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Using a Film Changing Tent

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/20/2010

Here is an easy guide for using a film changing tent, and how to troubleshoot any issues when loading or unloading your film magazines.

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    Film Changing Tent

    For most people that grew up on digital video only the idea of using 16mm film seems more difficult and expensive than it's worth. One issue that comes up when trying to jump from digital video to 16mm film is the light sensitive film. Film stock, no matter what speed, is sensitive to light exposure. This means that while loading film the film stock must remain as closed off the light as physically possible. Larger productions have entire dark rooms or trailers specifically for loading the film stock into the camera's magazines. On the majority of location shoots, however, loading the film stock into the magazine will not be able to be done in a specially constructed dark room. Instead most people will use a changing tent to load and unload the film stock in their magazines.

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    Loading and Unloading Film Magazines

    A changing tent is a light sealed tent that you put your hands into so that you can load and unload the film magazines. You start by placing the magazine and the unopened film canister. You then seal up the film changing tent and then stick your hands into the holes constructed for them. If you keep your hands in the slots the changing tent will remain sealed away from the light. You can then, without looking, open up the film canister, remove the film stock, load it into the magazine, close it up, and then take it out of the film changing tent so that you can finish the loading process. This is difficult to do without looking so you will have to practice on dummy film stocks and magazines over and over again until it becomes second nature to you. The best tip that can be followed for practicing loading film inside a changing tent is to load and unload the magazine over and over again while looking, then try doing it with your eyes closed. Once you have that down you can move on to the film changing tent.

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    Checking the Changing Tent

    When you first construct the changing tent you have to make sure that it is clean and undamaged. As you are taking it out of its package check for any tears or weak spots in the fabric. Any blast of light onto the film stock can ruin it completely, which is an incredibly expensive loss after the film stock has been exposed during a day of shooting. Make sure that you put together the changing tent correctly, and the best tip is again to practice doing this before the shooting day. Often times people will leave things in the changing tent, such as debris or dust. Always make sure to check inside your changing tents and to clean them out if you need to.

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    Film Stock Tips

    Often times you are going to have issues with the film stock when in the changing tent. The stock can begin to unravel or come loose, which means you have to act fast. You cannot pull your hands out midway through as this will expose the film stock to light. The best way to deal with this is to keep a small knife inside the changing tent during film loading or unloading so you can cut away loose film parts if need be. It is better to lose ten or twenty feet of film stock than it is to risk the entire thing. Also, make sure to keep your gaffers tape in the changing tent with you so that when you unload the film stock and return it to the canister you can seal it up well so that there is nochance of light exposure. The same is true when loading the magazine as it is best to always to a secure seal to protect the film inside the camera.