straight 8: The one-roll-no-retakes film competition with a Cannes premiere

straight 8 is an annual film competition open to anyone, anywhere with an idea for a short film, a cool head and a steady trigger finger. Entrants shoot a short film on one roll of super 8 – no post-production, no grading, no fiddling or fixing. Even the soundtrack is created without having seen the film – and it must be original. The first time even the films’ makers see their own work is at its packed cinema premiere. And for the best 8 films each year, that happens at straight 8’s screening at the Cannes Film Festival. A challenge, right?

straight 8 was founded in 1999 by Ed Sayers in London. Ed invited 20 friends working in film production to each make a short film about anything on a single roll of super 8, the only rule being ‘no editing’ and to project the films together at their premiere and first-ever unveiling. 20 years later, over 2,000 straight 8 films have been created, straight 8 has been inducted into the BFI Archive and has screened at Cannes Film Festival for 15 years!

Over that time some big names have directed or featured in straight 8 films, including the likes of Edgar Wright, Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Nick Frost, Julia Davis…

The premieres are always epic – 250 people packing out a cinema where nobody has seen the work. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere is electric, particularly for the nervous casts and crews – people often say that of all the screenings in Cannes it’s the one that feels most rock and roll, and authentic.

straight 8 creates a level playing field, where the Idea is King, but of course, execution is Queen. So there’s less of a need for a big-budget production. Some people do go all out – and the results can look incredible – but super 8 has such an inherent charm that you can forget about a studio ceiling full of sky panels and might shoot the whole thing handheld in your bedroom (on a nice day). It’s because of this that students and first-time filmmakers often do as well as established pros in our competition. Last year the 8 Cannes-selected filmmakers at our premiere ranged from a 19-year-old Australian student to a 79-year-old retired pork butcher from the South of France, and that’s not even unusual!

Last year we turned 20-years-old, and we’ve brought in some changes for our 2020 competition. Entry has been open since last summer with a rolling delivery deadline. This means some people shot their films in summer, and some in winter. There’s still time to grab your place and have a chance to see your film in Cannes May 2020, if you’re quick. Our final film delivery deadline (for your complete, but unprocessed roll of super 8 to arrive at Cinelab London) is March 8th 2020, with a soundtrack deadline of March 15th.

Your film must be shot on one of the 3 Kodak colour negative super 8 film stocks. These neg stocks afford a lot of latitude, so are pretty forgiving and VISION3 500T is great in low light, while the 50d is gorgeous out in daylight. 200t is the other option – a great all-rounder. Being neg we don’t project off super 8 anymore, generally. We work with amazing scans and create proper cinema DCP’s so the small gauge original format looks its best on a huge screen in the most famous film festival in the world.

Our processing partners Cinelab London process and scan all the films in the same chemical baths as certain huge blockbusters that we aren’t allowed to mention just yet… pretty good company to keep. We line up the first frame of film with the beginning of your soundtrack and then start watching. We give a shortlist of films to our incredible jury, which this year includes Academy Award, BAFTA, and Grammy-winning director Asif Kapadia (AMY, Senna, Diego Maradona); Academy Award-nominated DP Robbie Ryan (American Honey, The Favourite, Little Women); short film commissioner and programmer Katie Metcalfe (Nowness, Sundance); and British Council programme manager and film festival curator Joanna Duncome (British Council, London Short Film Festival). They pick their favourite 8 films and then a month later it’s bags packed and off to Cannes for the premiere.

Aside from the screening in Cannes of the best 8, we select nearly 20 more for a premiere in London in the UK’s historic Regent Street Cinema for a big screening and party afterwards. That reel becomes the “best-of” for each year. You can see the best of 2018 and 2019 right here and you can see a bunch of amazing examples on our main Vimeo and website.

As we always say, if you have a straight 8 in you, we want to see it. We never set a brief and we love the idea that no matter who enters or from where, they find the story they want to tell and they go for it. We’re just lucky to be the first to see all these mini-masterpieces, and in viewing season we’re used to our brains adjusting from comedy to horror to doc to whatever and back again, every reel we see. It doesn’t matter if you’re studying or working in filmmaking, whether you’re crew or a director or have never picked up a camera before.

It probably helps if you’ve seen some films, at least one. Other than that the hardest bit is figuring out what you want to say – given 3 minutes and 20 seconds on the big silver screen to call your own. Once you get that, enter on our site, and pull around you everything and everyone you need to make it happen. Filmmaking is one of the most collaborative art forms there is and communication is one of the most important skills, so pick up the phone, write an email, get on Snapchat and drum up a crew. You could even come up with the idea together. Getting the camera and film is easier than many people think. Think idea and team, or team and idea. And jump in.

We have literally no idea what to expect this year! That’s a lot of the fun of it for us. We’ve already received over 150 entries from 22 countries in 5 continents (so if you know filmmakers in Africa or Antarctica, let us know). There’s normally a good crop of comedy films, some great music videos and usually a mind-blowing animation or two. As we’ve said perhaps too many times, straight 8’s are all about the idea, and if your idea requires some incredibly complex special effects – there will be a way to do it in-camera. But equally, it can be as simple as: you and a mate, a wig and some sunglasses, a chess timer and a bar with 10 large beers on it – oh and 3 minutes 20 seconds of film, and a camera. See how simple straight 8 can be here.

*** straight 8 recommends drinking responsibly, don’t drink and film ***

Head to straight8.net/2020 for all the info on how to take part in the year’s competition. Use discount code EMULSIVE20 at checkout to save 20% on your entry price – but enter quickly as you only have until March 8th for your finished film to arrive in London. Best of luck, and see you in Cannes?

~ Alex

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