Skip to content

Giving a Lecture on film techniques 1960

Terry Gallacher

On Wednesday 30th November, 1960, I gave a lecture to the Institute of Motion Picture Technicians in the preview theatre at Ripponlea.  The subject was “Films For Television” and I made a point of talking about multi-camera techniques (and the editing thereof). At the time I was Supervising Film Editor at ABV2 in Melbourne.

The main benefit of two-camera coverage of an interview is that it tends to put the person to be interviewed at ease.  In most cases, people are not used to speaking in front of a camera and, quite often, will freeze as soon as the camera is turned on.

With two cameras operating, one on the interviewer and one on the interviewee, The subject can easily settle down to what is a normal conversation.  A minimum of interference from the camera crew helps to settle them.
So, one camera is on the interviewer while the second is on the interviewee.  They roll together, while the sound can be recorded on one of the cameras or on a separate sound recorder.

The intention is that the two cameras will roll until the end of the interview.  During the shooting, the interviewer is seen, hopefully, being attentive to what his subject has to say at the moment they say it.

The subject is instructed beforehand that, if they make a mistake or do not like what they have said, then, at that time they are to say “I’ve made a mistake, I would like to do that again”.  They are told that the camera will not be switched off and that all they have to do is to, now, say what they would like to have said in the first place.  Alternatively, the interviewer might repeat the question.

The beauty of this treatment is that the film editor cuts the picture of the subject at the point immediately before they make a mistake.  The editor then cuts out the unrequired material, now returning to the cut story by joining the shot of the interviewer listening to the new dialogue from the subject.   Then, after a second or two they can return to the picture of the subject speaking.  The interview is seen to be perfect with no evidence that there was an interruption.

Contrast this with the practice of using one camera.  In the same circumstances, it is likely that the subject would have to return to the asking of the question.  A shot of the interviewee would be required to cover the cut.
The other requirement when using one camera is that the interviewer has to keep an accurate record of each question, even any ad lib that might have been introduced as a result of what is said by the subject.

Then, the one camera is switched round to face the interviewer who has to repeat all the questions on camera.  Even today, when the media use one camera, the interviewer is asked for what they call “noddies”.  This is a shot of the interviewer nodding as if approving what has been said.  What if they didn’t approve ?  It is far better for the interviewer to keep still, expressionless.  Nodding always looks artificial and, sometimes, quite funny.  Why do they do it ?

English: Steenbeck film editing machine

Steenbeck film editing machine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do you edit two pictures when you have only got a machine that runs one picture at a time?  What we used to do was this: working on a Steenbeck machine, we would work with picture and separate sound.  Loading the material from the camera shooting the interviewee with the sound track in sync, each time we wanted to make a cut, we would mark the 16mm sound track with a white grease pencil.  We would rewind to the head, replace the film from one camera for the other and go back down the reel verifying that the cuts will work, by referring to the markings that we had made on the sound track.  Then we would mark the cuts on both reels of picture. After that, it is a neg cutting job.

When I applied for a job at the Australian Broadcasting Commission, I was given a test to do.   They had an old interview that had been done, with Larry Adler, on one camera. The interview was recorded on the Auricon Camera with a combined sound track, that is the sound was on the edge of the picture.

I was asked to edit the film with its sound.  I did not have the opportunity to transfer the sound to a separate track.

The sound on 16mm film is 26 frames in advance of the picture.  Normally, this means that if you cut the sound at a precise point, you are obliged at the same time, and by so doing, to cut the picture so that one could not see the speaker say the last words.  Twenty six frames is fractionally more than one second.

Happily, if one is then cutting to the interviewer, that will be silent for the same period before they speak.  Thus if one joins the end of one sound track to the start of another, the picture will show the interviewer listening for one second before asking the next question. It worked fine.

16mm film had taken over in the world of television from 35mm.  35mm has a frame with four perforations each side.   Between frames there is a frameline which is approximately 3 millimetres wide.  When cutting and rejoining 35mm, the emulsion on the frameline of the incoming scene is scraped clear. Film cement is brushed on to this surface before the outgoing scene is laid down so that the frameline of the outgoing scene overlaps the frameline of the incoming scene.
Because of this, there is nothing to indicate that the film has been cut and rejoined (except, of course, a change of scene).

