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Home Movies

I just completed a couple of desktop home movie projects, another genre of the technology revolution. I was a participant in the growth of amateur movies starting with silent Super 8, graduating to sound, then to video tape, then to digital. Now I’ve done home movies, really good quality, on my phone. How great is that?

Thomas Edison gave us the motion picture, but it was a commercial and industrial mystery with little being done by the amateur. Camera equipment was expensive as was film. Then the film reels had to be carefully loaded and unloaded to avoid being damaged by light. Once safely “in the can” only certain facilities could process the exposed film into a movie. Then the movies could only be shown on expensive projectors (assuming there was electricity). Only Hollywood, news agencies and governments could afford the equipment, processes and the people to run them. Still, some amateurs managed to do home movies in 8 millimeter, Some of the only moving images of Seattle before about 1939 are by an amateur.

One of the recent projects was to take my wife’s family movies from 1945 to 1968, and make them ready for prime time. My mother-in-law turned 90 this month and I wanted to treat her to the memories. All the movies came on ten reels in old-fashion silent 8mm.

In the old days, the 1970s, I had a little viewer/editor and hand cranked my film through looking for good frames, spliced out the junk with a special device, and spliced back together good stuff. I had fun with a few scenes where I connected the projector to a LP turntable and dubbed in some music. That might have still been possible. I could have cut up thousands of feet of film, taped each scene to the wall with a label, then selected scenes, edited them down, then spliced them together in some order. But the sad fact is that no one has the editor/viewers and projectors anymore and I didn’t have the patience. I took the ten reels to a service that does the transfers along with a disk drive and the movies came home ready for a computer.

The gold of christenings, birthday parties, vacations, and children waving at the camera was buried in amongst shots of nearly everything else. Who needs a tour of Adventureland or Marine World ca. 1959? Or the flowers in the garden? There are even shots of the runway rolling past an airplane window and clouds. All went to the virtual cutting room floor.

But the programs have a learning curve. I had to figure how the optimum length of a clip, how to snatch a still image, how to do transitions and titles, and then the sound. My biggest tool was “undo”. The work is in the watching again and again the same clips and to remain interested. I learned to give the project about an hour at a time.

After run throughs ad nauseum I got the movie into final form with music, titles and even some cutesy sound effects. The big premier was Saturday night at Kay’s 90th birthday gathering. It was a big hit. Here is the opening.

The interesting thing is that I have modern digital movies, very high quality, with sound made in the last ten years on dedicated video cameras and other mobile devices. Guess what? Most gets edited out.

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