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We all know how the Hi8 handheld camcorder changed the way we saved memories. But, how has it changed the landscape and theory around professional filmmaking?
The release of 8mm camcorders in the 1980’s paved way for a new era of home filmmaking in which everything could be recorded in the palm of your hand. The alteration in size began a new fashion of filming “anywhere, anytime” with the best part being the easiness of watching 8mm transfer onto a television without the added need of a video player.
Within 10 years, everyone seemed to be documenting their lives with the help of their nifty handheld camcorder. The novelty of having a smaller camera formed a new style of taping. Videos consisted of long, continuous takes which jittered through time documenting the normal, unseen moments of our lives. Without realising it, the camera owners were changing the sphere of documenting history. Each special moment became a filmed documentation of our culture and the way we lived in the late 20th century.
As the Hi8 camcorder developed from 8mm video to digital, amateur film recording of grainy pictures, shaky framing and raw content became instantly recognisable. It was looked down upon by professional filmmakers who had skilled the art of developing beautiful pieces of film and used a repertoire of semiotic language to tell their story. The main criticisms of home camcorders being the low quality footage compared to photographic film recording, and the constant reminder of the camera’s presence due to the hand of the person filming causing the frame to shake.
Little did they know they were knocking a new type of collective auteur generated by our society’s culture and shaped by the flaws of a handheld camcorder. Each video held an awkward intimacy that could not be captured through professional filming. Moreover, the rawness and unplanned nature of the filming made the videos feel authentic in their documentation of events. Professional filming no longer held the same authenticity as these recreational videos. And thus, began a new style of directing to construct an ‘authentic’ reality through the lens of a shaky camera.
In 1999, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez effectively exploited, fetishized and commodified reality through the marketing and release of their film The Blair Witch Project. It broke so many conventions in filmmaking as the film mimicked a group of students documenting their findings on the Blair Witch. The film was captured on an Hi8 camera held by the actors themselves and was edited to look like the audience was watching evidence of the Hi8 transfer found by the police. It consisted of trembling shots which pulled the audience through the story by limiting their perspective with extreme close-ups and grainy, dark shots of the woods.
Yet, it was their marketing strategy which brought the success of this film. The producers divulged themselves in falsely creating the appearance of a true documentary by using the newly formed online chatrooms to spread rumours of missing students and myths of the Blair Witch. On IMDb, the actors even had the dates they died written on them to leave the public wondering whether the film was genuine. By obscuring the truth from reality, the film made a killing in the box office (248.60 million USD) and altered the conventions of mimicking reality to sell a film.
The distance between conventional filmmaking formed by semiotic codes, expensive cameras and perfect shot-takes was broken by filmmakers trying to replicate amateur, handheld camera recording. Throughout the next twenty years, there became a novelty to creating horror and sci-fi films through a character’s documentation of the events. The camera became part of the film and the audience would not forget its presence.
By having a person behind the camera, directors could use it to obscure what is happening on screen and limit the amount of information given to the viewer. In 2008, Cloverfield a film about a monster attacking New York City, was released. The marketing campaign followed in the same pursuit as Blair Witch by using the internet to release snippets of information on the film. However, Cloverfield did not pretend to be real documented footage. It gleamed of a Hollywood marketing team and captured the nation’s attention by withholding key information on the film – including its’ name.
What we do know is that the film was recorded through a handheld camcorder and it is set in New York (drawing similarities to 9/11). The shaky-cam filming created the characters to feel authentic as they reacted to the events. The long takes and sharp cuts mixed with the shaking, raw footage of characters running away from the threat is a constant reminder of the camera’s presence and limited perspective given to the audience. Mix this with the character’s ignorance on the monstrosity unfolding in front of them, it replicated the grainy videos seen online of the twin towers covered in smoke when 9/11 struck. The film’s footage mimicked exactly how the digital era would have witnessed a monster’s attack.
Ironically, whilst promoting the film Paramount capitalised on fan’s amateur filming by asking them to film their own version of events. The mimicry of shaky-cam filming had turned full circle as fans attempted to show how “authentic” filming should be done. And this convention of filming has continued: it is seen in films like District 9 (a film which documents aliens held in an immigration camp), Chronicle (teen boys filming their newfound superpowers) and continues with the development of the mobile phone’s camera.
Essentially, the origin of the shaky-cam proves that all types of recording can be used professionally if marketed well. The conventions of filmmaking are constantly changing, and it is not limited to big budget production companies to change it. As consumer camera’s change from the classic Hi8 so does the filming industry. Watch how social media has already changed the conventions of reality in films or television shows.
Do you want to relive your own shaky-cam work?
At Digital Converters, we transfer all 8mm tapes (Hi8, Video 8 and Digital 8) to digital formats. You can choose to have your tapes converted to DVD, USB, or a cloud download to watch on your television, phone, or computer. Our technicians can repair your tapes and ensure that you receive the best quality version of your videos.
Follow this link to get started!
“Unprecedented times” has been knocking around the news for the last year and with another set of rules to help stop the spread of coronavirus coming into action, anxiety around the future can be felt within us all. Looking towards the future is beginning to feel like a tireless charade. Which is why I’ve been taking comfort in the past by watching old camcorder tapes.
Recently, I have fallen into watching Scrubs for the billionth time. It began whilst I was listening to “Fake Doctors, Real Friends”, a podcast series where the two lead actors of Scrubs re-watch the show. But, with the outbreak of television series being released on Netflix, it had me questioning why I’ve been choosing Scrubs over something new.
In all honesty, with the pandemic changing the future day-by-day, it has been soothing to watch something where I already know the ending. Likewise, my family (and many other people) have taken this time to watch their old memories after choosing to convert their camcorder tapes to digital. At Digital Converters, we have never been busier as the public choose to take comfort in the past, and with the winter season approaching there is no better time for you to follow in pursuit.
The beginning of lockdown surprised everyone with (what felt like) endless free time and no more excuses to put off those chores. It was time for spring cleaning and decluttering the houses. No longer were those tapes going to sit uselessly in closets or attics. By using a videotape transfer service, families could take their 100 camcorder tapes and save them on a singular memory stick. An easy solution to declutter the house.
After choosing to use a video to DVD service, families and friends can share their better times on the big screen. Personally, I loved watching my brother as a pre-schooler prance around the house in an over-sized fireman’s outfit. It has been a nice reminder to see how far we have grown as a family. Soon, this pandemic will be a strange memory to the start of a new decade. Meanwhile, it has been fantastic converting our camcorder to digital formats because of the cloud download option. Although we couldn’t be together physically, we could still bring the family together virtually.
For younger families, if you are worried about schools closing again, transferring your video to DVD can be a fantastic opportunity to get your children or grandchildren interested in history and geography. Transferring your camcorder tapes to DVD’s means you can watch your holiday videos and documentations of your family history on the television which can bring great excitement for your children. They can learn about new countries whilst watching your younger self potter around them!
As we approach the winter season, it is time to think about bringing the family in new ways for Christmas. One way could be through using a camcorder to DVD service and gifting your family with special memories of the past. Many families have years of Christmas videos captured and now is a great time to bring them into the present. Choosing to transfer your videos to DVD’s means that everyone can come together to watch your collection of home videos. Or, if you are worried about not seeing your family, you can now watch your videos on Zoom by converting to cloud!
Now has never been a better time to embrace the past and with the help of Digital Converters it has never been easier.