Learn From My Mistakes: Double Exposure

Soooo back in film school, I just HAD to do a double exposure. I had to try it. I love in-camera crap like that.

My set up was this: a dude walks up to a 30 foot cello. (I know, terribly exciting.) I just wanted something simple and I like putting my cello in my movies and photos. It's a fun and kind of rare prop. Here is a brief few seconds:

We shot it on Fuji Eterna 400 Tungsten 35mm film. The upload quality here is crap because my harddrive is lost somewhere with the actual nice transfer on it. Also, Final Cut is on the other computer, and I had to use iMovie because I am lazy. (Once I find my harddrive, my workshop exercises will be posted for you guys to laugh at have a look-see.)

So, it seems "okay". The size ratio and focus work, Jon and the cello look like they're in the same space, the lights look as if they MOSTLY all come from the same sources. (And, look— my favorite gel, the magenta party gel. I can't help it.) But Jon seems a little low in frame.

Becaaaause he IS low in the frame. This is what you're not seeing: Jon's disembodied legs at the top of the frame. Because I blacked them out in post. Here's how it happened.

What went right:

We got the background blackened out with carefully placed duvetine (black cloth that absorbs light) and 4x4 flags. We locked down the camera and shot the cello first, keeping Jon's future side of the frame black. We even took the extra precaution of flagging the matte box on the camera on Jon's side. After we shot about 100 feet, we took the mag off the camera and the 2nd AC rewound the film by hand in the changing tent so we could shoot again.

Being the scrappy inventive students that we were, we took a dry erase marker and drew the outline of the cello on the video monitor, so when we began framing for Jon, we knew exactly where the cello's edges would be in relation to him. We even hid a C-stand arm behind a flag where the bottom of the C curve of the cello was, so Jon could reach for something physical. On the monitor, it looked great. Jon walked up to the imaginary cello and even touched it. (Then, on a whim, I shouted "Jon, cop a feel!" "What?" "I want you to feel her up!" and he got embarrassed.) We finished the 100 feet and sent it to get developed.

What went wrong:

When we were viewing dailies, everyone was pretty excited... until we saw that Jon was split in half when the projectionist finally centered the frame on the cello. Jon's top half was on the bottom of the frame, and his legs were hanging from the top. Confused, we all turned to look at our professor, who stared at the image for a bit, and then said, "OH."


"This is my fault. I forgot to tell you guys about the frame punch."

Basically, what had happened was Jon's frames were shot in-between the cello frames, because we began rolling at a different place in the film than the place we started with the cello. It's a little hard to visualize. Here's a scan of the print (click to see large version:

Jon was supposed to be level with the bottom of the cello. (His lighting would have worked much better at that position as well, since we lit it expecting him to be at that certain place.) A frame punch would have ensured that he was placed in the same frame as the cello, instead of a new, misplaced frame.

To make a frame punch:

When you load the film into the mag and then thread the loop into the camera, and you're ready to shoot, take the lens off the camera and inch the shutter so you can see the gate. Through the gate you can see the emulsion of the film. Take a marker and draw an X on the emulsion in the gate, marking the exact frame. Ease the loop out, and hole-punch the center of the X. (The punch creates a marker you can feel in the changing bag as you rewind the film.)

Put the loop back in, center the X in the gate, and then shoot. When you rewind the film and get ready to thread it again, make sure the punch is in the loop, and then match it up in the gate again. That way, both frames are matched up.

"Where can you get a frame punch?" I asked.
"At an office supply store. It punches a little hole in the film..."
"Isn't that a hole punch?"
"NO, L, it's a FRAME PUNCH," one of my classmates joked.

So yeah, basically, you can use a hole punch.

Now you know! And to sum up, some simple rules for double exposure:

1)Remember timing when you're shooting. A stopwatch can help.
3)Your first exposure determines what you will see in your second. Everything that is black or dark in your first exposure is where the next image will be exposed. Anything that is bright or white won't show new detail.

Hope that was somewhat educational to someone. Or a good laugh to other, more experienced jerks who like laughing at people.

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