BY WENDY DESSLER
Independent Filmmakers have been recycling old film footage for years. From war newsreels to landmark shots, keen film enthusiasts have noticed repurposed footage in blockbuster films like The Transformers, Star Wars, and even various Disney cartoons.
There are many benefits to recycling old film footage for a new movie. For one, there are cost-saving opportunities associated with using something that already exists, rather than shooting something new. There’s also the potential for inspiration from viewing old footage.
Finally, there’s something nostalgic and profound from choosing the right piece to recycle.
Here are three ways you can recycle old film footage for your new movie.
Use Old Footage to Set the Scene
Using previously recorded film footage can help set the scene and transport viewers to far off locations. This is one of the most common reasons filmmakers will reuse old footage, and extremely beneficial during periods when travel is limited. Using recycled footage allows you to infer that you’re somewhere else, then use a soundstage to hone in on the action.
Reusing old footage also makes the impossible possible. For example, recreating historical events or showcasing places that no longer exist. With the right editing strategy and footage, you can revisit times and places from the past.
Use Old Footage to Create Impressions
There are often a lot of hidden gems in old footage. These moments aren’t significant enough to build a scene around or something you’d think to record yourself. However, these moments leave an impression and add an indefinable element when pieced into a new movie.
Think of clips of dew on the grass, catching the first light of day or birds singing in the trees. As a plot point, these clips might seem meaningless.
However, when used in a new movie, it can help create an emotional reaction or impression of how people should feel as they watch the next scene. In this case, the clips might be used to show the dawn of a peaceful morning after a tumultuous night.
Skilled filmmakers have an eye for these moments, which are often fleeting and rarely the focal point of the film. The idea is comparable to the famous plastic bag monologue in American Beauty.
Use Old Footage as an Underlay
Another fantastic way to recycle old footage is to use it as a foundation for editing and creating something new. With CGI and computer technology, even amateur filmmakers can create convincing visuals that transform old film into a new work of art.
With the right tools and skills, footage of a quaint village can become an alien wasteland or figures can be added to the background to create a found footage style movie.
Another great way to repurpose old videos is through animation. Use the films as a template for creating realistic movement and interactions. Disney has long recycled film with edits for similar scenes in their animated movies.
Some of the most notable recycled scenes are the closing dances in Beauty and the Beast and Sleeping Beauty. Many nature scenes from Bambi also make a reappearance in other films.
Finally, old footage is invaluable when making documentary and archival-style films. With the right planning and compelling storytelling, that footage can be turned into something new, informative, and captivating.
Tips for Recycling Old Film
Going through old films and finding the hidden gems can be an arduous process. Here are some helpful tips to make the experience more streamlined and productive.
Convert to Digital
First, convert old films into digital. This action will help make it easier to scour through hours of footage and select the parts that you want for your next project.
Use a service like Just8mm.com to get a high-quality digital version of 8mm film reels without the hotspots or flicker that plagues so many older films.
Converting your footage to a digital format will also help protect the integrity of the video and ensure it’s not lost to the sands of time. Digital copies can be safely stored on the crowd or viewed without running the risk of damaging the original.
Use a Team to Scour Through
If you have a big project in mind and a lot of footage to pore over, put a skilled team together to help with the process. By bringing other people aboard, you can get through hours of video more efficiently. By sharing the experience, you’ll also get fresh eyes on the footage to ensure you aren’t missing anything.
Put a centralized logging system in place to ensure everyone records what video and timeframes they’re reviewing, and which scenes stand out or have potential.
Glance at the Discards
If you have a team in place, don’t hesitate to glance at the discards— the footage they flagged as being unworthy of note. It’s within the discards that many artists and filmmakers have found the diamond in the rough that adds tremendous value to their new movie.
Watch Without Sound
When looking through old footage with audio, consider turning the sound off. It can be hard to see the beauty of the film when audio components influence your emotions and the narrative.
Removing the sound is like staging a house for sale and removing the personality— it allows the viewer to picture their existence instead of someone else’s.
In many cases, the audio components of older films need to be replaced or edited anyway. Watch once without sound, then go back and let the audio play through.
Let the Footage Drive the Project
Approach old footage with an open mind. Rather than looking for particular visual components to put into a movie, consider shaping a movie around what you find. By taking a more open-ended approach, your original idea might blossom into something better.
As much as the world complains about reboots and sequels, there’s beauty in using something familiar and glancing into the past. Use these tips as a creative way to craft your next great movie using recycled film footage.