >>higher contrast and grain

Precisely. My (1984) CalArts MFA show was a series of western landscape photos shot on Agfapan 400 in a Minox B 8x11mm (wonderful little device), developed in Dektol, and made big prints on heavy Arches watercolour paper hand painted with Liquid Light, exposed using a slide projector as enlarger. Looked fabulous. I thought of it as "Antithesis-Ansel".

With 35mm motion pictures, I've further distressed the image by developing in one of those horrible hard-rubber hand-cranked roll-back tanks (be creative with temperatures). All but guaranteed to add a touch of flicker. Comes under the heading of, "Back when I had an Eyemo..."

Tim Sassoon
SFD
Santa Monica, CA


Agfapan 100 or 400 ASA (for 35mm photography) re-format to super-8mm motion picture film

Develop in D-76 - 8 minutes @ 20C

Then in a 2k digital intermediate post-production adjust the contrast /
gamma at desired grain-scale resolution

The stock is fine grain but granulation might be controlled a bit in
post-production (how works Arri Relativity for Super-8 dimension?), not all
grain/degrain tools available in super-8 do understand the super-8 grain structure (and there is more than 15 emulsions in Super-8 currently available).

Daniel Henrìquez-Ilic