Reflections in 8mm

JJ Abrams new film, Super 8, opens in a few days. It’s a film I’ve been waiting to come out for some time. Steven Spielberg is the producer and Mr. Abrams has said that Spielberg’s early films like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET, and others were an inspiration for this coming-of-age science fiction film. He’s even said it’s more Stand By Me than ET, which makes me want to see it even more. And it’s a fairly autobiographical account of Mr. Abrams formative years, which includes film, friendships, film, love, film, monster magazines and more film. I can most sincerely relate.

My dear friend, Michael Hull, and I grew up similarly to JJ. We, too, shot Super 8 films in junior high and high school. Then also in college , where they got more sophisticated (or the blood simply looked more real) and finally we find ourselves still working in the medium of sorts. We’ve just completed our first professional short film together, having come full circle and shooting the piece in a small town in Oregon, very much like the one we grew up in.

Here is a snippet from a (ironically) recently completed article on those first cinematic adventures. I hope you get a kick out of it… 

            “I can’t really see…”

            I adjusted the gold metallic motorcycle helmet on my head, its huge size sliding down over my head and brow and threatening to cut off my line of sight. On top of the helmet, screwed in securely, was a small 8mm camera with an auto switch Mike had rigged. He was good at that kind of thing.

            “Well, maybe hold the helmet up on each side with you hands,” Mike said looking up at me.

            I was on their roof, on a slight pitch, trying to keep my balance while not falling off the side. Well, at least until it was time to purposely fall off the side. Below me was a thick collection of juniper bushes that I was to land in.

            “Yeah, but if I do that, how am I gonna push off and land on my feet?”

            “Just step out. But remember to keep looking up. We need the camera to see the sky.”

            “Okay.”

            I felt like I was five stories up when in reality I was only about twelve to fifteen feet up.

            We wanted to get a shot of someone taking off, super hero-like, and we would use the footage we were shooting now and reverse it. So instead of landing, it would actually look like someone was taking off in flight. At least that was the plan. Ah, yes, the best laid plans…

            “Here goes…”

            I remember taking a couple of steps and actually jumping up a little, looking up and then gravity tossed me like a rag down into the center of juniper branches. It must have taken all of three seconds. And something else wasn’t quite right.

            I’d landed head first.

            Mike rushed over to me and everything was black. At first I thought I’d suffered a concussion, but when Mike yanked me out of the center of the bush and pulled the helmet off me, I realized the impact had smashed the helmet completely down around my face.

            “Are you—are you okay,” Mike said, astonished and laughing at the same time.

            I stood up and checked myself. Besides a few scratches from the prickly juniper, I felt okay. But I couldn’t figure out what happened and my quizzical look only made Mike laugh harder.

            “What happened…?

            “—-you…you stepped off the roof and proceeded to follow your head down directly into the center of the juniper. Not too many points for keeping your head up like we wanted but if this was a diving competition, I’d say you did quite well…”

            “My head was so heavy, I couldn’t hold it up.”

            “Did you switch the camera on?”

            “Yep.”

            “Well of the two or three seconds that we got, I’m sure it’s spectacular…”           

            We should probably rewind a bit, or in the proper nomenclature, reverse the projector. Mike and I met in junior high when we discovered a mutual love of Bruce Lee and his films. Filmmaking, The Marx brothers, Johnny Carson and Magic also tied us at the hip. We had similar senses of humor and from the very beginning, forged a like-minded creative fire that would have us in my room or his dad’s in-home office into the wee hours of a Friday or Saturday might, drawing story boards, spit-balling film ideas or trying to figure out how Lucas blue screened those cool Tie fighters. We breathed celluloid then, thumbing through the latest issue of Starlog or sparring in his yard, trying out a technique we’d seen Bruce use.

So I’m anxious to see JJ’s foray in autobiography because I know it will not only bring back wonderful memories but also make we remember why I love film so much and how it really did feel like magic when we first picked up that kodak super 8 camera and created movement on that crooked projector screen in the Hulll’s den.

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