The Ides of March and my discovery of sound film


still from Newstalk March 15, 1980
March 15, 2020 marked the 40th anniversary of my first Super 8mm Sound film. In early 1980, we were already into silent filmmaking for about a year. When Dan and I filmed Stunted Man in January 1980 at a local drugstore, I noticed an empty box from a Super 8mm film cartridge where customers dropped off their film orders. It had sound-waves on it.

“What’s this?” I queried myself. “Could it be that you can actually record images and sound on a Super 8 cartridge?”

The answer to me was a resounding, “yes” as I grabbed a copy of Super 8 Filmmaker from Dan’s room later that day to find out just what this “sound thing” was all about. I soon discovered that I had to get my hands on a Super 8mm Sound camera. My parents obliged with a Bell and Howell Soundstar from Best Products in North Randall, Ohio. My mother reminded me that I was indeed lucky to get this 13th birthday gift. Indeed I was. Both Dan and I later invested in Bell and Howell sound projectors. We were growing by leaps and bounds.

Newstalk was the perfect choice for our first sound film. We wrote the script a few days earlier and barely practiced. Some of the lines were extracted from Saturday Night Live and “re-formulated” for our movie. It’s fun to watch this and note the extreme dated references such as the running joke about Senator Baker. I suppose we were mocking how news items get pushed back during a live newscast as the anchors tease the audience with the item.

With the tripod-mounted camera on “run-lock,” we did 2/3 of the film on that one take which is painfully obvious. When it came to weather and sports, I suggested that Dan draw the state of Ohio since he was the artist – it was a nice attempt. The sports scroll was done up with magic marker on plastic sheathing that we found from Dan’s dad’s cache. His dad was a roofer/HVAC professional.

The Newstalk desk was actually Dan’s basement Ping-Pong table, the same table where we filmed 1979’s Fruity Fruits and Star Lords. Our wardrobe was what we wore to our friend, Chuck Fink’s Bar Mitzvah that very day. Chuck already appeared in our Benny Hill parody film from a few months before and would go on to appear in more of our films.

We still produced silent films in addition to our sound productions since the silent cartridges were cheaper. Super 8mm film was exactly like silent, but with sound stripes on each side of the film. Projectors gave us the ability to dub on one or both of those tracks. In some cases, silent film could later have sound striped onto them. We did that procedure with 1981’s The Outer Pit and the Space Pendulem (Dan's spelling on that last title). The sound striping was done at a nearby Dodd Camera outlet in what was then known as the Severance Mall.

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