The Berlin Film Society is bringing a ‘Greatest Hits’ programme to Berlin, featuring 20 unforgettable short films from London-based global film competition, ‘straight8’. All the shorts are shot on Super 8 with no editing and defy definition and genre.
Ed Sayers and his gang of straight8ers have brought on the resurgence of analog films. It’s been 20 years since he led a group of 22 curious filmmakers into a small West End cinema to watch their uncut Super 8 (8mm) “memorable cinema, [created] with such [a] ridiculous restriction.” The first time all entrants saw the fruits of their labor was before a wild crowd at the premiere. The punk rock show has since then graduated to a stadium tour and now premieres at Cannes Film Festival, with the same anarchist attitude.
Why Super 8 film in a digital world?
I loved the “baby cinema” aspect of Super 8. It’s a real film like real films were and are still made on. Yes, there’s that Super 8 look but also it’s the way that movement is shown. At 18 frames per second, advanced mechanically in the camera, it has a magical quality. The simple mechanical sound of the projector transfers you to another level of raw, cinematic, moving image experience. It’s like you can actually hear the images move. It’s one thing just watching nice cinematic shots but without context, it’s not really a film. So, I wondered if it would be cool to try to make a cinematic story if I just made the edits with the camera and played music along to the film when projecting it for the first time.
If you want to shoot on actual celluloid film, Super 8 is the least expensive, so you can experiment a bit. Part of the joy of creativity is discovering the unexpected. You need to embrace creativity as an organic process. It’s not a controlled process – although some may argue that – filmmaking is a collaborative medium. You can rarely do it alone and that means letting in other thoughts and that’s great. I was talking about this idea to friends, but not really getting on with doing it and then I had the idea to invite a load of friends to do the same. Then the name came and with 22 of us signed up to try it, not just one straight8 experiment was made (by me) but 22 completely diverse, esoteric wonders were made.
What makes your competition so special?
A film premiere at Cannes is a unique experience for anyone, but especially for straight 8 participants. Usually, the director, the producer, the editor, they have all seen the film over and over again and by the time the premiere rolls up, they have almost had enough of seeing it! We have exactly the opposite – no one has seen the film before. It’s the first time for absolutely everybody and that’s a huge experience and it creates big anticipation.
How do you select music and sounds?
Everyone who enters the competition films on a camera that will not record sound. It pretty much removes the possibility for lip-synching dialogue or for accurately synched sound effects. However, as we all know, the sound is half the picture or some would say it’s even more than half the picture. Music and sound design can elevate a film in such an enormous way.
However, entrants can’t use soundtracks unless they have all the rights – and that’s almost impossible…. as in you won’t get a known track. This forces you to get out of your comfort zone to meet people and interact with musicians, composers – think out of the box – to get the right collaborators and give your film whatever it needs…. atmosphere, pace, and dynamic. And just to make it even harder, remember you only see your film at the premiere – so you make your whole soundtrack ‘blind’ and hope all the audio cues work well with picture.
Can you explain your motto, "Do Stuff"?
“Do Stuff” is a reminder to continue doing things and stop wasting time. Pick one thing on the list and just do it. Stop talking about it. It’s not me telling other people, just me just telling myself. It doesn’t mean that you need to rush around doing things like a crazy person. But if you have that stuck feeling you have to pick your battleground and take action on something – even if it’s not a big thing.
The straight 8 mindset can help break the cycle and stop you sticking to pre-packaged ways of thinking. It forces you to plan a lot but also to really think on your feet. And because no creative theme is ever set, straight 8 challenges its participants to run free in a playground and let their own story take form. This oscillation between creative freedom and technical limitations opens up the scope of possibilities and encourages experimentation.
Not every moving picture has to lead to somewhere and not every new shot is a continuation of the previous one. Absurdity can enter and start to play a role, and playing with the absurd can be meaningful too. It turns into a journey where you can dive into chaos, let go, and re-emerge charged with a new understanding. In short, you can evaluate, find wisdom, have a good laugh, and in this case, you’ll want to moshpit your way to the front.