16mm film has one perforation for each frame.  When, using 16mm, a scene is cut and placed on the film joiner, the area to be scraped clear of emulsion is, in fact, part of the picture frame.  When printed, or screened as an original, this join is visible, as the overlap represents something like one sixth of the picture.  Not only is this overlap visible, sometimes, joins going through a picture gate of a film printer will hit the gate and judder.  On occasion, this shows on the screen. Checkerboard joining was meant to overcome this problem.

Details of the technique was published in the Journal of The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.

The idea was to assemble a cut subject on to two reels.  The leader and first scene is placed on Roll A, while the second scene is placed on Roll B.  The two reels, obviously must run in synchronisation, so that on Roll B, opposite the first scene on Roll A, black spacing is used to make up the exact number of frames of the first scene.

What was then required was that when scraping the emulsion from the 16mm frame, the scraped area would now be overlapped in all cases by the black spacing.  By this means, when projected, the combined print would not show any overlaps.

On a standard joiner, it is designed so that the incoming scene, on the left, is placed on the joiner bed with the perforations engaging the sprockets. The guillotine is brought down by the right hand cutting the film about three millimetres forward of a frameline.

In the case of Checkerboard Joining, this means that the Negative Cutter doing the joining will have the black spacing in the right hand and the picture in the left. Now, when it is required to join the picture to the black spacing, the Negative cutter has to change the process, but still keep the picture in their left hand with the black spacing in their right.

The difference is that the picture must be turned emulsion down on the joiner, with the head facing the left, so that the overlap still comes from the picture. It also means that the film will be joined celluloid to celluloid.
It was a means of projecting 16mm to look no different from 35mm.

In the mid 1960s, a cameraman friend asked me to look at a 16mm advertising film he was making.  It ran for less than three minutes and he had over two hundred scenes in it. This, of course, meant that some of the scenes were only a few frames long.  He had asked me to do the negative matching.  This was obviously quite difficult because for many of the scenes, there was no edge number to which one could refer.  They appear on the film about every eight inches, so that when using a scene of eight or ten frames, it is quite easy to lose the edge number.   Fortunately, most of the scenes were “pack shots” and did not include any movement within the frame.  When cutting the film, he made a note of the nearest edge number when he saw that his choice of frames was between two numbers.

We did have the problem that the joins were going to show, so I suggested to him that it should be checkerboard joined. Click here to read my full article on checkerboard editing.

With some difficulty I did this.  He then submitted it to the laboratory for printing.  They said that it went through making the sound of a machine gun.  However, the final print was excellent with no trace of joins or of any judder.
When one watches an old movie, especially those in colour, one can see when a dissolve is coming up.  Usually one sees a scene which then changes in quality for the worse.  Sometimes, there is also a minor change in registration.  After a second or two we see a dissolve followed, a few seconds later, by a reversion to the quality of the outgoing scene before the dissolve.

This technique was designed to save money.

Dissolves have to be made using positive pictures for both the outgoing and incoming scenes.  This is because it is required that the outgoing scene fades to black and the incoming scene fades up from black.  When overlapped, these two functions produce a dissolve.   It has to be done via a positive picture since the fade is induced by the withdrawal of light in the printer.  To attempt to do the same from a negative would require the increase in light.  However, this could never produce a complete fade because the image on the picture would always blot out some light and would, therefore, show in the final print.

When a film is shot on negative, therefore, it is necessary to make a print of the negative scene to be made into a dissolve.  In the case of a colour film, this would be called an Interpositive.  Eventually, it would be required to produce an interpositive, of the whole film, from which several Internegatives could be made from which the bulk printing would be completed.

Eventually, it was considered beneficial to produce a complete film in A and B Rolls in order to make an interpositive of the two rolls, from which a combined internegative would be made.  This would incorporate all the dissolves and fades in the film.  It would be impossible to see when a dissolve was about to arrive.

These were the headings of my talk.  I hope I made myself clear.  But then, I was talking to a group of technicians.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2013.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For other articles on Film Editing click here.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Colin Gallacher #

    A veritable masterclass, many thanks. I suppose a demo is out of the question is it?

    January 10, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. First Roll of Film the Second Time Around | Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: