Submitted by Scott Spears
So you’ve scraped together a few extra dollars to shoot film, but you’re still a bit tight on cash and somebody says, “Buy short ends!” Now, you’ve heard about them but aren’t sure you want to buy somebody else’s leftovers. Well, here’s the scoop on short ends. It’s film that was bought by a production that never got used, and to make some money it is being sold. It comes in four types; short ends, long ends, re-cans, and buy-backs.
Before we get into the details on these different categories you should first know where to buy short ends. My recommendation is to buy from a reputable dealer that deals in short ends and new film. There are many companies that sell short ends like; Dr. Rawstock, Media Distributors, and Short Endz, to name a few. Please note, I do not work for these companies, but have had good dealings with them. The advantage to going with an established company is they test the film they sell before it goes out the door. If you buy from somebody you don’t know, or from somebody on eBay, you don’t know if the film has been tested. For all your know it could have spent two long summer months baking in the trunk of some production assistant’s car who now wants to make some beer money by selling leftover film. Now, I’m not saying that all the film on eBay is bad film, but by going with a company that does this everyday and that lives by their long term reputation, you’ll most likely get good film stock.
Here’s where you save the big bucks, but there are always drawbacks to going the cheap route. Short ends are usually 250 feet and under. They are the cheapest derivative because they plentiful, but there’s less to them. On 16mm that’s about seven minutes of film which isn’t that bad, but on 35mm that’s three minutes which after a color chart, head slate, and regular slate isn’t a lot of film. If you go with a lot of short ends on 35mm, you better have a couple loaders ready to load magazines constantly. Short ends can be had for under twenty cents a foot. I once picked up some for six cents a foot.
I should add this, 16mm short ends are hard to come by because 16mm is the staple of independent filmmakers who tend to not buy more film than they need and use every inch of their film. 35mm is much more plentiful because studios and medium sized companies dump a lot of film on the market after principal photography has wrapped.
Long ends aren’t all that different than short ends except they are usually over 300 feet and in 35mm can be up to 980 feet. They are more expensive because they are rarer and have a longer running time, thus saving time by having less magazine changes. I like them, especially when shooting 35mm. These long loads are usually film that had been loaded and had a color chart and head slate shot on it, but never made it on set. They can run twenty-five cents a foot and up.
Re-cans are one of my favorites because they are usually full loads that were put in the camera, but were never exposed except maybe a foot or so for threading up. It’s almost like buying new film. They typically cost twenty cents a foot and up.
These babies are rare and aren’t discounted a lot, but can save you a few pennies here and there. Buy-backs are film that was bought and never got out of the can. Often it’s the last batch of film ordered for a big picture or sometimes somebody gets excited and buys a batch of film, but then never gets anymore money to make the movie, so they are forced to call Kodak or Fuji saying they need to return the film. Usually the manufacturers say tough luck, but sometimes if it’s less than forty-eight hours or a long time client, they buy it back for a few dollars less than it was sold for in the first place. I shot a large part of feature with buy-backs with good results. Expect to pay ten to twenty percent off standard rates.
Under buy-backs, I also put just barely out of date film. Again, this is rare because the manufacturers don’t usually let film expire, but it does happen. When you start your search for film, you could call Kodak or Fuji directly and see of they have out of date film laying around.
An advantage of buy-backs is they will most likely come from the same emulsion batch which will make your cinematographer happy because they’ll be less variation in the stock. I should say, this isn’t that much of a problem today because the film manufacturing process is very consistent.
If you decide to try for short ends you should start buying them as soon as possible because assembling enough film, especially for a feature, will take some time. You never want to run out of film or be forced to pay through the nose for film at the last minute. If you need to though, Kodak does offer a last minute film ordering service, but you better be ready to break out the Visa gold card.
I’ve shot two features on 35mm with lots of short ends and one short on 16mm with primarily short ends, all with good results. On each of the features we did have one incident on each shoot even when dealing with reputable dealers. One time we had one roll that turned out to be two rolls that had been badly masking taped together in the middle. My guess is some tired loader was spooling up some film and didn’t even notice that he had one roll attach to another. The other incident was a mislabeled can and this is where having a good, heads up assistant camera person on crew can save you. My first AC noticed that a bit of film that was hanging out of a film magazine wasn’t the right color. Yes, unexposed film stocks of different ASA ratings have different colors. Some are lighter in color and others are darker. My AC caught this, told me, and I saw the problem. We put that roll aside.
If you do find a problem, contact the company that sold it to you as soon as possible and let them know. Most of the time they’ll replace the film immediately. Heck, sometimes if you gripe enough, you might get an extra roll or two.
The big thing to remember is short ends are a great way to save a few bucks, but if there are any questions about the film you’re using, don’t cheap out because for most occasions it will be far more costly to assemble all of the crew, cast, locations, and gear than the few dollars you saved with questionable short ends. Saying that, I’ve used short ends with great results and have helped the production values on some movies by upping the shooting ratio or getting a name actor in the cast with the savings. Final words of advice, do your research, have good a assistant cameraperson, and start buying film early.