Back to the Future of Film With Shane McFalls

Because you can't paint with the same color every time

Shane McFalls' camera is older than most of his subjects. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ETHAN STONE

Traveling Circus cameraman Shane McFalls is a member of one of the six film teams shooting away in the parks of Mount Hood's Timberline for Newschoolers’ annual West Coast Sessions, a week-long park video shoot that serves as the casual bookend to the park ski season. And while camera technology has leapfrogged into the realm of 4K heli ball-mounted nonsense that can read people's thoughts in super HD, McFalls is going for an entirely different aesthetic this week. While hipster film lovers may take great satisfaction in the mechanical whirring and ’60s look of cheap Super-8 cameras, Shane's gone instead to the forgotten chapters of filmmaking history by bringing back a 1988 Panasonic VHS camera and a 2000-era VX 1000 MiniDV camera, a staple of skateboard videos. And not because the picture looks good.

What was the hope with the VHS camera?
Well, first I bought the VX 1000, then Erik Olson was like, "You should just buy a VHS, it will be funny." The first time I watched the footage from the VX, the picture was a lot cleaner than I remember it being, because it's been probably 10 years since I've used one. So Erik told me I should just get a VHS camera, so within 10 minutes I found one on eBay and bought it for $30. It looks straight up like a home movie your parents would show you of your great aunts at an ’80s bar mitzvah or something. It's from 1988.

And why did you get the VX 1000 in the first place?
Well, in high school I was given one, and that was the first camera I ever had and it had the death lens fisheye. The eyepiece didn't work so you could only film fisheye, and so for three years I didn't film anything other than fisheye because that's all you could do. But at that point, I didn't even know about editing; we'd just film, watch it on the TV, and then get another tape or tape over the tape and film more stuff. It was just filming to see what the skiing looked like.

And I've always wanted to have that camera again because I had it when I was 15 or so, in 2003 or so… I wanted to have it even as just a shelf piece or a paperweight, just as a piece of art on a shelf in my room. So I found one for $200 and it works. It doesn't work all the time and it doesn't work perfectly, but it works most of the time.

Chest mount not included. PHOTO: JORDAN HARPER

Has it been difficult finding tapes for any of these things?
The VHS camera came with a bunch of tapes so I didn't have to look for that, and I bought a bunch of MiniDV tapes at a drug store. It's funny, though, Jeff Kohnstamm, the other filmer on my team, he had never even seen a MiniDV tape before. He had a few and sent me a picture of them asking if they would work—he really didn't know what they were. He's never used a tape camera. That's pretty mind-blowing. But I guess if you're only 18, you probably wouldn't. And on the VHS, the eyepiece is black and white, because it's so f–king old. I think it's older than half the people out here [at the West Coast Sessions].

And so what's the different appeal of the VHS over something like a Super-8 camera?
Oh, well the Super 8, with properly exposed film, is going to look awesome if the light is right. But VHS is just dirty, and digital, and it's from the very start of digital movies. If you point it at the sun it gives you this really gross digital solar flare, and it just looks gross. But it's awesome at the same time. We're just playing off the whole "dad cam," family vacation and memories, VHS and home movies theme. So our team name is "Team Home Movies."

So how are you transferring the VHS footage to the computer?

That was the biggest issue—rying to get VHS footage onto a computer involved a fair amount of Googling. I ended up hooking up the VHS camera to another MiniDV camera other than the VX, and then that camera hooks up to the computer and you just go through Final Cut. It's like super geeky A/V club nerd stuff from the ’90s. I think there's some quality lost, but I don't think it will affect the overall product (laughing).

So are you filming follow cam with that VHS?
No, it's way too light and shaky, so it's pretty much the scenic shot and lifestyle camera. The VX is the action camera, and I have shot stuff with my HD camera. You can shoot action with the VHS but it has a hard time keeping up with super-fast movement, and I don't want to shoot the big jump with it solely. If someone throws some super gnarly trick and I only shot it on the VHS… I guess I don't want crazy tricks to lose their awesomeness because of my retro cameras.

Any idea what your West Coast Sessions edit is going to come out like?
It'll be interesting to see what the video looks like. It will definitely be different from some of the other ones, and that's the goal. I'm not trying to f-king change skiing or anything, I'm just trying to make a video that doesn't look like the other five.

This was also the year I kind of found skiing again. I was never really over it, but in past years I would definitely pass on going skiing for fun two times a week and would just do other stuff, and this year I went skiing, even just at Rail Gardens, a lot. I kind of re-found skiing for fun and I kind of wanted to get the camera I had when skiing in high school was the most fun. I wanted to capture that in this video, so we'll see if that translates to anyone except for me.

There's also a ton of kids who've never even seen 4:3 footage before with the square aspect ratio and not widescreen and not HD, so they might not understand it or get it. They might not understand the particular aesthetic I'm going for, but in a non-serious way. This is not an art piece; this is just a joke.

Are there any people with flying robots and drones this year?
Not a lot of that, but there's a lot of Poor Boyz-esque filmers, who have their crazy-ass rigs out and lots of people with glide cams and shit. And we're all filming pretty much the exact same stuff, so I can make an edit that looks exactly like everyone else's, or I can make a funny edit with a bunch of cameras I bought for under $200. This is going to sound stupid, but you can't paint with the same color every time.